Friday, October 3, 2008

What You Should Know About Human Trafficking

What is Human Trafficking?
Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining, by any means, any person for labor or services involving forced labor, slavery or servitude in any industry, such as forced or coerced participation in agriculture, prostitution, manufacturing, or other industries or in domestic service or marriage. International law has largely defined trafficking as the movement of women and girls across borders for the purpose of prostitution. As plenty of debates in international forums have since shown, trafficking in persons is far broader in scope. It may well involve forcing young women and girls into prostitution, but traffickers also use violence, deception, coercion, or exploitation to keep both men and women in slavery-like conditions. People can, for example, be trafficked into abysmal working conditions on farms, in factories, or in domestic households. Children are especially vulnerable to such forms of exploitation, including being forced to work in sweatshops, or as child soldiers.

Where is Human Trafficking taking place?
Trafficking is more widespread than most people realize, but the international community is increasingly taking notice. More information is now available about the range of abuses suffered by trafficked victims and an increasing number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have made combating trafficking a central element of their work.

Who is at risk of Human Trafficking?
While labour exploitation of all kinds is widespread, much of the trafficking trade involves sexual exploitation and is a criminal activity that primarily impacts young women and girls. As such, it has moved to the top of the women’s agenda. Victims, often underprivileged and promised good jobs in another country, find themselves forced into prostitution. They may be beaten, raped, or imprisoned by owners who seek to make substantial profits from the victim’s “services.” Ostracized from families and communities, these women and girls are frequently deprived of the most basic of human rights related to freedom of movement, shelter, and health care. While these are sad realities, greater awareness about the impacts of human trafficking is a first step towards its abolition.

What are some statistics of Human Trafficking?
Because of the illegal nature of the business, it is difficult to compile accurate statistics on trafficking. While the U.S. government estimates that about 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, this figure is probably a conservative one. For one thing, it doesn’t take into account the vast numbers of people who are trafficked within countries. Furthermore, because victims or law enforcement officers may not always have incentives to report crimes, they go under-reported. Thus, some international organizations and NGOs put the estimate of the number of people trafficked each year closer to 2 million.
Asia is a particularly burgeoning market where sex trafficking is concerned. Women are especially victimized in poor countries like Nepal where they have low status and limited employment opportunities. UN agencies estimate that some 200,000 Nepalese women and girls are in sex brothels in India, for example. While there are heated debates over what constitutes voluntary vs. involuntary prostitution, it remains that thousands of women and girls are forced into this business. Countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Bangladesh are also at the center of the sex trafficking trade.

Does Human Trafficking exist in the West?
There is no question that trafficking is also prolific in the West. Although some NGOs say the figures are much too low, U.S. officials estimate that about 20,000 women and children are brought into the U.S. every year under false pretences and held in servitude, including for domestic work, prostitution, or agricultural labor. While the figures are also contested in Europe, it is estimated that anywhere from 200,000-500,000 women are trafficked annually into the European Union. Many of these are from the Balkans.

Why is trafficking so pervasive in the first place?
It’s big business for one thing. Although estimates vary, it is thought that about $7-9.5 billion is made every year from human trafficking. After arms sales and drug dealing, trafficking in persons is the fastest growing criminal industry. Additionally, because there is little risk of prosecution for traffickers themselves, the business continues to thrive. Some governments are starting to impose stricter penalties on those caught for trafficking, but, from the trafficker’s perspective, the gains to be made still far outweigh the risks. For all of these reasons, more effective prosecution of traffickers is fundamental. Some organizations have also argued, however, that trafficking in unlikely to be stopped until economic hardship and poverty are addressed. When faced with ongoing deprivation, the promises offered by traffickers of a better life can be hard to resist. Trafficking is fueled by more vulnerable and displaced people flooding into the cities to look for work and a global demand for cheap labor. Providing alternative options for employment, educating potential victims to the hazards of trafficking, and improving gender equity can all make a difference.

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