‘Human Trafficking’ is modern day slavery; it is best defined as ‘the trade in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labour, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others’. Most of the victims of human trafficking are children and women. According to recent estimates of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC):
· 51% of identified victims of trafficking are women, 28% children and 21% men
· 72% people exploited in the sex industry are women
· 63% of identified traffickers were men and 37% women
· 43% of victims are trafficked domestically within national borders
Since the last decade, human trafficking has reached alarming proportions all over the world. Whilst there is surely a heightened awareness of this painful reality and that much more is being to combat this scourge, the bitter truth is that nothing seems to be enough.
In 2013, the UN General Assembly held a high-level meeting to appraise the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons and noted “ that currently, there are millions of trafficking in persons victims in the world. Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims”. Through a resolution it also designated July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, stating that such a day was necessary to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”
So as we approach another ‘special day’, it is important to look this scourge squarely in the face and see what can be done at every level to stop human trafficking. India has the dubious distinction of being a hub in South Asia for human trafficking. In March 2017, India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development told Parliament that there almost 20,000 women and children who were victims of human trafficking in the country in 2016.This number is a 25% rise from the previous year. Officials claim that this rise is perhaps due to the fact that there are more people who are not only aware of this crime but are also reporting it. However, there are many who are convinced that the actual victims of human trafficking in India could reach mind-boggling numbers. Many do not report the crime either because they are unaware of the law, are afraid of the human traffickers or of the law enforcement officials or are just too poor to have any other option in life.
The US State Department in a recent report on ‘Human Trafficking’ states, “India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Forced labor constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage—sometimes inherited from previous generations—are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. The majority of India’s trafficking problem is internal, and those from the most disadvantaged social strata—lowest caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, and women and girls from excluded groups—are most vulnerable. Within India, some are subjected to forced labor in sectors such as construction, steel, and textile industries; wire manufacturing for underground cables; biscuit factories; pickling; floriculture; fish farms; and ship breaking. Thousands of unregulated work placement agencies reportedly lure adults and children under false promises of employment for sex trafficking or forced labor, including domestic servitude”.
Human traffickers are powerful people with the ‘right connections’; in India they are politicians themselves or if not, they have political patronage. A few years ago, a BJP MP of Gujarat was arrested for human trafficking; last March, a BJP woman from West Bengal was charged with running a flourishing child trafficking racket and she has also named some of the other political bosses who support her; recently in May 2017, a BJP leader of Madhya Pradesh was arrested for running an online sex racket. In most cases nothing happens to such criminals, who literally get away with murder.
Human trafficking is not confined to India alone. War and conflict in several parts of the world has resulted that many people (particularly children and women) who flee war and persecution, often fall prey to unscrupulous human traffickers and/or smugglers. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that, “Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment” The ISIS has captured an estimated 3.000 Yazidi women and use them as sex slaves. Several other refugee and migrant women virtually have no choice but to allow themselves to be sexually exploited since they are in the clutches of powerful traffickers.
T he Asian Movement of Women Religious Against Human Trafficking (AMRAT), is a network of over fifty religious congregations of South Asia, with a ‘collaborative commitment’ to address key issues, to find solutions and put an end to this modern-day form of slavery and exploitation. Since its inception a few years ago AMRAT members have done creditable work among victims of human trafficking. Speaking at the last General Body Meeting which was held in Kochi in November 2016 Sr. Jyothi Pinto BS (former Superior General of the Bethany Sisters and the Foundress of AMRAT) said, “ the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes, as networks of relationships from among people, who discover they share a common cause and vision of what is possible.”
AMRAT’s vision and actions have been consistent with the stand that Pope Francis has taken against human trafficking. He has called human trafficking “a crime against humanity” “a form of slavery”, “a grave violation of human rights” and “an atrocious scourge”. He has also said that there is also “evidence which brings one to doubt the real commitment of some important players.” He has emphasized the need of having Partnerships to combat this evil and as a fourth pillar to the already existing ‘3P’ pillars: Prevention, Protection and Prosecution.
Addressing a group of ambassadors newly accredited to the Vatican on Dec 12th 2013, Pope Francis underscored that it is a disgrace that persons “are treated as objects, deceived, assaulted, often sold many times for different purposes and, in the end, killed or, in any case, physically and mentally harmed, ending up discarded and abandoned.”
( The writer is a well-known human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Published on 31st July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 31)