Topics of Special Interest
Extremely poor economic and humanitarian conditions in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) combined with a severe shortage of jobs, a lack of basic freedoms, and a system of political repression have led many North Koreans to seek a way out. They escaped across the border into the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) where tens of thousands of North Koreans may now reside illegally, more than half of whom are women. With conditions in their home country making North Koreans ripe for exploitation, the Tumen and Yalu River borders are “hot spots” for the trafficking of mostly North Korean women and girls.
Some North Korean women and children voluntarily cross the border into China and then in a foreign environment are captured by traffickers for both sexual exploitation and forced labor. Other times they are lured out of North Korea with the promise of a “better life” as waitresses or factory workers, then prostituted in brothels or ensnared in coercive labor arrangements. Some of the women are sold as brides to Chinese nationals, usually within the ethnically Korean border region.
Exacerbating their plight, North Koreans discovered by Chinese authorities are treated as illegal economic migrants in China and threatened with forced repatriation where they face severe punishment, or even execution, for escaping. A core principle of an effective anti-trafficking strategy is the protection of all victims, including foreign nationals. While the P.R.C. has taken some steps to address trafficking in persons across its borders with Vietnam and Burma, it has done little to address the status of vulnerable North Koreans within its borders, and does not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to their removal from China. The humanitarian and economic situation in the D.P.R.K. has not shown marked improvement. Neither government is doing enough to punish or prevent the trafficking of North Korean men, women, and children.
Boy Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Though they often go unreported, boys around the world also face the trauma of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. According to ILO and UNICEF, two percent of those forced into commercial sexual exploitation are men or boys, but the practice might be far more widespread than reported due to social stigmas associated with sex with boys.
The sexual exploitation of boys may take place in informal, unorganized settings, making them both vulnerable to abuse and less likely to be identified by authorities charged with assisting them. Young street boys form relationships with older boys for protection, and are sometimes forced by these boys to have sex with older men for profit as part of the relationship. Public meeting places are often arranged, including parks, markets, bus terminals, rail stations, hotels, beaches, and movie theaters. When boys have pimps, they may endure injections with hormones to accelerate physical maturity and increase sexual performance, with painful results and long-term health consequences. Traffickers have also been known to lure boys into prostitution by making them dependent on drugs and alcohol.
Culture and stigma play a significant role in the victimization of boys in prostitution. Some researchers, for instance, believe that strict gender-segregation can foster the sexual exploitation of boys in situations when adult men do not have access to women for sex. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, for example, boys are sometimes forced into prostitution behind the cultural practice of bachabazi or launda dancing—where boys dressed as girls dance at weddings and private parties for men. A different concern was highlighted by a research study on commercial sex in Costa Rica, which concluded: “Local demand for young boys arises because homosexuality is heavily stigmatized in Costa Rica, so ‘respectable’ Costa Rican men prefer to pick up boys from the street and take them somewhere discreet to use them rather than to enter into open homosexual relationships with their social and/or age equals.”
Sexual exploitation of boys is also found in tourist destinations. The beaches of Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Dominican Republic are host to men seeking sexual encounters with boys who are pimped by men or other boys. In Thailand, boys aged between 10 and 15 can earn $280 a night having sex with foreign men. In some European cities, including in Great Britain and the Czech Republic, “rent boys,” often very young, are exploited in train stations by incoming tourists. According to NGO sources, Ghana and the Gambia face a growing problem of boys in prostitution.
The hidden nature of these boys’ trauma means they receive little or no help. Social stereotypes that presume boys cannot be exploited in prostitution often result in their exclusion from assistance, forcing many to remain silently in the sex trade.
Women as Exploiters
Although men are more commonly identified by the media as traffickers and exploiters of victims in the commercial sex trade, a closer look at trafficking reveals that women are frequently culpable offenders too. Women as recruiters, brothel operators, and even “clients” of commercial sexual exploitation are more common occurrences than previously thought.
