Human Trafficking The New Slavery
People trafficking is one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time. Millions of people around the world suffer in silence in slave-like conditions of forced labour and sexual exploitation.
In the West, slavery has been outlawed since the early 1800s. But the modern scourge of human trafficking is no less a form of slavery than the one endured by Africans and others at the hands of wealthy merchants and landowners two hundred years ago.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing areas of international crime - and, sadly, one of the most lucrative. Worldwide, people traffickers will make between seven and nine billion dollars every year, with very little outlay at all.
In fact, some crime syndicates are now switching their cargo from drugs to human beings, because the potential profits are higher.
According to the UN, there may be as many as four million people trafficked every year, 70 percent of them female and 50 percent children. Both groups are targeted mainly for pornography and prostitution.
Yet it's difficult to be precise about the true scale of the problem and teenage boys and men are sometimes victims, too, being trafficked into forced labour.
Victims of people trafficking normally come from developing countries, but trafficking is also a problem for nations like the US, where, according to the Justice Dept, as many as 200,000 American children may be at risk of being trafficked into the sex industry within their own country.
The Council of Europe has identified people trafficking as a major problem here in Europe, too. It says that trafficking has hit "unprecedented levels" and acknowledges that it really is "a new form of slavery".
Human trafficking seems to flourish in societies that are going through, or have just come out of, long periods of conflict. For example, during the Kosovo conflict, women and girls were often kidnapped by armed gangs or enticed away from refugee camps. Today, the former Yugoslavia has become a primary trafficking destination and an important transit point for European trafficking.
Trafficking also increases when poor countries share borders with richer neighbours. Poor people look at the opportunities over the border and are easily lured by false promises of a richer life on the other side.
So, what can be done about the stain of international human trafficking?
Some people might argue that since slavery has long been a part of human history, there's not much we can do about it. But we can't afford to be complacent or defeatist in our attitude. Either we shape the future of our world, or someone else's vision of that future will reshape us.
First of all, governments need to maintain humane and sensible immigration policies.
Some people have tried to use trafficking as an excuse for closing borders altogether. But people will always want to migrate, especially if there are better opportunities abroad, and immigration brings many benefits. Denying people access through safe, legal channels only makes it more likely that they will fall for the false promises of the traffickers.
Governments also need to courageously tackle the problem of prostitution.
In 1999, the Swedish government made laws prohibiting the purchase of a sexual service, with the penalty of fines or imprisonment.
Since then, there has been a significant drop in the number of women in prostitution and a reduction in the number of men who try to buy their services. The fall in demand has also reduced the number of foreign women who are trafficked into prostitution.
Thirdly, some governments need to reassess how they treat people who've already been trafficked into their nations. It's one thing to free a victim, but then they need to be re-educated, re-housed and basically given a whole new start, one without discrimination or legal hassles.
We also need to understand better how trafficking is linked to economic reform and development programmes. Tragically, there have been cases where the sex trade has served foreign aid workers and even peacekeepers.
And we need more research into the factors that fuel the demand for people trafficking -- including the links between migration policies and the demand for cheap labour.
It took more than a generation for William Wilberforce and his colleagues to bring in laws banning slave-trade in the British domain. But their persistence - and their faith - paid off.
Ours is arguably a much more complex world and organized crime is the dark underbelly of globalization. But at ground level, in vulnerable areas, there are still things we can do to guard people -- especially the young -- against trafficking.
There are anti-trafficking charities that community groups can connect with. Some educate children in vulnerable areas, developing skills that will help them to avoid being trafficked. Others work to encourage children to stay in school longer, while create local jobs for when they leave school.
On an individual level, we can shop at stores that use Fair Trade goods. These products are traffick-free and buying them helps people to lift themselves out of poverty, making them less vulnerable.
We can also volunteer to work in one of the projects that helps people find their way out of prostitution. We can donate to support a safe house for trafficking victims.
We can always write to local MPs on the issue, too, keeping the issue front and centre in political terms. And each of us can sign the global declaration against trafficking at the website run by Stop the Traffik (www.stopthetraffick.org).
Finally, we can talk up the whole issue of people trafficking, through letters to local newspapers and the like - and even just in conversation with friends. John Pollock, in his biography of William Wilberforce, wrote that: 'One man can change his times, but he cannot do it alone.'
Like Wilberforce and his abolitionists, we must once again do whatever we can to end a vile trade, by standing alongside people and organizations who work in the area.
**** Watch a clip from Mal Fletcher's Edges programme on Human Trafficking: The New Slavery.
Keywords: human trafficking | people traffick | people traffik | human traffiking
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