Human trafficking: The ugly truths
If you read the title of this article and decide to look away, I understand. There is something in the horrible words themselves - the trafficking in people - that turns your stomach. Yet, the headlines keep coming, because the problem keeps growing.
As expats, we are familiar with crossing national borders and choosing to live outside our birth countries. But these fellow world travelers represent the very darkest side of the international movement of people.
Whether referred to as human trafficking, people trafficking, trafficking in persons, or similar names, it is a scourge of appalling magnitude and devastation. It happens all around us and it needs to be addressed.
So since you have chosen to keep reading, let me share with you some ugly truths.
Trafficking of humans exists
According to US Department of State estimates, more than one million human beings are trafficked each year, predominantly women and children of both sexes. One million people!
Most of the trafficking in people is for the purpose of forced sexual commerce. This differs from prostitution, whether legalised (as it is here in the Netherlands) or not, in that victims of sexual trafficking receive no payment whatsoever.
It is outright sexual slavery and there is absolutely no "choice" involved. They are literally held captive, cut off from all family, friends or others who might help. They are physically, psychologically, emotionally and sexually abused in the most horrific ways imaginable.
Other human trafficking victims are forced to perform labour in factories, on farms and in homes. Statistics also include those forced into marriage.
The criminal element underpins trafficking in people
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) headquartered in Vienna, has put in place an international framework to implement the UN's Trafficking in Persons Protocol.
In doing so, they acknowledge the strong link between human trafficking and international organised criminal elements and supplement the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC).
In his work "Human Trafficking and Organised Crime in the US and Western Europe," John Picarelli describes that while major international organised crime elements are definitely involved on a large scale, participation is not limited to these groups; trafficking in people also involves smaller ad hoc criminal groups and entrepreneurially-minded individual criminals.
Human trafficking is "Big Business"
In comments associated with the submission of her May 2010 Report to the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, reiterated that "human trafficking remains one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world." Profits on such illicit activity are difficult to estimate, but are believed to be in the billions.
The international organisation STOP (Stop Trafficking of People) maintains that "trafficking is a low risk, high profit industry that operates through elaborate criminal networks worldwide." In addition to forced sexual or other activity, victims are traded like commodities - for illegal drugs, weapons, even other victims.
It requires a multi-shareholder approach
In 2007, the UN launched a Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT). Under the motto "Human Trafficking: A Crime that Shames Us All," UN.GIFT brings the resources and attention of key components of the UN structure to bear on this problem.
UN.GIFT's premise is simple yet stark: this is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be solved by government structures alone. The global initiative works with all shareholders - governments, business, academia, civil society and the media - "to support each other’s work, create new partnerships and develop effective tools to fight human trafficking."
Human trafficking in the Netherlands
It is believed that trafficking in people exists in virtually every country in the world and the Netherlands is no exception. According to the office of the Dutch National Rapporteur (DNR) on Trafficking in Human Beings, the issue "is regarded in the Netherlands and internationally as a serious crime and a violation of the victim’s human rights."
The Netherlands is considered a source, transit and destination country for people trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. The DNR shows a threefold increase in reported victims from 2000 to 2009.
While there may have been "only" 900 reported victims in the Netherlands in 2009, the chilling truth is that the number of unreported victims is significantly higher.
What can you do?
› Get informed
Learn more about the horrors of people trafficking, through websites and other forms of media.
Educate yourself about the challenges faced on a daily basis in combating this menace, and how governments, international organisations such as the United Nations and non-governmental organisations such as STOP are fighting to reduce and eventually eliminate this terrible activity.
› Lend your voice
I have chosen to write about the human trafficking issue as part of an effort to raise awareness.
Let your local and national government know that you support taking a tough stance on dealing with these crimes and back up your support with your vote. Sign online petitions to reflect consensus that these atrocities need to be stopped.
› Financial help
Consider offering financial contributions to organisations working diligently to help victims.