Female trafficking victims in Europe and Central and South Asia are frequently recruited and trafficked into prostitution by other women, sometimes women who were themselves previously trafficking victims. Dubbed “Happy Trafficking” in parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the method minimizes risks to organizers and maximizes profits through a “layering” of trafficking that involves multiple levels of traffickers who buy and sell a victim repeatedly. Physical and psychological pressure is combined with financial incentives to turn victims into traffickers. In part to avoid detection by authorities, traffickers grant some victims limited freedom—and even reward them financially—while coercing them through other means to return to their home countries and recruit one or more women to replace them. “Happy” refers to victims-turned-traffickers’ practice of claiming to have had an ideal experience in legitimate jobs in the West or elsewhere, hiding the fact that they have been forced into prostitution themselves. Some anti-trafficking activists describe this “Happy Trafficking” as involving a type of refined psychological coercion that conveys the message that those who comply will be rewarded, while those who refuse to comply will be severely punished.
Women also serve as pimps and madams, brokering illicit commercial sexual transactions, that include trafficking. From brothels in West African countries selling children for sex to others in South Africa exploiting Thai women forced into prostitution, women may be found running the operations. Criminal organizations often employ female traffickers because governments frequently exhibit leniency toward female criminals. In many countries in Eurasia, female traffickers are released from serving prison time when they are pregnant or mothers of young children and receive lighter sentences than men, often because they are found guilty of low-level recruitment offenses.
Women are also reportedly found among the wealthier “clients” of the commercial sex trade, including international sex tourism. Women in some regions, for example, are reportedly traveling to countries in Africa, such as Kenya and The Gambia, and paying to have sex with young adult men. Like their male counterparts, women who patronize the commercial sex industry help form a demand which traffickers seek to satisfy.
Trafficking in Persons and New Technologies
At a recent U.S. conference on human trafficking, 17 year-old Rosita was describing the business mode of her boyfriend-trafficker. In contrast to many commonly heard stories of trafficking, Rosita was not held against her will in a back-alley brothel. Nor was she moved around on street circuit in a bad part of town. Instead, her trafficker was advertising on a popular internet list-serve where buyers and sellers are able to come together virtually to make business deals and exchanges. A description of the “service” was posted, along with the trafficker’s cell phone. Buyers called and made discrete arrangements. Following the business deal, Rosita was delivered to a home, a hotel, or other meeting place at an agreed upon time for an agreed upon price. Rosita was trafficked for prostitution in this manner when she was between the ages of 14 and 17.
This case had all the elements of common trafficking—Rosita was recruited as a child, and forced, by a violent and abusive boyfriend, to be sold for commercial sexual exploitation. What was different about the case was the trafficker’s use of new technologies to facilitate her sale. Numerous similar cases have emerged, illustrating the use of new technologies, such as cell phones, text messaging, and other phone technologies to facilitate business; chat rooms to exchange information on sex tourism sites around the world; social media and social networking to target, stalk, and land victims, as well as to convey, buy, and sell pornographic records of sex trafficking; instant messaging to communicate in real time with victims or targets; and more. In addition to phones and the Internet, traffickers may also be using new ubiquitous technologies such as chips, global positioning systems, and biometric data.
A two-pronged approach to addressing these developments is important. As a preliminary measure, countries should begin to document all cases in which new technologies are utilized by traffickers for either sex or labor trafficking. Such information is a necessary first step toward analyzing and designing interventions in cases where technology is used to facilitate trafficking.
At the same time, law enforcement should examine ways to utilize “reverse engineering” to combat sex trafficking, identifying ways to identify new victims and to obtain protection and services for them. New technologies can be harnessed for the good of identifying traffickers and customers, and to facilitate arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of the exploiters.
Protecting Children From Child Sex Tourism
This year, in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report addresses governments efforts to prevent child sex tourism (CST) by their nationals.
FACTS ON CHILD SEX TOURISM
An estimated two million children worldwide face the horrors of exploitation in the transnational sex trade. Child sex tourism involves people who travel to engage in commercial sex acts with children. The lives of such prostituted children are appalling. Studies indicate that each of these children may be victimized by 100 to 1,500 perpetrators per year. Prostituted children live in constant fear and often suffer from many physical ailments, including tuberculosis, infections, and physical injuries resulting from violence inflicted upon them.
PROTECTING CHILDREN WORLDWIDE
Several U.S. laws safeguard children from sexual predators, including the Mann Act, the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act of 1994, and the PROTECT Act of 2003. Federal law bars U.S. residents from engaging in sexual or pornographic activities with a child under 18 anywhere in the world. Seeking to protect children worldwide, the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) developed Operation Predator, an initiative to identify, investigate, and arrest child predators traveling to and from the United States. ICE is also working with law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups around the globe to investigate crimes of this nature.
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION LEADS TO PROGRESS
The August 2007 conviction of Anthony Mark Bianchi in a U.S. Federal Court is one of 36 convictions of PROTECT Act cases over the past five years demonstrating the success that can result from international collaboration against child sex tourism. Bianchi, a New Jersey resident, committed sex crimes against minors in Moldova and Romania. In one instance, he took a young victim to a Romanian pub for his birthday, gave him wine, and after the child became intoxicated, Bianchi engaged in illicit sexual conduct with him. Eight of his victims crossed the globe to share their horrifying ordeal with a U.S. jury. Assistance from dedicated Moldovan and Romanian officials was critical to the successful prosecution of this case.
Several governments are taking commendable steps to counter child sex tourism. Brazil has a national awareness campaign on the issue that is broadcast in several languages. State-controlled Air France shows in-flight videos highlighting the crime and penalties for committing child sex tourism offenses, and allocates a portion of in-flight toy sales to fund awareness programs on the issue. Madagascar has distributed a film on the dangers of child sex tourism to schools throughout the country.
YOU CAN HELP: REPORT SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN
Report suspected incidents of child sex tourism involving American citizens to ICE by telephone or email: 1-866-DHS-2ICE or Operation.Predator@dhs.gov. Report suspected child sexual exploitation to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com. If overseas assistance is needed, contact the regional security officer at the local American embassy or consulate.
Trafficking of Migrant Workers
A number of governments, particularly within Asia and the Middle East, have entered into bilateral agreements or Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) in order to encourage and formally manage the flow of migrant workers from one country to another. To date, however, very few if any of such agreements contain any provisions explicitly protecting the workers in question from conditions of forced labor or other forms of trafficking in persons. At the same time, the number of cases reported to the Department of State has raised concerns that labor trafficking is occurring within the context of this otherwise legal form of transnational labor migration.
An example of this phenomenon: A worker is recruited in his home town in a South Asian country for a two-year construction contract in a Gulf state. The labor recruiting company tells the worker that he will earn $250 a month in addition to overtime payments for more than 40 hours worked in a week, and he will receive free room, board, medical care, and one day off per week. Upon arrival, however, the worker discovers that he is to be paid $120 per month with no paid overtime, and deductions of $15 a month are to be taken from his paycheck for food. He was deceived by the labor recruiter, who collaborated with the worker’s Gulf state employer, and now he is exploited by the employer who has confiscated the worker’s passport and threatens to turn him over to immigration authorities as an undocumented migrant if he does not continue working. Through threatened abuse of the legal process (immigration laws) the employer has coerced the migrant worker to continue his labor on terms to which the laborer did not consent. This is trafficking in persons.
This is but one example of trafficking that has been reported to be occurring within the context of otherwise legal, transnational labor migration. In order to more effectively address such problems, source and destination governments are encouraged to collaborate, and where appropriate, to include in their MOUs and bilateral agreements specific measures to prevent trafficking in persons.
Governments participating in existing multilateral, regional, and sub-regional initiatives such as the Colombo Process and the Abu Dhabi Dialogue are also encouraged to collaborate with the ILO, in light of its mandate to eliminate forced or compulsory labor.
The following are some possible strategies to counter the trafficking of transnational migrant workers:
Recruitment (Source Countries): Labor source governments should prohibit and punish the exploitation of migrant workers by labor recruiters who recruit workers through fraudulent offers of work conditions, or who impose fees that lead to situations of debt bondage. Source country governments should ensure that labor recruiters are properly vetted, licensed, and monitored, and should increase efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with labor recruitment and migration.
