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[Dehai-WN] Sfpublicpress.org: Human trafficking is a growing global scourge

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2012 14:45:25 +0100

Human trafficking is a growing global scourge

By <http://sfpublicpress.org/members/andrew-lam> Andrew Lam

New America Media / SF Public Press

 - Feb 23 2012 - 11:28am

On the 900-mile trek of mostly desert that stretches between Eritrea and
Egypt, hunting for humans has become routine.

Eritrean refugees who have fled their homeland fall prey to Bedouin or
Egyptian traffickers. The refugees are held for ransom. Those with relatives
abroad who can pay for their release might survive. Those who do not are
often killed. The United Nations confirms that some are harvested for their
organs - their livers and kidneys sold on the black market - while others,
the young and able, are sold off. One survivor told the U.N., "People catch
us, sell us like goats."

Slavery is alive and well in the 21st century. There are more people
enslaved today than at any other time in history. The
<http://www.state.gov/j/tip/> U.S. State Department says that estimates of
those enslaved through human trafficking ranges from 4 million to 27

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal business in the world,
according to the State Department. It ranks only second to drug trafficking
in profitability, bringing in an estimated $32 billion annually. The
majority of those trafficked are young adults between ages 18 and 24 - but
children also make up a large part of it. Almost all have experienced either
sexual exploitation or violence, often both, during their time being

But the statistics can be disputed. The United Nations notes that "the lack
of accurate statistics is due only in part to the hidden nature of the
crime, and that the lack of systematic reporting is the real problem." In
other words, the number of those trafficked worldwide might be far greater
than what is estimated.

What we do know is that traffickers practice the trade with relative
impunity. In 2006 there were 5,808 trafficking prosecutions and 3,160
convictions worldwide, which would mean that one person is convicted for
every 800 people trafficked.

Though most of those trafficked are exploited for their labor and or are
thrown into sexual servitude, the area that's particularly grotesque is the
organ trade. One human rights lawyer who did not want to give his name said
cases involving the removal of human organs for transplantation are more
miserable than those involving genocide.

"At one end someone is killed for their organs, which in some perhaps overly
theoretical way is worse than murder," he said. "In the latter, the victim's
death is at least a motive - the murderer seeks to kill a human being. In
the former, the victim is merely a box containing an object, and the murder
is merely the process of throwing out the box and wrapping."

The international commodification of humans is becoming the new norm of our
age. In Bangkok, Thailand, a "baby factory" was discovered last year in
which more than a dozen Vietnamese women were impregnated (some were raped),
and their babies were sold for adoption. Whether or not the babies -
unregistered, non-existent in the eyes of the law - were truly adopted,
raised to be slaves or farmed out for body parts is not known.

What is certain is that Vietnam, like many other impoverished countries with
a growing population of young people, has become a major supply country,
where vulnerable young women and girls are in high demand on the
international market. In certain bars in Ho Chi Minh City, rural girls are
routinely trucked in to parade at auction blocks. The girls are often naked
except for a tag with a number on it, and in the audience are foreigners -
South Koreans, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese are the main consumers - who
call them down for inspection. They leave together under the pretense of
marriage after the paperwork is done, but many end up in brothels or
sweatshops instead.

Diep Vuong, executive director of <http://pacificlinks.org/> Pacific Links
Foundation, an organization that works to combat human trafficking by
providing education to the poor in Vietnam, is pessimistic. Overpopulated
and dwindling in resources, Vietnam is full of young, uneducated people.

"The only resource we have left in abundance are the humans themselves," she
noted wryly. "We're moving toward the Jonathan Swift version of reality."

While children of the poor are not being eaten as Swift sarcastically
suggested, they are being abducted and enslaved. They work in the fields as
slave laborers as in the Ivory Coast's cocoa plantation where half a million
children work and provide 40 percent of the world's chocolate - something
most of them have never tasted. Or they are abducted at ages as young as 5
in Uganda and forced to become soldiers. Or they work in the carpet and
brick factories of South Asia, many shackled and branded by their masters.
Those too weak to work are killed off and thrown into rivers.

Closer to home, border drug cartels have incorporated the lucrative human
trade into their business, and in some parts of Mexico they have the tacit
support of the local authorities. Mass graves were discovered last year full
of migrants' corpses. Their crime: They weren't worth much alive.

The forces of globalization have only intensified the trade in humans. After
the Cold War ended, borders became more porous. New forms of information
technology have helped integrate the world market. Increasing economic
disparity and demand for cheap labor have spurred unprecedented mass human
migration. The poor and desperate fall prey to the lure of a better life.

Nongovernmental organization workers who battle trafficking often describe
victims as being "tricked."

In March 2004, eBay shut down sales when it discovered that three young
Vietnamese women were being auctioned off, with a starting bid of $5,400.
Their photos were displayed. The "items" were from Vietnam and would be
"shipped to Taiwan only."

"I was browsing on the Internet and this guy kept trying to chat with me,"
one Vietnamese teenager rescued from a brothel in Phnom Penh recounted.
"There's a coffee shop in Cambodia. He said I could make money over there."

They crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia, and she soon became
enslaved. She was saved in a police raid, just as the traffickers were
planning to move her again. The madam "was waiting for more girls to show up
to ship us to Malaysia," she said. Her fake passport had already been made.

The trafficking network is sophisticated and well organized, and if the lure
of money and a better life elsewhere becomes the entrapment of the poor and
vulnerable, the abundance of cheap labor coupled with an atmosphere of
impunity becomes the seduction for others to become traffickers.

"A slave purchased for $10,000 could end up making her owner $160,000 in
profits before she dies or runs away," Siddharth Kara noted in a talk on sex
trafficking at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative
Studies at Northwestern University. In fact, a child in Vietnam can be
bought for as little as $400.

Slavery is not going away because the agony of human enslavement remains
largely invisible in the public discourse. It is just as shocking that
Eritrean refugees are hunted nightly by traffickers as it is that their
story remains hidden in darkness.


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