1. The nature of the issue
In effect, human trafficking is slavery, theoretically abolished in 1833. Yet today it’s a growth industry – a multi-billion dollar internationally organised crime of epidemic proportions. Almost every country in the world is either an origin country, a transit country or a destination country for human trafficking. While trafficking is widely condemned as a violation of human rights, it is proving difficult to eradicate and is said to be the world’s fastest growing global crime. Mostly it involves sexual exploitation and forced labour, and more recently trade in human organs. Further examples include enforced drug couriers and child soldiers such as those recruited for ISIS.
Trafficking not only occurs across national borders, but it also within some countries. It isn’t limited to physical confinement, but includes emotional manipulation including threats against the victim’s family. Surprisingly, victims, who are mostly female children (under 18) from poor backgrounds and with little education, sometimes develop a sympathetic relationship with their traffickers. Such capture bonding is a psychological relationship known as the “Stockholm Syndrome” named after a bank robbery in Stockholm, during which a number of the bank's employees were held hostage and developed strong bonds with the hostage takers, and even rejected help from government officials during their ordeal. Once freed they defended their aggressors and were convinced that it was the police whom they should be wary of. It is not just hostages who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Abused children, battered spouses, cult victims, prisoners of war, and incest victims also fall victim to it, often as a desperate bid for survival.
Although difficult to accurately assess, the US Department of State estimates that the annual global trafficking rate is about 800,000 people. A disproportionate 80% of these are female of whom at least 50% are minors. In 2008, the United Nations estimated nearly 2.5 million people from 127 different countries were being trafficked into 137 countries around the world. Numbers have no doubt increased since this estimate. Last year US Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated that “More than 20 million people were victims of human trafficking worldwide.” These figures demonstrate an almost incomprehensible and increasing demand, without which there would be no supply - consistent with the economics law of supply and demand. For example, a waiting list for human organs in developed countries has created a thriving and seemingly insatiable international black market for such bodily parts.
Source countries are typically of third world status where crime and poverty are common and include Algeria, Central African Republic, Congo, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Iran, North Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, The Yemen, and Zimbabwe as per the following map:
Human trafficking destination countries are typically the more developed countries with stronger economies as shown on the following map of the world and include Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and USA.
These offending countries often lack the resources, effective legislation or political will to join the fight against this despicable and illegal practice. Often these countries also have corrupt police and government officials. Source areas for victims usually suffer unemployment and economic turmoil and government corruption. They also possess and well-established crime networks. Human traffickers prey on people who are poor, isolated and weak. Issues such as disempowerment, social exclusion and economic vulnerability are the result of policies and practices that marginalise entire groups of people and make them particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. Natural disasters such as floods, conflict as currently experiences in Nigeria, and political turmoil weaken their already tenuous social protection measures and their effectiveness. Despite the risks involved, individuals are vulnerable to being trafficked not only because of poor conditions in their own countries, but also due to the allure of opportunity, the relentless demand for such services and the expectation of an attractive income and lifestyle.
Even we New Zealanders are not entirely innocent and could no doubt do more. Under NZ law the penalties for trafficking are equivalent to those for murder and rape. Locally, our most prevalent human trafficking infringements are people coerced into prostitution and child pornography. Prostitution in New Zealand was decriminalised in 2003. The NZ Prostitution Law Review Committee estimated that approximately 200 young persons under the age of 18 were working as prostitutes in 2004.
Another prevalent form of trafficking, given its broadest definition, concerns Pacific Island migrants recruited to work in NZ agriculture, horticulture and hospitality sectors who are charged excessive recruitment fees, unjustified wage reductions, contract “renegotiations” and passport confiscations. In recent years New Zealand has had several cases where foreign workers have been awarded back pay and damages for underpayment of wages and excessive work hours. It is a crime for a New Zealand employer to exploit a migrant worker. Such workers may be afraid to report exploitation at work. They may be working when their visa does not allow this, or they may be in New Zealand unlawfully. They may be afraid that if they report exploitation at work, they will have to leave New Zealand. Some employers know this and pay less and impose work conditions that are below the rights for New Zealand workers.
2. Responses to the issue
In this second part of the analysis, motivations and responses to the issue are considered from three perspectives – the trafficker’s, the victim’s, and the anti-trafficker’s. The values about how these groups think things ought to be or people ought to behave, is also examined.
Trafficker’s Response: Examines the issue from the traffickers’ perspective, explaining their values and motivations.
Why would people do such crazy things to innocent children? Traffickers have no regard for the law and possess no social conscience, ethical values or respect for human rights. But why do criminals and criminal organisations traffic in humans? The reason is that it’s seen to be a relatively safe and very profitable “investment.” Their victims are seen as commodities with economic value. And of course traffickers argue that they are merely meeting a social demand. They know that the sex industry and cheap labour will always bring them fast and easy profits, which is what has made human trafficking one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world. After drugs and arms trafficking, human trafficking is said to be the most profitable business worldwide. Yet, in 2012 Pino Arlacchi, Director General for the International Seminar on Trafficking in Human Beings in Brazil, stated that “Many Brazilian drug and arms traffickers now prefer human trafficking due to the much higher profits and considerably lower risk involved.”
Low risk of detection and prosecution is in large part the consequence of widespread political and police corruption and greed that make it possible for trafficking to quickly and easily proliferate. Though national and international institutions attempt to regulate and enforce anti-trafficking legislation, local governments and police forces may actually be participating in sex trafficking. For example, just north of Phuket, is the town of Baan Bang Khi where lives Noi an elderly “godmother” who runs most of the human trafficking industry on the west coast of Thailand. She explained to an interviewer in 2013 how she has the Thai police in her pocket. She evidently pays them handsomely not only to look the other way, and to actively participate in the smuggling of refugees from neighbouring countries. "The authorities in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand work together with us," she admits. "First, I receive a call from the brokers or the Thai marine police, who tell me where the refugees are." Most of the refugees come by boat and are collected offshore, before Noi picks them up and "houses them in shacks in the jungle". She proudly claimed that all brokers working for her are ethical because they don’t beat their captives, which isn't the case with most other Thai human traffickers. "They have to beat them to get more money faster," Noi said of her competition. "They call their relatives on the phone to say they are torturing them. Sometimes they even electrocute them while they're on the phone to their parents. Those whose relatives can pay are trafficked. Those who can’t are often sold into the sex trade." Noi claims her key motivation is charity. She is helping refugees. This, according to Noi, makes human trafficking not just ethical, but a necessary business.
Essentially, this $32 billion-per-year trafficking industry is driven by the basic market laws of demand and supply and will not stop so long as the risk of being caught is low, the demand remains and the profits are high. In fact, these offenders prefer to see themselves purely as business people who are responding to the demands of the marketplace. And with new communications technology, traffickers can now reach a far wider audience much more safely, quickly and easily. Victims are increasingly targeted online as well as sold online. For the trafficker, it is now much easier to find victims, easier to find willing accomplices and easier move themselves from area to area quickly to avoid detection and without losing business. In the last ten years the increase reliance on the Internet has changed the nature and scope of traditional trafficking. As a result, human trafficking now knows no borders and geography is no longer a barrier. It takes the commercial sexual exploitation of children off the streets and onto the Internet, impairing the industry’s visibility and increasing mobility. The Internet has made it much more difficult for law enforcement to locate victims and traffickers and to identify witnesses and evidence.
Another reason for growth is that anti-trafficking agencies and organisations are inclined to work independently while traffickers now operate in an interconnected global network. As a result, traffickers can more easily elude law enforcement. This lack of collaboration between anti-trafficking organisations like police and government agencies has created a gap for exploitation. Many police departments are not be working in co-operation with their local human trafficking victims programme.
Also, the victims are usually reluctant witnesses. Traffickers can present themselves to their victims as the only ones who care about them. Some traffickers see themselves as saviours. Victims are left with little trust in professionals due to this apparent negligence that comes from the lack of response. Children that have been exploited often times do not identify themselves as victims. They believe that their exploiters love them or that they deserve the life they are leading. Various factors play into this denial but for many, it comes down to victims don’t know what real love is. Psychological manipulation and domination creates trauma bonds between the victim and their exploiter. Victims can be unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement, and will not testify against those who exploit them because of these bonds. Many of these children have never had a stable upbringing or positive parental influence in their life.
Like drug and gun trafficking, it's an industry based on supply and demand, and every year traffickers generate billions of dollars by victimising millions of people. Traffickers use false promises of lucrative jobs, education or a loving relationship to entrap victims. Sometimes poor families are told that their children are being taken to work in garment factories, or even as models and that the family will benefit from remitted income. But in practice, recruiters often indebt their victims with hefty recruitment and travel fees, and take advantage of victims' unfamiliarity with foreign laws and culture.
Thus the commercial sexual exploitation of children offers traffickers increasingly large profits with lessening risk. With human life valued at an all-time low in many countries as populations increase, internet grants greater access to children and previously unattainable profits. Even small time traffickers now make big time money. As a result, drug dealers, gangs, and organised crime have been lured from traditional crime into the big business of human trafficking. To an increasing extent we find them dealing in children instead of guns or drugs. They value profits over human rights.
Victim’s Response: Examines the issue from the trafficking victims’ viewpoint.
Victims are usually extremely vulnerable members of society, chosen for that very reason. They include women, men and children. They are often young people who are hoping for a better life, have an unstable home life, are isolated from family, lack employment opportunities, have limited education level, possess a history of abuse, have undocumented status, addiction, disability, and suffer poverty, illiteracy, or some combination of these characteristics.
Asian girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking due to their traditional Asian cultural and social values. There is a need to obey parents and support the family. Also, females and children are often viewed as lower than men and in some cases are viewed as property to be sold or bargained with. These traditional cultural values create situations where females are susceptible to trafficking. Given these values and poverty mean that girls and their families may be easily deceived into accepting gainful employment with the assumption that they will be able to earn enough money to support their families.
Also, the cultural stigma of rape and prostitution, which brings shame and loss of face to families, is another value factor. Because girls may be disowned and ostracised by the family and community, returning home and reconnecting with their families and communities may not be an option.
Traffickers, aware of such values, may pose as employment agents and trick parents into parting with their children, who are then trafficked into the sex industry. Another contributing value to the trafficking of Asian girls is the stereotype of Asian females as being subservience, obedient, passive, docile, shy, demure, hard working, submissive, softly spoken, eager to please, exotic — the Suzy Wong perception.
What’s it like to be a victim of trafficking? To answer this question I’ve quoted 12 victims’ testimonies taken from the US Department of State “Trafficking in Persons Report 2013” in which the victims’ names have been changed to protect the innocent. These examples show a variety of trafficking situations.
Hawaii - United States
Mauri was 16 years old when she was prostituted on the streets of Honolulu. Her pimp threatened to kill her family if she did not make him money. If Mauri used some of the money to buy herself food, she was beaten. Mauri eventually escaped when she was picked up by law enforcement. She is now in a rehabilitation programme and has reunited with her parents, but her recovery has been long and difficult. She suffers from terrifying flashbacks and severe depression, and has attempted suicide on several occasions. Yet Mauri says she was lucky to get out alive and emphasises “The longer you stay the less hope you have.”
El Salvador – Mexico
Liliana was unable to find a job in El Salvador when she decided to leave the country in search of work. A family “friend” promised to take her to the United States, but instead took her to Mexico. When Liliana discovered that she had been tricked, she ran away and ended up in an area where other migrants like herself were waiting to go to back to El Salvador. One day a group of men invited her and the others to join their organisation, the Zetas, a notorious drug cartel. They said they would give her work and feed her. When she joined them, she was forced into prostitution - tricked for the second time. Liliana was drugged on her first day and woke up with a “Z” tattoo brand. She was forced to take drugs and was never allowed to travel unaccompanied. After three months, her aunt in El Salvador paid for her freedom and she was freed. With Liliana’s help, her traffickers were brought to court, but were inexplicitly acquitted.
Burma – Thailand
Kyi and Mya, both 16 years old, were promised work as domestic servants in Thailand. With the help of five different local brokers, they travelled from Burma. They walked day and night through a forest, crossed a river in a small boat, and spent a few nights in various homes along the way. Once they arrived in Thailand, they were placed in a meat-processing factory and forced to work 19 hour days. The two girls complained to the factory manager about this hard work and long working hours, and told him this was not what they were promised. The factory manager told the girls they owed him for their “traveling expenses” from Burma to Thailand and could not leave until these expenses were paid off. He subtracted their debt from the little income they received. This was likely to be a very prolonged process, but eventually the girls were able to contact one of their relatives in Burma who then contacted an NGO (Non-Government Organisation) about their plight. The organisation arranged their safe removal from the factory. They are now in a Thai government shelter in Bangkok, receiving counselling while they wait repatriation.