Recruitment (Destination Countries): Labor destination governments should consider steps to ensure that workers recruited for work in their countries are not the victims of fraudulent work offers or conditions of debt bondage. The activities and practices of local recruitment agencies should be monitored. Labor agencies should be held criminally accountable for acts of force, fraud, or coercion committed against foreign workers.
Labor Agreements (both Source and Destination Countries): Negotiation of bilateral or multilateral agreements, or MOUs, between source and destination governments should be conducted in a transparent fashion, with participation of civil society and associations representing workers and employers, as appropriate. These agreements, or MOUs, should be made publicly accessible and should explicitly protect workers from conditions of forced labor and other forms of trafficking in persons.
Victim Complaints (Destination Countries): Labor destination governments should encourage workers to report alleged cases of forced labor to law enforcement authorities with a goal of criminally investigating these alleged acts and punishing perpetrators with sufficiently stringent penalties. As part of such encouragement efforts, governments should consider incentives for workers, such as the provision of shelter, medical care, free legal aid with translation services, the ability to work while awaiting resolution of investigations, and avenues for victims to claim and obtain restitution.
Victim Identification (Destination Countries): Labor destination countries should have procedures in place to ensure that foreign workers are screened for evidence of trafficking prior to being removed for lack of legal immigration status. Training law enforcement officials and immigration officers on victim identification, or the deployment of trained victim identification specialists, are among the measures destination countries should consider in order to improve their ability to identify trafficking victims.
Preventing Abuse of the Legal System in Destination Countries: Labor destination governments should institute measures to ensure that migrant workers have the ability to leave an abusive employer and seek legal redress for complaints of forced labor or debt bondage without fear of automatic detention and deportation. To ensure that exploitative employers cannot abuse the legal status of migrant workers in such a way as to abet trafficking in persons, a destination country should take steps to make migrant workers aware of their rights and the avenues available to fi le complaints, and encourage workers to do so.
Street Children and Trafficking
Eleven-year-old Theresa ran away from her rural home in the Philippines after her uncle sexually abused her, joining other street children in a nearby city rummaging through garbage for food and sleeping under a bridge. Not long after she arrived on the streets, a pimp pushed Theresa into prostitution. Across the globe, street children like Theresa represent one of the most vulnerable groups, both for sexual exploitation and forced labor. In major cities worldwide, street children are lured into brothels, where they are also exposed to physical and sexual abuse, drug addiction, and HIV. A large number of street children are reportedly prostituted in the urban areas of the Philippines. Prostitution of street children also occurs in the United States; one study found that 90 percent of street children in Atlanta, for example, are also prostituted.
Street children are often also forced to steal or sell drugs by adult street gang members. In January 2008, British law enforcement authorities estimated that gangs forcing children to steal in London can earn the equivalent of $200,000 annually. In Mauritania, gangs recruit street children to sell drugs, not only exploiting the children for their labor, but exposing them to harmful substances to which they frequently become addicted. Among the myriad dangers street children face, forced begging is one of the most common. In Shenzhen, China, adults force street children to beg, sometimes breaking their arms or legs so that passers-by will take pity on the maimed children and pay more money. An undercover reporter learned in 2005 that a man in Shenzhen could earn between $30,000-$40,000 per year by forcing children to beg.
In many countries, children living on the street are former trafficking victims who have run away from abusive employers. In Senegal, for example, NGOs that provide care to street children report that many of the girls they assist were brought by extended family members from their home villages to Dakar to be placed in jobs as maids in private homes. After being subjected to sexual and physical abuse by employers, the girls fled to Dakar’s streets, oftentimes only to be re-trafficked.
Victim Trauma and Recovery
“I feel like they’ve taken my smile and I can never have it back,” reflects Liliana, a young woman trafficked into prostitution within Europe. The psychological and physical affects of commercial sexual exploitation are profound and remain long after a victim escapes from her trafficker. Trafficked women experience varying levels of trauma. Some victims are literally held captive, relentlessly battered and/or sexually violated. Others suffer less physical abuse, but are subjected to psychological torment and threats, living in fear of harm to themselves or their loved ones. A 2006 study found that 76 percent of 207 trafficked women interviewed were physically assaulted by their trafficker, pimp, madam, brothel and club owner, clients, or boyfriend. The same study found that 90 percent of victims reported being physically forced or intimidated into sex or other sexual acts, and 91 percent of victims reported being threatened with death, beatings, increased debt, harm to their children and families, or re-trafficking.
While physical symptoms of abuse can be treated immediately after escape or rescue and the corresponding injuries can start healing immediately, this study’s research has found that the symptoms of post-traumatic stress that the majority of sex trafficking victims report take at least 90 days to decrease significantly. The symptoms are psychological reactions to trauma similar to those seen in survivors of torture, which include depression, anxiety, hostility and irritability, recurring nightmares and memories of abuse, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and feelings of apathy or emotional detachment.
Worker Remittances—A Darker Side?
A United Nations study in late 2007 estimated that approximately 150 million migrant workers from developing countries around the world produce over $300 billion in annual remittances to their countries of origin. According to the conclusions of the study, this represents “one of the world’s largest poverty reduction efforts” and is a major contribution to “grass-roots economic development.” Indeed, with average annual remittances of over $2,000 per worker, the impact of these remittances is substantial. Most of these workers are unskilled or low-skilled, with annual incomes often between $1,500 and 4,000 a year.
Study of labor trafficking patterns suggest that the phenomenon of remittances may deserve closer scrutiny. Migrant workers often depend on labor recruiters or brokers to find a job, usually on a two- or three-year contract. While many of these recruiters are legal and provide a service at a fair cost, in some of the world’s largest labor exporting countries, there are also many exploitative recruiters who fraudulently induce workers into paying excessive “commissions” to secure a job abroad. Such exorbitant commissions can be grossly disproportionate to the services rendered by a recruiter and, in some instances, may be the equivalent of six months to one year of the worker’s actual pay received once abroad. To pay such fees, workers either become indebted to the recruiter, or take out a formal or informal loan in their country of origin, with the expectation of payment based on future wages earned abroad. In many instances, worker expectations and repayment terms are based on exaggerated and false representations by recruiters as to wages they can expect to earn in their new jobs.
Once at the overseas worksite, however, such high levels of indebtedness can make workers vulnerable to further exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Such employers use this information as leverage to subject workers to terms much less favorable than promised at the time of recruitment (e.g. more hours, less pay, and harsher conditions) —including, in some instances, conditions that amount to debt bondage.
How much of that annual $300 billion in remittances from such workers goes to pay off the debt incurred to pay unscrupulous recruiters? No one knows with precision. But research on labor recruitment practices in some countries suggests that it may be as high as 20 percent. With millions of migrant workers leaving a single source country alone, the proceeds of labor recruiters’ commissions could be in the billions of dollars. Moreover, a certain percentage of such remittances represents the wages of workers who are subjected to conditions amounting to or similar to debt bondage, unable to earn enough in their low-wage jobs to overcome and repay the high debt they have incurred, and exploited because of it.
With a significant portion of the foreign exchange remitted by migrant workers going to offset commissions charged by fraudulent recruiters, how much is truly left to reduce poverty, to develop the communities from which migrant laborers are drawn? More research needs to be conducted into the deleterious social and economic effects of labor recruiters who reap lucrative proceeds from exploiting migrant labor. But this phenomenon suggests that not only do economic underdevelopment and poverty contribute significantly to causing human trafficking, but the reverse is quite true as well.
The Myth of the Bad “Runaway Worker”
“Migrant worker will be imprisoned up to two years and face a $3,205 fine if they are found to have deliberately deserted their contracted jobs when overseas,” declares the law of a government of a country that is a major source of migrant laborers. Some governments of destination countries pursue workers who have “run away” with tenacity and harsh penalties. Several are known to offer bounties for each runaway worker found by citizens who deputize themselves as immigration officers.
In some instances, migrant workers from less developed countries who runaway from employers in more developed destination countries are too quickly assumed to be law-breakers and “bad workers.” While many destination governments fail to provide foreign workers with adequate recourse for help if abused by their employers, they are often unquestioning in assuming guilt of a worker who has run away. “Anti-abscondment” laws in some countries can lead to automatic arrest, incarceration, and often summary deportation if a worker is absent from his or her employment site for more than one day.
Data collected from NGOs, diplomatic missions, and international organizations, however, reveal that many of these “runaways” are fleeing abusive employers, debt bondage, or forced labor. Denied opportunities to seek help from their host government, they take the last resort – flight. Disproportionately high rates of runaways in particular sectors or by particular nationalities may reflect underlying exploitative practices in recruitment or employment, including practices that constitute trafficking. Destination governments should offer avenues through which workers can identify themselves as trafficking victims and seek help from exploitation without fear of automatic arrest or deportation. Likewise, governments of labor source countries need to protect their citizens who travel abroad for work, not punish them for fleeing abuse. Otherwise they are doubly victimized.
Invisible People: Statelessness and Trafficking
Fifteen-year-old Meesu from northern Thailand responded to a job offer to work in a restaurant in Bangkok and ended up trafficked to Malaysia for commercial sexual exploitation. After months of confinement in a brothel, Meesu and other girls from northern Thailand were finally rescued by Malaysian police accompanied by a Thai NGO. The girls were taken by police to an immigration detention center. Because Meesu is a member of a hill tribe and effectively stateless, no state recognizes her as a citizen and without identity documents, she could not be repatriated easily. Meesu languished for several months in a detention center while states argued who should be responsible for taking her back. Eventually a Thai cabinet resolution established guidelines for the return of stateless residents determined to be trafficking victims who can prove prior residence in Thailand, allowing Meesu to be returned to her family. These stateless residents can effectively be given residency status in Thailand on a case-by-case basis.
Stateless persons, which exist in every region of the world, are at high risk for trafficking due to their marginalized political status, lack of economic or educational opportunities, and poverty. In many instances, such individuals also lack identity or travel documents, putting them at risk of arrest when they travel outside of their communities, whether voluntarily or by force. Without documents or citizenship status, trafficking victims who find themselves outside of their country of origin may find it impossible to return, while at the same time having no legal status in the country where they now reside. Government-sponsored public awareness, economic development programs, or employment programs often bypass these invisible populations. In addition, stateless people are often unable to access state-sponsored benefits like healthcare and education.
As Meesu’s example suggests, a stateless person who becomes a trafficking victim may receive limited protection, little assistance, and be denied repatriation to his or her country of habitual residence. Measures to alleviate these vulnerabilities include: birth registration campaigns and more efficient, transparent, and accessible avenues for acquiring legal residency or citizenship. For countries or regions that share cross-border populations, similar approaches for providing documentation can be a helpful undertaking.
Prostitution and Trafficking: Adjusting Policy to Reality
Several countries have experimented with national models of legalized prostitution within government-regulated sectors. These countries might argue that regulation can provide standardized protection from disease and violence, prevent the involvement of organized crime, impose government oversight on a sector that previously existed beyond the law, and even help reduce sex trafficking.
Germany and the Netherlands legalized prostitution within a government-regulated sector between 1999 and 2002. New Zealand and several states in Australia did too. Other countries—including Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, and Switzerland—also regulate prostitution.
In accordance with a December 2002 policy decision, the U.S. Government opposes prostitution and any related activities, including pimping, pandering or maintaining brothels as contributing to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. U.S. policy is that these activities are inherently harmful and dehumanizing and should not be regulated as a legitimate form of work for any human being.
Where there is legal prostitution, governments have found they have to address ways that sex trafficking continues to flourish. As Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen told the New York Times earlier this year, “We realized that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings, and other criminal activities.” Organized crime networks do not register with the government, pay taxes, or protect people in prostitution. As government policies have shifted, so have criminal methods. Mayor Cohen added, “Trafficking in women continues. Women are now moved around more, making police work more difficult.” In a worthy step to the Netherlands’ credit, the city recently closed about one-third of Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district—closing establishments that it found were engaged in illegal activities. Authorities have needed to keep moving after the traffickers because legalization and regulation have not dried up sex trafficking, which has continued apace. Meanwhile, some countries such as Bulgaria have decided not to legalize prostitution, which will avoid the added burden of regulation.
