As today marks the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, let us start talking about the issue of human trafficking because no human deserves to be sold merely for basic needs of life.
HUMAN trafficking is a crime that has a narrow awareness base amongst the population. There is a myth in the minds of people that this crime only happens in far away, remote regions. That is not the case. It is abundantly present around us, and isn’t as far off as we consider it to be.
At this very moment, at many places in the world, children are scuffling to get out of the hold of their abductor. Women are being forced into commercial sex work. There are human beings sitting in cages, counting the bars.
The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, commemorated today every year, lends an opportunity to spread awareness about this crime. With the advent of the internet age, not only us, but traffickers too have found the internet to be a more elusive and viable space to conduct their ‘business’. This year’s theme for the day recognises this and urges people to ‘avoid the trap’, and become more vigilant for the sake of their own safety and the safety of the people around them.
With the advent of the internet age, not only us, but traffickers too have found the internet to be a more elusive and viable space to conduct their ‘business’. This year’s theme for the day recognises this and urges people to ‘avoid the trap’, and become more vigilant for the sake of their own safety and the safety of the people around them.
Who or what threatens this safety? What are the factors and symptoms one must be wary of to become vigilant enough to escape the criminal and the crime itself? There are many reasons as to how one falls prey to the crime. Sometimes, it is poverty; at other times, it could just be an fateful decision in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The analysis of 233 trafficking in persons court cases which present information on the vulnerability of the victims before recruitment shows that the majority of the victims were reportedly in a condition of economic need, characterised by an inability to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter or healthcare”, as per the Global Trafficking in Persons (‘GloTiP’) Report 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (‘UNODC’).
Poverty-stricken sections of the population are always vulnerable to all sorts of crimes. COVID-19 made poverty an even bigger issue, which has increased the susceptibility of the lower socio-economic classes to becoming a victim to the heinous crime of trafficking. This could be in lieu of a job or a viable livelihood option; which for some might be voluntary (stepping into the sex market themselves, for instance) or could be due to falling prey to traffickers in the hope of improving their living condition.
“When trying to predict how changes in a country’s unemployment rate may affect trafficking, experts have looked to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2010 as a reference. During the [crisis], trafficking victims from some countries particularly affected by prolonged high unemployment rates were increasingly detected in certain destination countries,” as per the 2020 GloTiP report.
Another concern here is about situations like pandemics. They fuel the growth of the most gruesome industries in the world. Many are going to fall victim to exploitation, whether it is because of a spa-cum-brothel or working in factories with life-threatening conditions.
Traffickers are denying the basic right of freedom to around 25 million people across the world, as per the then United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the U.S. Department of State’s 20th Trafficking in Persons Report, published in 2020.
COVID-19 made poverty an even bigger issue, which has increased the susceptibility of the lower socio-economic classes to becoming a victim to the heinous crime of trafficking.
Trafficking is a very intelligent crime. Perpetrators leverage every possible resource to capture someone in their traps forever. We might be looking for Aarti, only to never know she is now called Aanaya. There is a need to become as smart as these traffickers, who in fact can be anyone around us operating this business in plain sight.
Surprisingly, women play a key role as perpetrators of trafficking, as per a 2009 GloTiP report by the UNODC, something which many might find incredibly hard to believe. In about 30 per cent of countries which provided information about the gender of the trafficking perpetrators, women trafficking women is the norm, states the report.
“Many governments are still in denial. There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on or prosecuting cases of human trafficking’, Italian economist Antonio Maria Costa, the then Executive Director of UNODC, had said. Two out of every five countries covered by the UNODC Report had not recorded a single conviction, he had added.
The U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report placed India in its Tier 2 category, which lists countries “whose governments do not fully meet [U.S.’s statutory] minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards”. The Government of India has rejected these reports in the past, terming it as a “judgmental and prescriptive approach by a foreign government”. But the question remains: are we ready to discard the report just like that when we have around 60,000 cases of missing children every year?
