My interest in human rights violations is simply drawn from curiosity. Ever since I heard about the idea of trafficking, I’ve wondered if the Amber Alert notifications that I get on my phone was really alerting me of a victim of human trafficking or if it was something less sinister. Looking back at the mid to late 1800s, I find myself wondering about what our country would be like if Africans were never taken from their homes and enslaved in America. Having a black dad and a white mom, odds are that I wouldn’t even exist. So hearing about the tragedies and witnessing the injustices that African-Americans went through and are still going through today really puts into perspective the lengths at which a violation of human rights can affect the world.
What is Human Trafficking?
As described by the Council of Europe, human trafficking is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat of use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (Farbey).
History of the Problem
The first slaves arrived in America in 1619. Although this year’s importance is argued among historians, this is generally seen as at least the “turning point” of American slavery (Waxman). Over the two centuries worth of slave labor, abuse, struggle, and horror left a hideous scar on the country’s history. In this time, it is estimated that upwards of fourteen million people were enslaved and taken to America without any hopes of returning home. The lasting effects of this have “sundered traditional bonds of family, kinship, clan, linguistic, and national identity” (Curtis). Commercial connections between Africa, America, and Europe in what is called the “transatlantic slave trade” meant there was no financial reason to not go along with it.
Even African chiefs were gaining from this situation. Chief Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku of the Igbo sold around 1.4 million of his own people in the 19th century while maintaining a good reputation with his people. “He was respected by everyone around…Even the white people respected him” (Nwaubani). In America, slavery played a critical role in the economy. In 1860, two-thirds of American men that owned estates of over $100,000 lived in the south. In the same year, enslaved African-Americans “comprised more wealth than railroad and manufacturing assets combined” (Einhorn 492). With the obvious financial success of slavery, it became almost inseparable to business, which led to the already animalized slaves being further dehumanized in court cases such as Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857. In this case, the ruling was that slavery could not be banned by Congress in the territories without impairing on the rights of slaveholders (492).
Of course, there were many people that saw this as a huge problem. After many disagreements and feuds between the North and the South, the Civil War began, ultimately resulting in a North victory. Slavery was officially abolished with the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865. To this day, slavery exists in some form all round the world. Humans are being trafficked every day, and with no end in sight, it’s only right to associate the transition from legal to illegal slavery as the inability of those longing for a pro-slavery country trying to fulfill this imaginative prophecy and carry on their exploitative and racist culture.
Human Trafficking Today
It’s interesting that something so well known could be so difficult to trace. Involving over 40 million people worldwide and earning roughly $150 billion annually, human trafficking is miles from a minimal issue (“End Human Trafficking: United Way Worldwide”). Although sex trafficking is something most commonly associated with human trafficking, domestic servitude and child labor are prominent parts of it, with an estimate of 25% of all trafficked peoples being children.
To combat this, some organizations have encouraged the use of social media to spread awareness as well as learning about the many red flags of potential human trafficking, such as living with your employer, the inability to independently speak, and poor living conditions (“Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim”).
It is noteworthy seeing how these parallel with indicators of American slaves, which points to the proclaimed “modern-day slavery” term used to describe human trafficking being appropriate. Outside of awareness spreading, government agencies have been cracking down on any possible cases of trafficking for decades. In 2006, children aged eight to thirteen were seen being kept as slaves. They were forced to steal money that was plied into drugs until the trafficking gang was uncovered by the police, with arrests in Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, and Austria. The gang had stated that the children’s parents had not only consented to this, but had chosen to rent them out to combat their own poverty, illustrating the issues of social and economic policies (Farbey).
To broaden the spectrum, countries such as Russia and China have been labeled as being the least proactive with their efforts to combat human trafficking. A law passed in 2000 allowed the United State Department of State to annually rank governments’ efforts against trafficking, and in 2013, both countries had been given the lowest ranking possible. In China, the report detailed instances of “forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines and among prisoners as part of a systematic form of repression known as ‘re-education through labor’” (“Russia, China Continue to Allow Human Trafficking”). These labor camps had the intent of generating government profits, indicating how critical trafficking can be to a country’s economy. In Russia, the increase in widespread sex trafficking of women and children domestically and abroad was enough for to indicate the country’s incompetence of combatting trafficking. Furthermore, Vladimir Putin’s oppression of civil society is harming local nonprofit organizations that aim at rehabilitating victims.
“For Now” Response (Get Involved!)
It’s difficult to find solutions to something as elusive as trafficking rings, because as long as it makes money, it will always exist to some extent. That said, there are still ways to be involved.
Spreading awareness on social media is always an option. It’s safe, quick, and easy, as well as being recommended by United Way, an organization that specializes in building stronger and more equitable communities (“End Human Trafficking: United Way Worldwide”). Personally, this is the most viable option for me, as putting myself in harm’s way of being trafficked would not only be ironic, but quite foolish as well.
Joining or donating organizations such as CAST and NCMEC could very well be what others desire. Either way, participating in the fight against human trafficking is the goal; whether you’re spreading awareness, fighting in the frontlines, or funding it from home, everyone should make an effort to eradicate this and all other human rights violations.
Macro-solutions (Government Intervention)
Different governments around the globe have taken different approaches to combatting human trafficking. In 2003, the United Nations created the “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons” to do just that. This set a goal for countries to prevent and combat trafficking whilst assisting victims that may have suffered from severe trauma. Similarly, the United States’s Department of State created a “Trafficking in Persons Report” that assigned countries a grade that assessed their effectiveness in combating trafficking and assisting victims. Unfortunately, cultural and economical differences around the world prevent any universal rules from being fully effective.
The United States
In the 2000, the United States of America authorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). This focused on preventing and protecting survivors and prosecuting traffickers.
In Denmark, prostitution was decriminalized in 1999 with the assumption that regulating sex work would be easier if the prosecutors weren’t in hiding. That said, brothels, trafficking, and pimping continued to be illegal, with the Danish Criminal Code ensuring that all types of trafficking are considered to be severe offenses.
In India, over 200k children are forced into domestic servitude or labor in brick kilns or factories annually. Although their government sponsors Anti-Trafficking units with the intent of investigating trafficking cases, corruption and regional diversity prevent laws from being widely enforced.
Sweden’s Kvinnofrid law makes buying sex illegal, but not selling it. This results in many sex workers operating underground, creating a more dangerous and difficult to trace environment.
Have any questions or comments? Leave them below! I would love to have a conversation or answer any questions about my project.
My Google Doc containing all sources used in the duration of the project.