In contrast to a legal regulation model, Sweden chose in 1999 to criminalize sex buying, pimping, and brothel keeping, while also decriminalizing the act of prostitution. Since around that date, there has been a decrease in known human trafficking cases, and a shrinkage of the commercial sex industry. Subsequently, other governments such as in South Korea, Denmark, and Scotland have variously considered or implemented measures aimed at shrinking the realm of legality for buying commercial sex. These experiments bear further examination as efforts to narrow the vulnerability to sex trafficking.
The health impact of prostitution overall is another important factor. Field research published in 2003 of women in prostitution in nine countries concluded that 63 percent were raped, 71 percent were physically assaulted, and 68 percent met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans, battered women seeking shelter, and rape survivors and refugees from state-organized torture. The myriad public health implications of prostitution also include HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases.
Custody of Child Trafficking Victims
As governments become increasingly aware of child trafficking problems, proactive efforts to rescue children from sites of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor are on the rise. While these initiatives are both critical and commendable, a rescue is only the first step in a longer process of victim protection. Unfortunately, the removal of children from sites of exploitation is often not followed by efforts to adequately protect these vulnerable children.
Too often, child victims are subjected to additional exploitation after being entrusted to an NGO or government agency for care. Such re-exploitation often results when children are either released inappropriately on their own or released to persons who are traffickers, including family members who were complicit in the child’s trafficking. In January 2007, for example, over 50 child trafficking victims in Accra were freed from a brothel by authorities. Yet, only hours after their rescue, traffickers reclaimed most of these victims by posing as boyfriends and family members at the government’s shelter, according to local observers. Similarly, after brothel raids in New Delhi, Pune, and Mumbai in the past year, groups of child sex trafficking victims were reportedly released back to their traffickers after police failed to follow procedures to transfer victims to Child Welfare Committees responsible for placing them in the care of reliable NGOs. Whether due to corruption or ignorance of proper procedure, police in these cases handed the victims over to traffickers who claimed to be their families or friends. In China, reports indicate that trafficking victims taken to protection centers in Urumqi, Xinjiang are sometimes released to individuals who claim to be relatives, but who ultimately turn out to be traffickers. In the United Kingdom, a 2007 study by ECPAT found that out of a sample of 80 child trafficking victims rescued by authorities and placed into government custody, 52 disappeared. The study indicates that the children were at risk of further abuse and exploitation.
To provide adequate protection to this highly vulnerable population, governments must train police and social welfare workers to recognize the deceptive measures traffickers use to reclaim victims. Governments should also ensure that shelters have adequate security to bar traffickers from entering and that their locations are not leaked to traffickers. ECPAT recommends providing each child victim with an assigned guardian to monitor the child’s safety while in government custody. Specialized shelters for children vulnerable to being trafficked may also assist in combating this problem. For example, after a number of under-age asylum seekers in the Netherlands disappeared into the hands of traffickers, the government, in 2007, established specialized, secure shelters to better protect such minors. Victims receive close monitoring and specialists educate them about the risk of being trafficked and the deceptive measures traffickers may employ to claim them.
Reports of Products Alleged To Be Made with Forced Labor in the Last Year
Forced labor takes place within a variety of industries throughout the world. During the past reporting year, for example, allegations of forced labor were made with respect to producers of a wide spectrum of agricultural commodities and manufactured goods, including:
- Shrimp processed in Thailand and Bangladesh
- Cotton harvested in Uzbekistan
- Cocoa harvested in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire
- Apparel made in Bangladesh, India, Jordan, and Malaysia
- Sugar cane harvested for ethanol production in Brazil
- Par-boiled rice made in India
- Bricks made in India, China and Pakistan
- Pig iron made in Brazil
(NOTE: Items on this list were connected to prominent allegations of forced labor on the part of one or more manufacturers that came to light during the reporting year; the veracity of all reports has not yet been fully established. This list is intended as a representative sample, and inclusion of any item on this list is not intended to suggest that the totality of any country’s production of such item has been linked to forced labor.)
