Human Trafficking is defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as, “The Act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”1
Human trafficking is considered to be modern-day slavery and an undeniable global catastrophe. In 2012, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 21 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery.
- 14.2 million (68%) were exploited for labour
- 4.5 million (22%) were sexually exploited
- 2.2 million (10%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labour. 2
According to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report, “Trafficking has a broad global impact as well. It weakens legitimate economies, fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, shatters families, and shreds the social fabric that is necessary for progress. And it is an affront to our basic values and our fundamental belief that all people everywhere deserve to live and work in safety and dignity.” 3
McCain and Garrity in their article ‘Sex Trafficking and the Exploitation of Adolescents’ reiterate the fact that the trafficking of women and girls forced into sex work and, to a lesser extent, domestic servitude was the sole focus of advocacy and assistance. Today, it is recognised that women, children and men are trafficked into many different forms of labour, and for sexual exploitation. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 4,000,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across international borders annually (USDS) and it is also the fastest growing crime, has serious public health implications and as well as being a violation of human rights. 4
Proactive early encounters and interventions (and not just rescuing and rehabilitating) are key to curbing this humungous crisis.
Oasis India’s nature of intervention has been primarily through prevention, early encounter interventions such as raids and rescue, and rehabilitation (aftercare). In the last 10 years alone, Oasis has rescued over 1,000 trafficked women and children and assisted back to wholeness over 6,00 victims of trafficking or those abandoned. We have reintegrated many back with their families. This wouldn’t have been possible if not for other stakeholders like government agencies and partners who have added value to our services. Similarly, various other government and private agencies have committed themselves to this cause and are tirelessly fighting human trafficking. Though I have listed a few numbers to convey the impact of human trafficking, we should remember that they are not merely statistics: they are human beings like you and me. And every life has a story to tell.
Story of Farah (name changed):
Taken for a vacation to Mumbai, Farah never returned home as promised. Her aunt took her to a brothel in Grant Road and sold her to a pimp. She was just 12 years old. The pimp, understanding that she was underage, let her stay in the brothel for 2-3 years. Once she was 16, she was forced to take her first customer. Farah begged the owner to take her back to her hometown and he promised her that if she did what he wanted, he would let her go. But he never did.
At 18, Farah fell in love with and married a customer. Soon, she became pregnant and went to live with her sister-in-law, who took good care of her. However, Farah’s idyllic life was disrupted when her sister-in-law revealed a shocking plan devised by her brother to kill Farah and their daughter. Knowing that there was no family to save her, she fled with her daughter to Kamathipura in Mumbai. Farah was very protective of her daughter and was unable to trust anyone. She knew her daughter was in danger as long as she lived in such a high-risk area. So she brought her 11-year-old daughter to Oasis’ night shelter for girls. When Farah became very sick, we ensured her access to healthcare. After a long period of counseling, she joined the vocational tailoring course, left the red-light area (RLA) and is now working at a hotel.
Many women from the RLA live in terror of their past and we give them the emotional support they need through counseling, the rhythm of life sessions and awareness sessions, in turn offering them an opportunity to rebuild their lives. 5
There are many such organisations that work to combat human trafficking. At the end of this article, I have mentioned the names of a few prominent agencies that are committed to fighting human trafficking. Having said that, just the organisations alone can’t confront this issue. It requires the whole international community and its citizens to take ownership of this issue and contribute towards bringing an end to it.
Getting to the bottom of the problem
In a human trafficking scenario, who is the victim? The trafficker? Or the trafficked? My opinion is, both the trafficker and the trafficked are victims of extreme vulnerability. They both are in need of freedom from captivity.
To find a real solution to the problem, both the symptom and the cause need to be simultaneously taken into consideration. Desmond Tutu said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in”. This is very much a proactive approach as opposed to a reactive one.
Human trafficking is a system based on supply and demand. The supply is formed by the marginalised who have very little choice, so traffickers take advantage of their vulnerabilities. 6 The traditional solution we all know is to find the perpetrators and put them behind bars, but the root of the problem is more complex than one solution. According to Pam Strickland, the supply and demand for human trafficking break down into three categories:
- The cheaper the better
- Low-risk, high-reward
- Sex Sells
The Cheaper the Better: No one likes to spend more money than necessary, so cutting corners to save a couple of dollars never hurts anybody, right? Wrong, especially when being cheap is at the price of someone else. An estimated 68% of human trafficking victims are forced labour victims. Often people forget that ‘cheap’ came at the high cost of someone’s freedom. Many of the victims are seen as easy targets because of poverty, immigration status, inequality, or racial background. Businesses competing with low wages in developing countries contribute to the demand for cheap labour. Victims of slave labour are forced or coerced to work in unsafe conditions for long hours and see little to no pay. The employers either keep defying the law or there is no law for basic human rights. On a global scale, more countries are imposing laws to protect workers and keep children out of hard labour in order to reduce the problem.
Low-risk, high-reward: However, the reason most people join the human trafficking trade is the lack of punishment and consequence. Even if there is rigorous punishments, implementation is not seen. There are several loopholes for the offenders. Even if the case is brought to trial many victims dread testifying for the fear of retaliation from their former captor, or some victims are seen as criminals. The fear and distrust of the law are also to blame for the low number of prosecuted cases. Criminals go free and contribute even more to a 32 billion dollar industry. People want money, they are driven by it, and human trafficking supplies the demand for money. Human rights activist Sister Pat Daly spoke on supply and demand, “This is all about supply and demand,” she said. “If no one was looking for cheap products, there would not be a demand for cheap labour. There is a direct correlation between human trafficking and unchecked consumerism. Or you can say unchecked business practices.”
Sex Sells: Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry, behind only the drug trade. The reason is that humans are reusable, drugs are not. Women and children are stripped of self-worth and power for the joy of another. Pimps and traffickers create the demand for sex, just as much as buyers do. The growing demand for sex is what keeps the trade going. If there were no johns, then sex trafficking victims wouldn’t be needed. The rule is simple: no demand, no supply. Humans buying humans for the purpose of sex is a heinous act that occurs with repeat offenders. A study by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that “76% of sex buyers want to stop, and that sex buying is a symptom of other emotional or mental issues.” This study hoped that rehabilitation for buyers would help combat the problem, but this isn’t validation for people who buy sex.
Human trafficking isn’t stopped with a few new policies and laws, it stops when people aren’t complicit. Educating members of society on the dangers and signs of human trafficking can help tackle the issue. Fighting for justice for victims, and ensuring that victims are not seen as criminals will also put an end to the problem. Anyone can be an activist if they become aware and participate in the destruction of the greedy and vile system that is human trafficking. 7
Individual responsibility and response
Way back in 2010, I had the privilege of visiting a home for the orphaned. It was a special experience. I have still got some precious as well as disturbing memories from our visits to this particular home. There were about 15 toddlers in that place (a room), rather stuck within confinement. I have been to several orphanages in the past, but this particular one gave us a unique yet strange experience. One common way little children/ babies communicate to us is through crying and laughter. But here, these children gazed at us in silence, and a few crawled over to us craving physical touch and comfort. They once must have cried trying to get the attention of the adults around them, but later realized help might never come their way. This incident left a lasting impression in my heart. The fact is, there are several voices among us that have gone quiet, if only we bother enough to look around and notice them. They need our voice and they need our help to escape the nightmare they are in.
Mother Teresa once said, “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right where you are—in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools.”
With that in mind, below are the five practical applications I’m recommending.
1. Understand the problem in its entirety through self-education
The issue of human trafficking is complex. The movie ‘Nefarious: Merchant of Souls’ is one great resource that brings to light the complexity of the issue in its entirety. The movie is based on extensive research and clearly depicts how the issue of human trafficking is linked to a belief system, cultures, politics, economics, the underworld, the pornography industry, and poverty. Globally, it’s a $32 billion industry involving 161 countries. 8 A comprehensive perspective on this issue will enable an individual or an organisation to figure out the appropriate mode of intervention, in the right areas and in the right time.
With easy access to internet/ online resources, we should be able to commit ourselves to some independent learning on the issue. In the process, it is also crucial to learn the indicators of human trafficking so we can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement and educators, among others.
2. Take responsibility
Desmond Tutu, who said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” was a South African social rights activist who spoke out against injustice his whole life. Staying silent and neutral in situations of injustice has given way to destruction in the history of mankind.
Here is a transcript from a presentation made by Eden D’Abreo and Carina Gummert on ‘Why did the world keep silent about the holocaust for so long’:
During the holocaust, a majority of people seemed to remain silent at the Nazis’ actions. Why did Germany keep silent about such injustice? Hitler tried to prevent citizens from reality by controlling the news, to prevent spreading awareness. For those who did know, they were frightened, and horrified, some even went into denial as they could not handle the fact that concentration camps even existed. There were consequences if one talked about it, varying from losing a job or endangering their family, to death. “For a moment, we remained alone. Suddenly Batia Reich, a relative who lived with us, entered the room: Someone is knocking on the window, the one that faces outside!” It was not until after the war that I found out who had knocked that night. It was an inspector of the Hungarian police, a friend of my father. Before we entered the ghetto, he had told us, “Don’t worry. I’ll warn you if there is any danger. Had he been able to speak to us that night, we might still have been able to flee. But by the time we succeeded in opening the window, it was too late, there was nobody outside.” 9
What if the citizens who knew what was to come warned others? What if the private transportation industry reported the movement of victims into the concentration camps? What if those who built the barracks and the gas chambers raised alarm bells? What if the German media took an ethical step in not manipulating its people through false propaganda? What if Hitler’s close associates protested his heartless decisions.
3. Educate the younger generation
By sensitising the younger generation and encouraging them to become agents of change, we create a proactive generation that will be responsible for protecting and developing safer and thriving communities for the future.
Transformation starts with us, during those dinner time discussions; in primary school, through life skill lessons; at youth gatherings, through inspirational talks; in various faith communities, through mentoring and accountability relationships. It’s the support and intervention at the early stages of a child or a young person that inculcates good values.
In the communities that Oasis India works, a lot of emphases is placed on prevention. Through street awareness programs, one-on-one mentoring, community group activities, regular sessions on child rights and safety, and specialised counseling sessions we are able to closely engage with our communities and thereby create a safer and fairer future for our children.
4. Be an active part of systemic change
To mitigate further damage, our responsibility to be part of systemic change is inevitable. We have to commit ourselves to understand this problem better and actively seek opportunities to influence political and bureaucratic systems.
The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner has provided a protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons. Article 9 is specifically written on ‘prevention of trafficking in persons’.10
Pro-activeness is key. A pattern I see in today’s world is that we are reactive to the consequences and not proactive in finding solutions. Engaging ourselves at a systemic level might seem like an impossible task. It is not.
In social work, interventions are broadly classified into three categories: macro, mezzo and micro levels. 11 Involvement at a systemic level could include examples like lobbying to change anti-human rights legislation, participating in online campaigns through change.org, organising a district or state-wide activist group, or advocating for large scale social policy change.
5. Reach out to the oppressor and the perpetrators of human trafficking
Though we discussed briefly the importance of implementing punishment for the perpetrators, I still see that as a reactive approach. Reaching out to the perpetrator, understanding what circumstances have led them to this trade, and providing them with an alternative trade that they can choose is a proactive approach. Also by executing punishment, we only address the symptom and not the cause. The oppressor needs freedom as much as the oppressed. Within the sex industry, we have those who buy sex who are offenders too. As we discussed earlier, rehabilitation for buyers would help combat the problem. There could be other mental or emotional issues these buyers of sex may be struggling with.
I wish to see more organisations/ agencies, both private and government giving support to those offenders who need freedom themselves.
Change is never easy. But it is inevitable. There are no quick fixes. Most importantly, it requires sacrifice.
As we discussed earlier, the issue of human trafficking involves the act of one human dehumanizing the other for personal gain. Let’s hope and act to change the lives of the traffickers and also the trafficked. Let’s work towards educating and empowering our younger generation on this pressing issue and offer them tools that will enable them to stay safe and keep others safe. One step at a time.
List of organisations that work in the area of human trafficking
Stop the traffik – http://www.stopthetraffik.org
International Justice Mission – http://www.ijmindia.org
World Vision – http://www.worldvision.com
Oasis India – http://www.oasisin.org
Prajwala – http://www.prajwalaindia.com
Prerana – http://www.preranaantitrafficking.org
Hope for Justice – http://www.hopeforjustice.org
Polaris Project – http://www.polarisproject.org
Apne Aap – http://www.apneaap.org
The above-listed websites will provide information on the work the organisations do as well as contain resources pertaining to human trafficking.
By Matt Nathaniel
Matthew Nathaniel, based in Chennai is part of the senior leadership team of Oasis India which works to combat human trafficking as well as other issues
1 Stop the Traffik, https://www.stopthetraffik.org/about-human-trafficking/. Retrieved on 17 July 2018.
2 International Labour Organization. Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 10, 2018.
3 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009
4 McClain, N.M. and Garrity, Sex Trafficking and the Exploitation of Adolescents (S.E. 2011), 1.
5 Oasis India, Farah’s story http://www.oasisin.oasissites.org/stories/farahs-story, retrieved on 19 July 2018
6 Desmond Tutu, Good Reads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/, retrieved on 18 July 2018 9 Liz Ford, Sex work activist takes aim at pimps and johns of the prostitution trade, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development, retrieved on 19 July 2018
7 Pam Strickland, Supply And Demand: Human Trafficking, https://encstophumantrafficking.org/supply-demand-human-trafficking/, retrieved on 17 July 2018
8 Caitlin O’Connell, 12 Powerful Mother Teresa quotes that will stay with you, Reader’s Digest, http://www.readersdigest.co.in/. Retrieved on 17 July 2018.
9 Eden D’Abreo and Carina Gummert, ‘Why did the world keep silent about the holocaust for so long’.
10 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, http://www.ohchr.org, retrieved on 16 July 2018
11 Devi, Rameshwari & Prakash, Ravi: Social work practice: Methods, practices.