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World Citizens Call for Urgent Action to End Human Trafficking — a Modern-Day Slave Trade

In Human Rights, Women's Rights, World Law on January 11, 2012 at 9:05 PM


 By René Wadlow

January 11 was in some countries a “National Day of Awareness on Human Trafficking”. While ‘awareness’ is always a first step, it is action that is needed as was underlined by the Association of World Citizens in a message to the Chairman of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. The recent increase in the scope, intensity and sophistication of trafficking of human beings around the world threatens the safety of citizens everywhere and hinders countries in their social, economic, and cultural development.

The smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of human beings for prostitution and slave labor have become two of the fastest growing worldwide problems of recent years.  From Himalayan villages to Eastern European cities — especially women and girls — are attracted by the prospects of a well-paid job as a domestic servant, waitress or factory worker. Traffickers recruit victims through fake advertisements, mail-order bride catalogues, casual acquaintances, and even family members.

However, trafficking in human beings is not confined to the “sex industry”.  Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops and men to work in the “three Ds jobs” — dirty, difficult, and dangerous.  The lack of economic, political and social structures providing women with equal job opportunities has also contributed to the feminization of poverty, which in turn has given rise to the feminization of migration, as women leave their homes to look for viable economic solutions. In addition, political instability, militarism, civil unrest, internal armed conflicts and natural catastrophes increase women’s vulnerability and can contribute to the development of trafficking.

Trafficking impacts the lives of millions of people — those trafficked and their family members — especially from poorer countries or the poor sections of countries.  Trafficking of persons has become a multi-billion dollar business and ranks right after the trade in drugs and guns. Trafficking is often an activity of organized crime.  In some cases, it is the same organization which deals in drugs, guns and people.  In other cases, there is a “division of labor”, but the groups are usually in contact.

Thus drugs, guns, illegal immigration — these form a nightmare vision of the dark side of globalization with untold human costs. Human trafficking affects women, men and children in their deepest being. It strikes at what is most precious in them: their dignity and their value as individuals.  Trafficked persons experience painful and traumatizing situations which can be with them for the rest of their lives. From recruitment to exploitation, they lose their identity and desperately struggle against a situation that reduces them to objects.

The Association of World Citizens stresses that the fight against human trafficking must be waged in a global and multidimensional way by the UN, regional intergovernmental organizations, by national governments and by non-governmental organizations so that countries of origin, transit and destination develop cooperative strategies and practical action against trade in human beings.  One of the foundations of cooperation is mutual trust. When mutual trust is established, cooperation becomes a natural way to act.

As trafficking in people is more often tolerated by the law enforcement agencies than drugs or guns, there has been a shift of criminal organizations toward trafficking in people.  116 governments have signed a UN-promoted 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking, Especially Women and Children which entered into force in December 2003. However, trafficking in persons is often not a priority for national governments.  Some countries which are important links in the trade of persons such as India, Pakistan, and Japan have not yet signed.

For many governments, trafficking is considered a question of illegal migration, and there is relatively little (in some cases no) consideration of the problems of the individual being trafficked.  Human concern for those caught in the web is a prime contribution of non-governmental organizations.  Concern for physical and mental health is crucial.  There is also an obvious need to deal with the issues which have created these pools of people from which traffickers can draw.  The large number of refugees from Iraq — over two million in Jordan and Syria — await better political and economic conditions in Iraq so they can return home.

Thus, one of the aspects of trafficking in which non-governmental organizations can play a crucial role is the psychological healing of the victims. Unfortunately, the victim’s psychological health is often ignored by governments.  Victims often suffer a strong psychological shock that disrupts their psychological integrity.  The result is a lack of self-esteem after having experienced such traumatizing events.

Within the Association of World Citizens we must not underestimate the difficulties and dangers which exist in the struggle against trafficking in persons nor the hard efforts which are needed for the psychological healing of victims.  However, as World Citizens, we have the opportunity of dealing with a crucial world issue.


René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

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