While some see the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 as a ray of hope and a way to deal with the issue, others see it as a hastened and ill-prepared step which won’t be sufficient to deal with the atrocities that come hand-in-hand with human trafficking.
“In India and Nepal, young girls from poor and rural areas were often expected to leave school to help support their families during the economic hardship — some were forced into marriage in exchange for money, while others were forced to work to supplement the lost income”, as per the U.S. State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons report.
Our government has been taking actions to curb the spread of trafficking; however, is the amount of effort being put in sufficient? The question will keep hanging there till a viable solution is found and implemented.
The introduction of the same has ignited many debates amongst various stakeholders. While some see it as a ray of hope and a way to deal with the issue, others see it as a hastened and ill-prepared step which won’t be sufficient to deal with the atrocities that come hand-in-hand with human trafficking. Psychologist and anti-trafficking activist Pompi Banerjee told The Hindulast year that “the Bill also defines human trafficking as an organised crime with international implications and attempts to move away from conflating trafficking with sex work while upholding the right of survivors to rehabilitation and compensation independent of criminal proceedings”.
Moreover, the time given to invite public comments on the bill by the government has been considered as inadequate by many.
A very crucial aspect of trafficking is reintegrating the victim into society. Even when a survivor leaves the clutches of the trafficker, our society ostracises them. We must remember that the survivor was coerced into prostitution. Her right to self-determination was snatched away from her by the traffickers, and now with this terminology of ‘othering’, society snatches their right to self-determination once again.
The bill in question also reduces the idea of rehabilitation to merely shelter homes, and does not make any propositions for more comprehensive reintegration of victims into society.
There is a high likelihood that the fashionable clothes from designer brands that we purchase and wear were made by some forced labourer in an Asian or African country in gruesome conditions. Lifestyle brands have been known to engage in unethical practices, and being based on modern-day slavery. For these and many other fast fashion companies, outsourcing work to lower income countries is common. But ensuring compliance of labour law standards is not so common, as has been observed in reports by Global Labour Justice, a transnational labour rights organization.
Lifestyle brands have been known to engage in unethical practices, and being based on modern-day slavery. For these and many other fast fashion companies, outsourcing work to lower income countries is common. But ensuring compliance of labour law standards is not so common
But do we think (or think enough) about these people? Child slaves involved in the supply chain of big companies like Nestle are overlooked because we, as consumers, fail to pay attention to the background history of the products coming to us in the comfort of our homes.
The lack of laws and their implementation seems like the best idea to many of us while we forget that the ramification of the lack of healthy consumer behaviour. However, being responsible consumers can go a long way in breaking this chain of demand and supply of trafficked labour.
‘One of the most-searched terms on Pornhub – the largest porn website in the world – is “teen” pornography.” Banning porn — as is the case in India — might not be the ultimate solution to the ‘demand’. We need to sensitize people (especially the law enforcement) about trafficking, and the mental and physical trauma trafficking victims undergo during their capture.
To traffickers, buying and selling people is a business. “Human trafficking is the ultimate violation of human rights and leads to debasement of human dignity. It is not only an organised crime but a basket of crimes. We need to treat it as an entirely different crime and different issue,” according to Dr. P.M. Nair, former Indian Police Service officer and an expert on human trafficking.
To think whether traffickers do not feel bad for their actions, is futile. However, if we question why a child we may see is not comfortable with the person accompanying them, or wonder about the identity and safety of a child we see roaming alone, and if we take the step to inform the authorities about this, it could become the bridge in saving a life.
In the words of lawyer Ravi Kant, President of the Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini that works against human trafficking and gender-based violence, “A common man can contribute by being the ears eyes of the law enforcement agencies, whenever they see exploitation they should at least report and people should also be known that they can report it anonymously and that helps because law enforcement cannot reach everywhere it is with the all the support of the citizens that justice can be done to victims of human trafficking.”