Published on :09-25-2004
As a result of intense U.S. political pressure, President George W. Bush was able to announce on September 10, 2004 that four countries—Bangladesh, Ecuador, Guyana, and Sierra Leone—have avoided sanctions due to their serious new commitments to stop trafficking in persons1.
It was not until after the U.S. Department of State released an updated Trafficking in Persons Report on June 14, 2004 that these four countries made such efforts. The Report identified nine specific countries that failed to comply with minimum standards in the prevention of human trafficking and also indicated progress in other countries.
By releasing this Report, the U.S. has used political pressure in the form of “naming and shaming” to yield results as well as draw broader international attention to this globalized problem called trafficking in persons (TIP). In a world that is becoming increasingly borderless, poor women and young girls are particularly susceptible as victims of slavery and trafficking.
The trafficking of women and girls are all acts related to commercial sexual exploitation (commonly referred to as sexploitation), forced labor, and child soldiering. According to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, 600,000 to 800,000 people per year—mostly women and children—are illegally transported across international borders.
Globalization has intensified international trafficking of women and children for slavery, forced labor, or prostitution in rich as well as in less developed countries (LDCs). Any country is vulnerable to becoming a part of the problem. Whether the young women originate from LDC’s, are transported through a middle country, or land in a rich country destination, fluent migration enlarges the problem.
Victims of trafficking often migrate due to their subordinate status in their respective societies, lack of economic opportunities, and discrimination in education. Young women and girls in a low socio-economic status from LDCs are most vulnerable to trafficking networks of the sex industry. They often lack job opportunities and accurate information about jobs abroad. A trafficker disguised as a legitimate recruiter for waitress, hostess, maid jobs will lure young victims into believing better jobs wait for them in other countries. The victims migrate at no cost and upon arrival, the traffickers hold them responsible to pay for living and travel expenses about which they have not been informed in advance. As virtual physical and economic slaves of this debt, they are either forced into or turn to forced-bonded labor and prostitution to repay the debt.
In the former Soviet Union for example, perestroika eased restrictions on international travel and a shadow economy formed. Transnational criminal networks arose from expanding economic, political, and social linkages in which members of organized crime rings were able to communicate and collaborate throughout the Soviet satellites.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many former satellite countries opened their borders to migration and trade. The Ukraine especially became a major source of young prostitutes for international trafficking because young women with little education did not know of any other viable options to sustain themselves. Corrupt police officials in destination countries sometimes work in collaboration with international traffickers to arrest prostitutes who believed they had paid off their debts. Upon arrest by corrupt officials, they are deported to their country of origin with no share of the profits. This is a highly profitable market that has enriched criminals who also have ties to international arms and drugs trade. The security of many women is at stake.
The State Department Report provides the following striking example: Noi came from a poor community in rural Thailand. At 15, seeking to escape rape and sexual abuse in her foster family, she found a foreign labor agent in Bangkok who advertised well-paid waitress jobs in Japan. She flew to Japan and later learned that she had entered Japan on a tourist visa under a false identity. On her arrival in Japan, she was taken to a karaoke bar where the owner raped her, subjected her to a blood test and then “bought” her. “I felt like a piece of flesh being inspected,” she recounted. The brothel madam told Noi that she had to pay off a large debt for her travel expenses. She was warned that girls who tried to escape were brought back by the Japanese mafia, severely beaten, and their debts doubled. Victims who managed to pay off their debt and work independently were often arrested by the police before being deported. Noi finally managed to escape with the help of a Japanese NGO.
Tragic stories like Noi’s demonstrate the globalized fluency of such a crime. A poor girl from an LDC, like Thailand, who lacks feasible opportunities to raise herself from an abusive situation, will take the first chance to leave. In Noi’s case, this “chance” would take her to another country, a more developed country with opportunities for economic advancement.
Unfortunately, the deception of a “foreign labor agent” cost her freedom, her basic human rights, and dignity. Cheaper travel between countries and the growing ability of businesses—whether legitimate or deceptive—to open offices in another country meant Noi found herself trapped in a compromised situation. Noi’s story is one of many which women activists and victims have presented as evidence to the world that human trafficking is a blight on society’s social fabric.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 19792. Since then, women activists have held several Women’s World Conferences to expand the stipulations of CEDAW. In 1995, Beijing hosted the 44 UN World Conference on Women3. At this conference, women activists from all over the world established the Beijing Platform for Action4, which declares governments should take action against trafficking in women and the violence associated with it. The UN has adopted the Conference’s Political Declaration5, which states that the General Assembly will regularly review the Beijing Platform for Action for the purpose of implementation.
Thus the spark to advance women and end the degradation of sexual slavery was lit. Since then, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in collaboration with the Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute created the Global Program against Trafficking in Human Beings in 19996. Many UN Agencies (including the High Commission on Human Rights), U.S. agencies, and NGOs have taken active efforts and committed funds to end trafficking.
As a global superpower, the U.S. took the initiative to define anti-trafficking standards with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 20007. Since then, updated State Department Reports have been submitted to Congress to be used as a diplomatic tool through which the U.S. can encourage the fight against trafficking on a global scale. This Report can encourage partnership between the U.S. and countries dealing with human trafficking and sexual slavery. It uses a three-tier monitoring system to identify who meets the minimum anti-trafficking standards
Tier 1: countries whose governments comply with minimum anti-trafficking standards
Tier 2: countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum anti-trafficking standards but are making progress to do so
Tier 3: countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum anti-trafficking standards and have not made any efforts to do so.
The U.S. has threatened sanctions against Tier 3 nations who did not comply. Bangladesh, Ecuador, Guyana, and Sierra Leone have made notable progress in key problematic areas (as stipulated by the 2003 report) including: increased prosecution of traffickers and customers; forming special policing units; public and civic efforts to identify and rescue trafficking victims; new anti-trafficking legislation and procedures; and organizing high-profile public awareness campaigns.
These four countries have made significant progress, left Tier 3, and thus avoided sanctions. However, a new Tier 2 “Watch List” has emerged including 42 countries now being monitored because of slow progress in complying with minimum standards and increasing numbers of trafficking victims.
As the fastest growing sector of international criminal activity, human trafficking has become a serious concern for many countries. Regardless of whether they are countries of trafficking origin, transit, or destination each country is vulnerable to this crime. The crime perpetuates the abuse of human rights, women’s rights, labor and migration law, and is a problem of international security.
Powerful international criminal networks, whose activities often include drugs and arms smuggling, dominate trafficking in persons on a global scale. On the national security level, it also involves violations of other laws, including laws against kidnapping, slavery, false imprisonment, assault, fraud, and extortion.
Yet with the increased international attention and efforts to curb human trafficking, progress has been and will be made. Cooperation between the U.S. and Tier 3 and Tier 2 “watch-list” countries is the aim of the State Department Report. John Miller, Director of the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, has stated that U.S. sanctions are not the goal but progress in reducing the number of trafficking incidents. “Last year, many countries that were named in Tier 3, over the succeeding three months before the Presidential decision on sanctions, made tremendous progress. We hope that all countries, particularly those in Tier 3, in the next three months, will make similar progress.”
For More Information:
U.S. Department of State – Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons:
UN Division for the Advancement of Women:
World Health Organization – The Department of Gender, Women, and Health:
1 U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons. June 14, 2004. http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2004/
3 Official Documents of the Fourth World Conference for Women: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/official.htm
4 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/index.html
5 Political Declaration: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/official.htm
6 UN Global Program Against Trafficking in Human Beings: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/trafficking_human_beings.html
7 U.S. Department of State, Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000. Oct. 28, 2000. http://www.state.gov/g/tip/