Human Trafficking - A Global Tour
"A truck packed with 40 children was intercepted in the central Mozambican province of Manica this week, sparking concern over increased child trafficking and the urgent need for effective legislation to address the problem."
These children were not kidnapped. Their parents had given them voluntarily to the truck driver to drive them to schools in the cities. Mozambique has no law against human trafficking (even though the practice is illegal according to international law), so no trafficker has ever been prosecuted there. The only way to get traffickers prosecuted is to get them charged with kidnapping, corruption of minors or hijacking, but those carry only light sentences. The parliament there is considering a law specifically to protect against trafficking, and it is about time:
"Although there are no recent figures on human trafficking in Mozambique the practice is believed to be growing. A 2003 study on trafficking in the region by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) estimated that 1,000 Mozambican woman and children were being trafficked to South Africa every year, mainly for sexual exploitation. (...) Amnesty International stated in a 2005 report that trafficking in the former Portuguese colony was also thought to be linked to the extraction of human organs for ritual and witchcraft purposes, with allegations that the practice was taking place in the northern provinces of Nampula and Niassa."
Next stop: Nepal.
"Punita Chaudhary was barely eight when her impoverished parents sold her for US$50 to a local middleman who worked as an agent finding domestic servants for families in Kathmandu and other Nepalese cities. Chaudhary ended up with a family in Kathmandu where she had to work for 18 hours a day and was allowed just a few hours sleep."
And this lasted over 6 years during which she was mentally and physically abused by her upper class employers. Fortunately for her, she escaped and is now in the care of local NGOs. It's not a rare case in Nepal:
"There are over 20,000 indentured domestic workers, also known as ‘Kamlari’. The ‘Kamlari’ system originated nearly 50 years ago when poor families belonging to the Tharu community, an indigenous ethnic group in southern Nepal’s Terai region, provided daughters as domestic servants in exchange for cash. The practice is still prevalent and activists have started to call it “internal trafficking” of girls who are literally sold off by their parents with the help of local middlemen."
It is obviously an ethnic and social class issues as these girls contribute to the quality of life of the upper classes as all employers seem to be. These employers compose the elite of Nepalese society, people who, one might think, would know better than use trafficked girls, or at least would care more. They are politicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, or even human rights activists (!!... irony officially died). And of course, the trafficked girls commonly experience rape and torture at the hands of the best and brightest of society. Many more girls are also trafficked to brothels in Nepal or to India. That's for those who don't disappear once in the hands of middlemen.
Score one for why traditions should NEVER be respected. "Traditions" is the concept when categories of people engage in practices that are obviously immoral but do not want questioned or challenged.
Still in Asia, let's stop again in the liberated land of Afghanistan.
"The recent sale of three Afghan girls in separate incidents by parents blaming extreme poverty for their actions has sparked concern about the safety of poor children in Afghanistan and the lack of adequate legal mechanisms to effectively curb such trade."
According to human trafficking experts, there is the potential here for a major humanitarian catastrophe. And let's not pretend that it's a coincidence that in all three cases, the children sold were girls. Human trafficking is a gendered issue, as is global poverty. Moreover, there is still no law against human trafficking in Afghanistan either.
Back to Africa, specifically, Guinea.
"Manimam Condé, who coordinates between the Guinean government and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Forecariah (city in southern Guinea), said unwanted children had reason to be afraid: Traffickers solicited children’s parents and guardians, promising to give them a better life but actually putting them to work - or worse.
"Some children are sold and others are put directly to work - sent to work on plantations, or to sell things [carrying them] on their heads in markets,” she told IRIN. “You also have sales of organs and body parts for medical uses. Sometimes parts of the children are used as sacrificial offerings for ceremonies.""
Hmm... there seems to be a pattern here. But why is it that this problem seems worse now? Of course, there is, as always, increasing poverty, but in the case of Guinea, things are made worse by polygamy. Because of polygamy, families end up with more children than they can afford, so, some of them are sold or simply abandoned by their parents. Once so abandoned, this is where they easily fall prey to traffickers who promise to take them someplace safe. Moreover, a lot of children are now AIDS orphans and their relatives cannot afford to take care of them.
Still on the African West Coast, Benin.
"A new study released jointly by the Ministry of Family and Children and the UN in Benin shows that more than 40,000 children aged between 6 and 17 were trafficked in 2006."
Most of these children are trafficked within Benin as domestic servants. Overall, all these articles reveal that parents are often complicit, or simply ignore warning signs, as to what is going to happen to their children once they give them away or sell them to middlemen. But, as already mentioned, the fact that most of the children trafficked are girls is revealing. One can't help but think that the carelessness with which girls are discarded in one form or another is more revealing of deep-seated sexism and patriarchal norms where girls have limited value. For families, when times get hard, girls will be the first members thrown off the boat, and if money can be made in the process, all the better. No anti-trafficking policy has a chance of working if it does not take into account the gendered nature of the problem.
And lest we think it is only a problem for Africa and Asia, let's not forget the Middle East:
"In 2003 Hiba (not her real name), then aged 11, was forced to marry her cousin. The following day she was driven from Baghdad to the border with Syria and sold to traffickers. In Damascus she was forced to dance in night clubs or private homes. Four years later, pregnant and abandoned by her handlers, she was imprisoned by the Syrian authorities on charges of prostitution."
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Syria is a hub for international trafficking. The situation is such that UNHCR has published a Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls to deal with these issues. And of course, with the flow of refugees coming from Iraq, the situation is made considerably worse: over 1.5 million Iraqis have fled into Syria since 2003. And as Iraqi refugees become desperate for money, more girls are sold into the sex industry. I guess it's one of these unpredictable consequences that no one could have foreseen, because, you know, wars NEVER create refugees! </rant>
Cross-posted from The Global Sociology Blog