Human Trafficking | Lisa Chai

[ ‘SHARE’ Mar-Apr 2015 ] FOCUS ~ MINISTRY


Written by> Lisa Chai (Senior Programme Officer)

It is estimated that globally about 20.9 million are affected by forced labours and among them, 4.5 million (22%) are victims of forced sexual exploitation. Many of the 20.9 million are also victims of human trafficking. During the course of my serving as a project officer in the past 19 years for CEDAR, I have the opportunity to read documents, review proposals, talk to field partners and hear from community members about human trafficking issues. It is an issue that everyone wants to tackle and stop. However, the magnitude and complexity of the issue is difficult to grasp which means there are incorrect information and misperceptions out there. I hope the following discussions can serve to inform also as a reminder so that we can be on the same path to positively engage on the anti-human trafficking movement.

Is human trafficking the same as human smuggling?

These are two distinctive crimes. Human smuggling involves deliberate evasion of immigration laws and is the transport of an individual from one destination to another, usually with his or her consent. On the other hand, the definition on human trafficking defined in the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol has three distinctive ‘constituent elements’: the act, the means and the purpose. The Trafficking in Persons Protocol specifies that: (i) an “action” being recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons (ii) a “means” by which that action is achieved (threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, and the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve consent of a person having control over another person) and (iii) a “purpose” (of the intended action/means): namely, exploitation.

Does human trafficking always involve someone traveling across borders

About 160 countries are affected by trafficking in persons but trafficking does not necessary involve victims traveling, transporting across borders. In fact, globally about 34% of trafficking in persons cases is domestic trafficking which takes place within the national borders. Countries that have mass migration populations like Myanmar are at higher risk of internal trafficking. In Myanmar, domestic trafficking occurs primarily from villages to urban centres for the purposes of labour exploitation, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. One girl S who is currently under CEDAR sponsored programme was a victim of internal armed conflict in the country. S was ‘sold’ by her aunty at the age of four to a servant agency to work as house servant in Yangon. Her aunty received 10 years salary from the agency by advance. However, the current country’s legislation on trafficking in persons does not consider S as a trafficking victim. Presently some legislators are appealing for a change in laws to redefine trafficking in persons as well as its application in domestic criminal law.

Trafficking victims is usually sold by people they do not know?     

Based on cases from field partners, sadly in many situations victims are cheated, tricked, sold by relatives or friends they know. In order to gain the trust of community members, some traffickers purposefully stayed in a community for more than a year. In a partner project in Nepal, a lady J was taken to India by relatives and sold to a woman, who further sold J to a circus. It is also interesting to note that women are significantly involved in trafficking in persons. Globally about 30% of convicted traffickers are women compared to 10-15% of women offenders on all other crimes.

Sex trafficking is the only form of human trafficking?

Sex trafficking is not the only form of trafficking though it accounts for 26% of the detected trafficking victims in East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific region according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Other forms of exploitation include forced labour, organ selling and even marriage. China’s one child policy is a major factor for the growing demand of foreign brides for Chinese men because they could not afford the bride price or wedding. In Yunnan, our local team works closely with local churches and Burmese partners to understand and analyse local trafficking situation and related migration issues in order to curb exploitation on border areas of China & Myanmar. The programme develops a safe migration kit, organises exchange visit of church leaders of border areas, establishes temporarily shelter at one church, and raises youth’s awareness of HIV/AIDS, drugs and human trafficking.

Children are always safe and protected at children homes? 

Children’ care homes are supposed to be places that provides a safe environment for boys and girls. However, in reality children can face physical and sexual abuse by caretakers or owners of children homes, as seen in the North Wales child abuse scandal in 2014 that involved 18 children homes. As a project officer, it is our responsibility to make sure field partners know the risks and take measures in place to prevent potential abuses and protect children. Globally, one in three known victims of human trafficking is a child. Organised criminal gangs have exploited children homes and trafficked orphans, offering prospective jobs to orphans after they leave home.

Only women and children are trafficked?  

70% of overall trafficking victims worldwide are females; one in three victims is a child and girls make up two out of every three child victims. The focus of trafficking and sexual exploitation has thus always been on women and children. But what about the 30% of men and boys? They get trafficked and sexually exploited yet they often get much less attention. Perhaps due to social and cultural norms that assume men are not vulnerable to sexually exploitation, their needs have thus received less attention. Besides, sex trafficking of boys is often hidden due to cultural taboos. We know, however, in countries like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, boys are more likely than girls to be subjected to prostitution.

In order to launch the fight against male trafficking, our partner LOVE146 will conduct a 4-month research this year on the vulnerabilities of street working boys to sexual exploitation and violence in Chiang Rai and Bangkok, Thailand. They will interview 120 street working boys to understand their backgrounds, job types, earning, relationship with family, feelings, as well as the stigma, discrimination and violence they face. We hope the research results can help NGOs in Thailand and our donors to positively engage in the fight against trafficking with a gender perspective to reach out and listen to the needs of the affected.

Rich cities like Hong Kong have no trafficking issue?

Trafficking does not only happen in far away places, rich cities like Hong Kong, New York, London also have trafficked victims coming from different countries. Hong Kong is a city of transit and destination of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation, though Hong Kong Government disagrees. Women travel to HK voluntarily for legal employment in restaurants, bars, etc., however upon arrival are forced into prostitution under the conditions of debt bondage. High profile cases of exploitation, abuse of foreign domestic workers like Erwiana S. are evidence of forced labour highlighting the needs for better laws in Hong Kong to safeguard human rights and prevent exploitation of vulnerable victims.

Is trafficking a problem too huge to tackle?  

While trafficking in persons is a problem we do not have clear statistics in its scale and scope, and the crime often involves transnational issues such as languages, repatriation processes, domestic criminal laws, and various government offices (including security, labour, social welfare and law enforcement units), significant progress has been made nevertheless over the past decade. To date, 160 UN Member State have ratified the United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons since its entry into force in 2003. Many countries have since passed new or updated legislation. For example, Bangladesh is a hub for trafficking activities with Bangladeshi nationals trafficked aboard or internally. A new Anti-Human Trafficking Act was enacted in year 2012 and covered all forms of exploitation indicated in the UN Trafficking Protocol. Before 2012, its legislation only covered trafficking for sexual exploitation but in reality we know many were trafficked for forced labour or other forms of slavery.

I need to say again, trafficking is a distressing issue but not hopeless. From all the transformational stories I heard over the years, restoration stories from trafficked victims are the most powerful, demonstrating how the living Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can make a new creation out of complete brokenness. Not that all their painful experiences would disappear, but our God of Justice has embraced them with grace, mercy and love, allowing them to have the strength and a reason to journey into eternity.

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