[Cross-Posted at Future Challenges]
Scan the newspaper headlines and you might see the words „white slavery“ or „human trafficking.“ Neither of these phrases conveys the full injustice that is trafficking in persons. Trafficking refers to the movement of human beings across borders- state, country and continental. This movement will usually be from a country of origin to a country of destination. There are links between emigration/immigration and human trafficking- especially where smugglers and traffickers (associated w/ organized crime) overlap. The fact is that there are an estimated 27 million enslaved people on this planet- more than at any point in history. This is an estimate, as human trafficking is the 3rd largest underground industry- very difficult to track.
In addition to this, the price of a slave is at a historical low- the global average is about $90. The price of a human being has collapsed at the point when the number of slaves reached historical heights. According to the U.S. State Department, 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. There are 161 recognized source, transit or destination countries where human trafficking occurs. This gross human rights injustice is truly a global problem that requires complex, multilateral cooperative solutions between national and supranational governing bodies. It is necessary to address weak governance, poverty and armed conflict as major factors in human trafficking.
Globalization has shifted the ways that slavery manifests. The age-old patterns hold- marginalized individuals- women, children, impoverished individuals are vulnerable to exploitation. This exploitation might come under the guise of educational or employment „opportunities.“ What are potentially avenues out of generational poverty for the victims turn out to be debt slavery, involuntary servitude and a whole host of gross human rights abuses. Some 79% of victims of human trafficking are women and children.
Human trafficking on the continent of Africa is very complex. In West and Central Africa, trafficking is recognised as a problem in 70% of nations in the respective regions. In East and Southern Africa, trafficking is recognized as a problem in 33% of nations in the region.
In Northern Ghana and parts of Togo, young girls are „donated“ to priests and are forced to live as ‚wives‘ and submit sexually to the shrine priests in return for the protection of the families.“ (15, „Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Woman and Children, in Africa“, UNICEF Innocenti Research Center).*** In central and western Africa, impoverished families might marry their young daughters off to much older men- subjecting them to destitution, abandonment through divorce. In Kenya and Ethiopia, girls who are married off at a young age are a runaway risk- many of whom end up in urban centers like Addis Ababa and Nairobi where sex trafficking is a known problem. The risks of sex work- sexually transmitted diseases/infections, increased likelihood of abuse- only exacerbate the vulnerability of these young women.
In Northern Tanzania, the mining industry (tanzanite and gold) drives demand for human trafficking. Additionally, the mines drive demand for the sex trade in their vicinities, which is answered in turn by active recruitment among young women with the promise of fast cash. Just recently, Bloomberg published a story highlighting the gross abuses and violence in the mines of Tanzania. In Ghana, the 10th biggest exporter of gold, thousands of children are forced to work in the dangerous mines. Similarly, debt bondage and sex slavery occur in proximity to these mines. These facts necessitated a partnership between Free the Slaves and Ghanaian human rights NGO Social Support Foundation, launching „a program to combat slavery in Ghana’s illegal mining communities.“ “The project, titled Community Resistance to Slavery and Forced Labor (CRSFL), helps vulnerable communities organize and create community-based action plans to eradicate slavery.” The project offers miners alternative means of revenue, via economic assistance intended to foster economic self-sufficiency and autonomy.
The fight to end human trafficking is a constant battle. In one day- say 20 December 2010, 140 trafficked child laborers were freed by Gabon police as they raided a market. Meanwhile, in Mauritania, 6 anti-trafficking activists, members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of Abolitionism Movement, were arrested. They were demanding the release of 2 enslaved girls, ages 10 and 14 respectively. Mauritania formally abolished slavery in 1981, but slavery still persists regardless.
Trafficking in persons requires multi-lateral solutions implemented at the supranational, international and international levels. We have to go beyond legal frameworks to policy frameworks. It is not enough to abolish slavery- you have to also eradicate the conditions that make marginalized populations vulnerable to exploitation. While slavery is a reality, we also have to address the needs of victims and survivors of human trafficking. Their safety, economic security, viable job skills are integral to their sustainable emancipation. It does no good to free enslaved persons without changing their conditions or equipping them for survival and success.
***[Addendum: This is traditional slavery, which does not fit the U.N. definition of human trafficking]