WHAT IS TRAFFICKING?
Slavery is not legal anywhere in the world, yet there are more slaves in the world today than at any time in human history. 27 million people around the world are estimated to be victims of slavery, from forced prostitution, to labor, to domestic work, and other various forms of exploitation, with approximately 50% of victims being under the age of 18.
UNICEF estimates that one million children will be forced into prostitution this year.
In South Asia, traffickers will pay $150 to parents for their child’s life. Brothel owners can purchase the same child from the trafficker for about $1000. For traffickers, sex slavery is a lucrative business, generating over 7 billion dollars a year. Trafficking is often controlled by organized crime syndicates.
Victims of trafficking are subject to gross human rights violations including rape, torture, beatings, starvation, dehumanization, and threats of murdering family members. In the case of trafficking for sexual exploitation, basically rape for profit, girls often have their virginity sold first, followed by multiple gang rape to break down their resistance. Since the bodies of young girls are not ready for sexual intercourse, this often results in abrasions, making the girls susceptible to HIV/AIDS and other diseases. But most importantly is the psychological, emotional and spiritual damage caused to these young girls.
Governments in much of the world are only just beginning to address this issue, under pressure from NGOs such as WE International, anti-trafficking organizations, the United Nations, and the international community. Government inaction is compounded by apathy and a lack of awareness in the general public.
WHERE DOES TRAFFICKING OCCUR?
Currently, the regions of the world with the most severe trafficking problems are Southeast Asia (the Mekong region including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar/Burma), South Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), and the former Soviet Republics (including the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic).
That being said, every single country in the world is involved in the web of human trafficking. Most of the victims come from poorer countries and are sent to richer nations, such as the US, Australia, or Japan. Additionally, victims are held temporarily en route to destination countries all over the world. For example, many women from the former Soviet republics are trafficked to the US through Mexico. Israel is another transit country for people sold into Europe.
The FBI estimates that as many as 18,000 are trafficked into the US each year, to work in brothels, strip clubs, nail salons and massage parlors, or as domestic servants, nannies, and farm laborers. People can also be trafficked within their home countries, often from rural areas to large cities. For example, children who are commercially sexually exploited in the US are defined by the US government as trafficking victims, even though they have not been taken across borders.
RESCUE AND REINTEGRATION FROM SLAVERY
Survivors of human trafficking are incredibly courageous individuals who have overcome many obstacles. Unfortunately, even after they are rescued from slavery, these heroes still have many other challenges to face. Police in much of the world are often complicit in sex trafficking, extracting bribes and visiting brothels as clients. This makes it difficult for victims to escape, as they have nowhere to go for help. Often times, victims do not speak the local language because they were trafficked into a foreign country. Compounded with trauma or illiteracy, many do not know exactly where they come from or how to get back there, even if they could escape.
Luckily, some trafficking victims have managed to escape, have been rescued by international agencies or police, or have been cut loose due to poor health or age. Girls in their early teens are in the highest demand, so many victims of sex trafficking are ‘used up’ before they even reach the age of 18. One tool that has been extremely helpful in rescuing victims is an international hotline that takes calls from either victims or Good Samaritans reporting a victim, such as the Health and Human Services hotline.
Social reintegration is one of the biggest challenges faced by survivors. All across the globe, particularly in Africa, there is an intense fear of HIV/AIDS. Since many survivors are infected with this disease, it is extremely difficult for victims to reintegrate into society even if they do escape or are rescued. Stigmatization of “unpure” women is highly prevalent in Middle Eastern countries, where women who were forced into prostitution are ostracized by their own communities.
Thankfully, organizations around the world are reaching out to help survivors of human trafficking, including many agencies in the US. WE International works with its global partners to bring awareness, support prevention, rescue, and aftercare initiatives. Through WE International micro-enterprising program and we offer the victims a chance to dream, and become economically self-sufficient, thereby empowering them to be healthy members of society. Healthy members that give back to their communities.
WE INTERNATIONAL MAKES A DIFFERENCE:
1) Providing Help to Survivors – When survivors escape or are rescued from slavery, they need a lot of support in order to reintegrate into society. Many families will not accept them back, and in some cases it is not safe for girls to live at home (if their families sold them in the first place). So for many girls, a shelter is the safest place for them to stay immediately after returning from their place of bondage. Additionally, they can get services at a shelter, such as health care, HIV/AIDS treatment if needed, education, job training, and legal aid. These services would probably not be available if they lived at home.
However, no one wants to spend their whole life in a shelter. After a few years, most young women are ready to live independently, and want to find work. Finding work is difficult for anyone in depressed economies; it is more difficult for a trafficking survivor because of prejudice and limited education/literacy. Handicraft programs offer these survivors a job, either long-term or short-term, that can give them the means to support themselves and live a meaningful, independent life. For those still living at the shelter, handicrafts programs provide therapeutically benefits, job training, literacy, social interaction, and a stipend for part-time work.
2) Preventing Trafficking of High-Risk Girls – WE provides an economic alternative to prostitution for girls at high risk for being trafficked. We work with programs providing education and income-generating programs for girls who might otherwise be sold or tricked into prostitution. In one case, we provided funding for one of our partners to expand their handicrafts program to include mothers and the rest of the community. Often a wage as little as a hundred dollars a year is enough to keep families from selling their daughters.
Sadly, in some parts of the world, girls are not intrinsically valued. But when women become artisans, wage-earners, and business-owners, their status is greatly enhanced in the community. For example, one of our partner programs in Cambodia, AFESIP found that survivors where initially ostracized when they set up a workshop. But after several months of operation, they were accepted as contributing members of society.
What defines high risk? In some villages, there are almost no teen girls anywhere to be seen – all have been sold, or have gone voluntarily into prostitution for lack of other alternatives. In some cases, selling a daughter can make the difference between barely scraping by and complete destitution. In the worst cases, people have sold relatives or neighbors out of greed, to buy a new roof or TV set. The more girls are sold in a given area, the more this practice becomes socially accepted, and in the worst cases, girls are even bred for prostitution, or groomed from early childhood for this purpose. The death of a parent or the trafficking of another sibling puts a girl at particularly high risk for being trafficked herself. Low caste, refugee status, and poverty are also risk factors.
3) Supporting the Anti-Trafficking work of our Overseas Partners. Our handicraft purchases provide much-needed revenue to the anti-trafficking agencies where survivors and high risk girls live and work. The income generated through these programs goes to pay the artisans, and also helps pay for long-term care, education, medical and psychological services, and legal aid.