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In Asia, MTV turns camera on trafficking

A US-funded documentary debuts Tuesday that will educate Asian youths about risks of exploitation.

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Its high production values, driving musical score, and slick edits make the film, in the words of its producers, "very MTV."

But don't expect to see boy bands or risqué hip-hop. MTV's "Traffic" is a hard-hitting, US-funded documentary that is part of a campaign aimed at educating vulnerable youth in Asia about the risks of being trafficked illegally for exploitative labor.

The movie, which premieres Tuesday on MTV Thailand, is tailored for the US broadcaster's vast youth audience in go-getting East Asia. By raising awareness of the dangers, campaigners say they hope to address a practice that is akin to modern-day slavery.

"This is a criminal enterprise and it involves criminals," says Richard Whelden, deputy director in Asia for the US Agency for International Development, which is funding the MTV campaign. "It's undercover and in the shadows. What we're doing is putting a spotlight on the problem and bringing it out in the open so you can see what it is: slavery."

Antitrafficking advocates say that governments in Southeast Asia, where smuggling of women and children is rife, have begun to tighten laws and step up cross-border cooperation. This has allowed for some successful criminal prosecutions. But traffickers continue to exploit porous borders and lax policing, while shifting their operations to countries that have yet to fully outlaw the practice and only enforce labor laws with milder penalties.

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