Human trafficking has become a global problem today. In September 2017, a study by the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation found that almost 24.9 million people were being exploited for labor and sex.
Human trafficking is often hard to identify because it is hidden in plain sight, sometimes through state-imposed forced labor. In 2013, a U.S. State Department report named China, Russia and Uzbekistan as the worst offenders in human trafficking.
The report relied on information from US embassies, government officials, international organizations and published reports, among other sources. It ranks countries based on their human trafficking laws, criminal penalties prescribed for the offenses, proactive human trafficking identification measures and other policies along these lines.
The US ranks countries according to tier : governments in the first tier fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, while countries in the Tier 2 lag behind but are making efforts catch up. Tier 3 countries do not meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and do not appear to be trying. Aside from the State Department’s top three, these include Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The underlying factors behind human trafficking are many, ranging from traditional practices to political instability and poverty. Often, people looking to migrate to different regions due to oppression, lack of human and social rights and better economic opportunity are exploited by middlemen, initially through cooperation. This is soon replaced by coercive measures once the people have moved to a new place, under the guise of paying their debts.
Children from poor backgrounds are especially vulnerable. Parents often try to help their children escape the cycle of poverty and move to a place with better opportunities. They entrust children to relatives or lesser-known friends, who often sell the children to traffickers after being lured into fake job offers.
In many countries, families sell women and girls, who are at a lower status than men, to traffickers when there is a need for money or other commodities. On the flip side, certain countries have a preference for the male child, which has now given rise to the trafficking of women as brides and prostitutes in predominantly male societies. The frequency of this practice in China is one of the reasons why it is now a Tier 3 country in the State report.
The U.S. Department of State lists various ideas to fight human trafficking. They suggest becoming familiar with the indicators of human trafficking so that it is easy to recognize victims. We can also look into the origins of the products we buy and boycott goods that are produced through child or forced labor. By reducing the demand for such products, we can hope to reduce forced labor.
Raising awareness among the community through documentaries on sex trafficking and modern slavery can also further the dialogue on human trafficking. Corresponding with local and state government officials to show support for combating human trafficking is another way to involve the community. Even students can contribute to raising awareness through projects and clubs that talk about human trafficking and initiate action against it.
Human trafficking victims could be living around us. By providing them with tools like low-cost education, medical assistance and even stable jobs, we can help them rebuild their lives and start anew.