The trade in women and female children as wives, concubines and prostitutes is still widespread. Girls may be promised in marriage (without their knowledge or consent), at a very early age to a man who is much older; or a man may either sell his wives and children or his heir inherit them upon his death. In Asia, concubines can still be bought by wealthy men; in Latin America and Asia, children are 'adopted' by wealthy families for a price, and they may become domestic servants or subjects of sexual exploitation. Wives, concubines and prostitutes may also be abducted or lured by false advertisements. While much of the foregoing illicit activity is to gratify the passions of the male and sometimes female 'buyers' (the 'white slave trade' may come into this category) some of it is to provide cheap slave labour.
End-markets for women have been reported in Puerto Rico, the Middle East (particularly Lebanon and Kuwait), Ivory Coast, Senegal, Australia and Japan.
In China in 1989 a series of police actions in one month uncovered 3,000 cases of abduction of women and children by some 900 gangs. In one relatively prosperous region, 4,810 women from other parts of the country were bought and sold in the three years from 1986. The women (some only 13 or 14 years old) are bought, taken by force, or duped by traders in the poor provinces and are then transported hundreds of miles to be displayed in markets and sold at auctions, especially in the north-west and coastal regions. The traditional practice of bride-selling has re-emerged as a result of agricultural reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Where successful, this had the consequence of considerably increasing the cost of weddings and match-makers as well as increasing the pressure on farmers for male progeny. The limited social environment of Chinese villages made it much cheaper to purchase a wife than to pay for the cost of a traditional wedding.
In 1996 it was observed that female trafficking was no longer a phenomenon involving the movement of women from developing countries to Europe, where they were forced into prostitution. Many of these women increasingly come from the Baltic states and from Central and Eastern Europe. The Women's Rights Committee of the European Parliament has estimated that as many as 500,000 women are brought into the European Union each year. Whilst some are recruited from the sex industry, most are abducted, sometimes under cover of "mail-order bride" and entertainment industry agencies. They fall prey to violent or threatening "managers", pimps and drugs traffickers. From 1990 to 1996 the numbers of illegally trafficked women had more than doubled in Belgium and tripled in the Netherlands, which serve as the main EU hubs for entry and rotation of the women through other countries. Initially the women came from Poland, former Czechoslovakia and Hungary; more lately from Russia and the former Soviet states. Increasing numbers are under 18. They are likely to pay between 1,500 and 30,000 Euros for transport, documents and accommodation.
There is a variety of evidence of complicity by official agencies. In 1996, the chief of Germany's Special Commission on Organised Crime in the Polish border region was charged with controlling a ring of trafficked East European women. The association has been made between the large contingents of UN peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a corresponding large number of Ukrainian, Romanian and Moldovian women selling sexual services. Large numbers of prostitutes are shipped from Europe's sex capitals into Strasbourg every month to coincide with the sessions of the European Parliament.
The risks for female traffickers are extremely low. Drugs traffickers can expect to get sentences of ten to fifteen years. Sentences for trafficking of women are only around one or two years and there are few cases brought.