By Lauren Shannon Shaw, young woman from the YWCA of Ireland.
“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organised crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery” – Barack Obama
Human trafficking is a crime of a global scale. It affects every country in the world whether as an origin, transit or destination country. Human trafficking is a heinous crime and a serious violation of human rights. In today’s globalised society it is easier than ever to transport people through countries and across borders and the rapid advance of technology means a buyer can select their purchase at the click of a button.
The International Labour Organization estimate that there are 2.4 million people in the world at any given time who have been trafficked for forced labour or sexual exploitation. In fact, human trafficking is believed to be the second largest global crime today, generating approximately 31.6 billion USD every year. The reasons for trafficking are numerous and complex but universal factors include limited migration opportunities, lack of effective legislation/enforcement, political and economic instability and war or fear of conflict. Woman and girls are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking due to deep rooted social inequality. This includes gender discrimination within the family and community, a tolerance of violence against women, unequal access to education and the subsequent lack of employment opportunities available. The means by which a victim is entrapped include threats, deception, fraud, abduction and sadly some are sold by their own family.
The majority of women who are trafficked are exploited in the sex trade which is believed to be the most common form of trafficking. Many survivors speak of being offered well -paid jobs abroad as waitresses, dancers or au pairs but instead find themselves forced to work in brothels, often unaware of their location and unable to speak the language. Some are led to believe that they owe a debt to their trafficker which they must work to pay off, but in reality the debt will never be paid. Studies have shown that 70% of victims of sexual exploitation meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder in the same range as victims of torture. Last year Stop the Traffik launched a video campaign to raise awareness of the reality of sex trafficking. The video shows a group of women dancing in a window in Amsterdam’s red light district while spectators gather to enjoy the free entertainment. The cheering turns to stunned silence when the slogan appears “every year thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe, sadly they end up here.”
Of course the current publicity around sex trafficking should not distract us from the other forms of slavery that exist today which include forced labour, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. These crimes are equally deplorable and also prey on the vulnerability and desperation of others. Whether it’s the child labourer working long hours on a cocoa farm in West Africa or the factory worker subjected to dangerous conditions and an unfair wage to provide us with cheap clothes, it is the same denial of equality and dignity that is intrinsic to our common humanity.
While the statistics can be overwhelming and create a sense of helplessness, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan compares the work to be done to that of the abolitionists during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and appeals that:
“We must approach today’s abuses in the same spirit- each of us seeking not to blame somebody else, but to think what we can do to hasten their end. There is no evil so entrenched that it cannot be eradicated. Inspired by the abolitionists of two centuries ago, let us fight against exploitation and oppression and stand up for freedom and human dignity.”
A first step to take to help prevent human trafficking is to be informed of the signs of trafficking, talk to local politicians about it and participate in local anti-trafficking initiatives. Secondly, be a responsible consumer- enquire about the labour policies of companies you shop in to ensure they are free from forced labour or other forms of exploitation. Finally, if you suspect someone to be a victim of trafficking report it to an organization dealing with trafficking in your area.
More information on human trafficking can be found at: