UN-designated Day for
Developing Awareness of Human Trafficking
11 January has been designated by
the UN General Assembly as a day to develop awareness of human
trafficking. Awareness has been growing, but effective remedies
are slow and uncoordinated. Effective remedies are often not
accessible to victims of trafficking owing to gaps between setting
international standards, enacting national laws and then implementation
in a humane way.
The international standards have been set out in the United
Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking
in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Convention
and the Protocol standards are strengthened by the International
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers
and Members of their Families. The world-wide standards
have been reaffirmed by regional legal frameworks such as the
Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking
in Human Beings.
Despite clear international and regional standards, there
is poor implementation, limited government resources and infrastructure
dedicated to the issue, a tendency to criminalize victims and
restrictive immigration policies in many countries.
Trafficking in persons is often linked to networks trafficking
in drugs and arms. Some gangs are involved in all three ; in
other cases agreements are made to specialize and not expand
into the specialty of other criminal networks. These networks
often act with a high degree of impunity from government services.
Basically there are three sources of trafficking in persons.
The first are refugees from armed conflicts. Refugees are covered
by the Refugee Conventions supervised by the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country of first asylum. Thus Syrian
refugees are protected and helped by the UNHCR in Lebanon, but
not if they leave Lebanon. As ¼ of the population of
Lebanon are now refugees from the conflicts in Syria, the Lebanese
government is increasingly placing restrictions on Syrian's possibility
to work in Lebanon, to receive schooling, medical services, proper
housing etc. Thus many Syrians try to leave Lebanon or Turkey
to find a better life in Western Europe. Refugees from Iraq,
Afghanistan, Sudan follow the same pattern.
The second category are people leaving their country for economic
reasons - sometimes called economic refugees. Migration
for better jobs and a higher standard of living has a long history.
Poverty, ethnic and racial discrimination, and gender-based
discrimination are all factors in people seeking to change countries.
With ever-tighter immigration policies in many countries and
with a popular backlash against migrants in some
countries, would-be migrants turn to passers - individuals
or groups that try to take migrants into a country, avoiding
A third category - or a subcategory of economic migration
- is the sex trade, usually of women but also children. As a
Human Rights Watch study of the Japanese sex-entertainment
businesses notes There are an estimated 150,000 non-Japanese
women employed in the Japanese sex industry, primarily from other
Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines. These
women are typicallyemployed in the lower rungs of the industry
either in 'dating' snack bars or in low-end brothels, in which
customers pay for short periods of eight or fifteen minutes.
Abuses are common as job brokers and employers take advantage
of foreign women's vulnerability as undocumented migrants: they
cannot seek recourse from the police or other law enforcement
authorities without risking deportation and potential prosecution,
and they are isolated by language barriers, a lack of community,
and a lack of familiarity with their surroundings. We
find similar patterns in many countries.
The scourge of trafficking in persons will continue to grow
unless strong counter measures are taken. Basically, police
and governments worldwide do not place a high priority on the
fight against trafficking unless illegal migration becomes a
Thus real progress needs to be made through non-governmental
organizations (NGOs). There are four aspects to this anti-trafficking
effort. The first is to help build political will by giving
accurate information to political leaders and the press. The
other three aspects depend on the efforts of the NGOs themselves.
Such efforts call for increased cooperation among NGOs and capacity
The second aspect is research into the geographic areas from
which children and women are trafficked. These are usually the
poorest parts of a country and among marginalized populations.
Socio-economic and educational development projects must be
directed to these areas so that there are realistic avenues for
The third aspect is the development of housing and of women's
shelters to ensure that persons who have been able to leave exploitive
situations have temporary housing and other necessary services.
The fourth aspect is psychological healing. Very often women
and children who have been trafficked into the sex trades have
a disrupted or violent family and have a poor idea of their self-worth.
This is also often true of refugees from armed conflict. Thus,
it is important to create opportunities for individual and group
healing, to give a spiritual dimension to the person through
teaching meditation and yoga. There are needs for creating adult
education facilities so that people may continue a broken education
cycle. There are NGOs who are already working along these lines.
Their efforts need to be encouraged and expanded
* Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens