Human Trafficking Rises in Recession


By Alyssa Fetini 

human_trafficking_0617Mohammad Salim Khan woke up in a strange house and felt an excruciating pain in his abdomen. Unsure where he was, Khan asked a man wearing a surgical mask what had happened. “We have taken your kidney,” the stranger said. “If you tell anyone, we’ll kill you.”

This particularly gory testimony, used by the U.S. State Department to highlight the severity and widespread nature of human trafficking, is one of many alarming personal accounts included in its 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. According to the State Department, at least 12.3 million adults and children worldwide are subjected to forced labor, sexual servitude and stolen organs, with the global financial crisis heightening the problem through the increased demand for cheap labor, services — and even body parts. (See pictures of crime in Middle America.)

Highlight Reel:

1.On defining human trafficking: “Human trafficking in essence is a modern-day form of slavery. It involves exploitation and forced servitude … It is a crime that deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, increases global heath risks, fuels growing networks of organized crime, and can sustain levels of poverty and impede development in certain areas.”

2.On identifying victims: “The nationalities of trafficked people are as diverse as the world’s cultures. Some leave developing countries seeking to improve their lives through low-skilled jobs in more-prosperous countries. Others fall victim to forced or bonded labor in their own countries. Women, eager for a better future, are susceptible to promises of jobs abroad as babysitters, housekeepers, waitresses or models — jobs that traffickers turn into the nightmare of forced prostitution without exit. Some families give children to adults, often relatives, who promise education and opportunity but instead sell the children into exploitative situations for money.”

3.A Balkan account of sexual trafficking: “When Julia was 8, a man took her and her sisters to a neighboring country and forced them to beg on the streets until their early teens, when he sold them into prostitution. Julia’s traffickers expected her to bring in a certain amount of money every day or face beatings. Julia ran away, eventually coming under the supervision of local authorities. They placed her in an orphanage … After a few months, Julia ran away from the orphanage and became involved with a pimp who prostituted her to local men and tourists. Julia was arrested on narcotics charges.”

4.A Cambodian account of labor trafficking: “In Cambodia, Phirun worked in the fields growing rice and vegetables. Promised higher wages for factory work in Thailand, Phirun and other men paid a recruiter to smuggle them across the border, but once in Thailand, the recruiter took their passports and locked them in a room. He then sold them to the owner of a fishing boat, on which the men worked all day and night, slicing and gutting fish and repairing torn nets. They were given little food or fresh water, and they rarely saw land. Phirun was beaten nearly unconscious and watched the crew beat and shoot other workers and throw their bodies into the sea. Phirun endured this life at sea for two years before he persuaded his traffickers to release him.”

5.On penalties for countries not taking strong enough action: “The U.S. government may withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance. Countries that receive no such assistance … [may] not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural-exchange programs.”

The Lowdown:

The study, which has been published annually since 2000, doubles as a progress report on governments’ efforts to enforce laws against trafficking and ranks countries based on their commitment to tackling the issue. The report divides participating countries into three tiers according to an assessment of the extent to which their governments prosecute, prevent and protect victims from trafficking. (Tier 1 countries show the most effort in combatting trafficking, while Tier 3 countries show the least.) Tier 3 countries that do not comply with the minimum standards face sanctions. Unsurprisingly, developed nations in the 2009 report dominated the top tier, while Iran and North Korea joined half a dozen sub-Saharan African countries in Tier 3. Malaysia, after being placed on the Tier 2 watch list last year, was relegated to Tier 3, thanks to allegations that immigration officials took part in trafficking and extorting refugees from Burma. “It is unfair to put us back on the list, as we are doing our best,” complained Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Abu Seman Yusop to reporters.

Notably absent from the 2009 TIP report, as it has been every year, was an analysis of the U.S.’s own struggles with human trafficking. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that for the first time, the U.S. next year would “rank its own efforts at combatting trafficking along with the rest of the world.”

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