Trafficking for Forced Begging
At the age of ten, Ali needed work to support his parents and three sisters. He jumped at the chance to travel to a wealthy neighboring country for work when his uncle offered to take him. Once there, however, his uncle made him sit on the street for 16 hours a day in scorching heat without shoes or proper clothing. His job was to beg for money, and if he did not make enough, his uncle beat him and threatened to hurt his sisters back home. When his uncle left the country, he sold Ali to a friend – for a discount since Ali was getting too old to beg properly. The friend treated Ali even worse than Ali’s uncle; he would beat and starve Ali and the other children. When Ali tried to run away, his owner cut off his fingers as punishment. At age 13, police arrested Ali for overstaying his visa in that country and put him in jail.
Among the myriad dangers street children face, forced begging is one of the most common. Children naturally garner sympathy from passersby, making them prime targets for organized criminal gangs and others seeking to exploit them for profit. In some cases, as with Ali, traffickers trick children into forced begging with false promises of better opportunities in the city or in foreign countries. Street children, without the support of families or social services, are also vulnerable to trafficking for forced begging. All children forced into begging face conditions such as harsh weather, abuse by other beggars, harassment from the public and police, and physical and verbal assault by their captors. These children rarely keep any of their earnings from the money they receive from patrons.
In some countries, unscrupulous individuals exploit cultural and religious practices to facilitate forced begging. In a number of predominantly Muslim West African countries, for example, traffickers posing as Koranic teachers, known as marabout, recruit boys. Parents willingly send their children with these men due to the long-standing cultural tradition of giving children to religious instructors who will teach them fundamental Muslim values. Instead, these false marabout take children from their villages to big cities, where they force them to walk along busy highways, often without shoes on hot tarmac or dirty streets, and weave between cars asking for money. The “teachers” force the children, some as young as four years old, to do this for up to 12 hours per day. When the children do not return with a minimum amount of money, they are sometimes severely beaten, to the point of having permanent scars.
Elsewhere, such as in China and parts of South Asia, some children have been kidnapped from their homes and forced into life as beggars on the street. Gang members who kidnap these children set daily targets for the children to steal or beg. The gangs also get children addicted to drugs and sexually harass the girls to extend their control. One child noted, “They force us to pick up coins from boiling water as part of our training to snatch things quickly. If we miss the coin, they beat us with a belt. One 11-year-old boy tried to run away, but he was caught and almost beaten to death.”
This trafficking phenomenon is also found in the United States. In 2006, for example, the Department of Justice prosecuted a Mexican father and son for enslaving deaf and hearing impaired Mexicans on the streets and in the subways of New York, where they were forced to peddle trinkets for economic benefit of the two traffickers. After extradition facilitated by the close cooperation of Mexican authorities with the United States, the two stood trial in New York.
The Economics of Trafficking in Persons
To date, global efforts to combat trafficking in persons have focused on the criminalization of trafficking, along with measures to protect and assist victims. By comparison, relatively little attention has been given to the business of human trafficking—a worldwide criminal industry that generates billions of dollars of yearly profits for its “entrepreneurs.” By some estimates, this “industry” is not only thriving, but growing. Recent estimates of this illegal global trade are as high as $32 billion, if both the sale of individuals and the value of their exploited labor or services are taken into account. The money generated by sex trafficking alone is conservatively estimated at $7 billion per year, although Interpol has given a higher estimate of $19 billion annually. In 2005, the International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a report that estimates profits from sex trafficking at $217.8 billion a year or $23,000 per victim. Some have suggested that this underground criminal enterprise will continue until the problem is addressed from an economic perspective.
Both governments and NGOs should consider whether additional data can be gathered or compiled to facilitate the study of the economic impact of trafficking, in addition to the law enforcement and human rights dimensions of the problem. Financial crime experts could be enlisted to review case studies and “deconstruct” the typical business plans of traffickers by following the pipeline of activity from recruiters, through transporters to receivers, and following the money trail from the first transaction to the last, including through off-shore bank activity. The goal should be to identify specific economic policies and anti-financial crime interventions that may assist in combating human trafficking. A better understanding of the business of trafficking can only assist in the efforts to eradicate this global criminal enterprise and end contemporary forms of slavery.