“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 organized crime. I am talking about injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.” -Barack Obama, 2012
The notorious notion of treating human beings as commodity, which formed the basis of the ancient slave trade practices, has passed through centuries and still prevails in today’s modern civilized world, in its most sadistic forms. Despite the collective global efforts to counter it, human trafficking has become the greatest humanitarian problem of 21st century as its effects today are even horrific than the entire 300 year history of Atlantic Slave Trade. Human trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime in the world and it is even rampant than drugs as drugs once consumed it’s over but human beings are being bought, sold and resold for years. Being a financially motivated crime, it generates profits of about 150 billion dollars annually according to the estimation of ILO in 2014 and is characterized as a low risk crime.
THE STATISTICS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The statistical estimates regarding human trafficking provide a clear picture of the most unresolved dilemma in the contemporary world. As per ILO’s 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, at any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage. It says women and girls are the most affected sections as 99% of victims are in the commercial sex industry. Further, UNODC’s 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons reveals that of the total reported trafficking victims, 49% are female victims, 30% are children and 21% are male victims. It also says 59% of the victims are into sexual exploitation, 37% into forced labour and 7% into other purposes.
Women and children being the most vulnerable groups, this horrible crime continues to operate today in more sophisticated ways. The toxic mixture of armed conflicts, poverty, unemployment, drug abuse and lack of information about migration procedures leaves the society to the plight of human trafficking. The never ending refugee crisis similar to Rohingya and Libyans, the emerging detention centers across the world, the worldwide religious and political persecutions along with other innumerous factors give further impetus to the continuance of such a dangerous crime in this century. The traffickers often offer education and job opportunities to their target people and illegally migrate them from their place of origin to the place of destinations, where the victims are isolated and exploited. Once trafficked, the passports and documents of the victims will be confiscated and they will be asked to pay back the migration expenses by engaging in prostitution, forced labour, forced marriage, domestic servitude, organ removal, begging, warfare, terrorism, child soldiering, etc. The victims are subjected to acute human rights violations by stripping off their autonomy and freedom of movement and choice. With the advance in information technology, now it is easy to buy and sell human beings as the traffickers today operate through online platforms to contact and entrap the targets, which further enhances its hidden and surreptitious nature. They even use female recruiters, who are often known as ‘Madams’. According to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 35% of the prosecuted traffickers across the world are women.
RECENT REPORTED INCIDENTS
According to INTERPOL reports, in January 2020, the Nigerian Police rescued 46 minors in Nigeria from forced begging and sexual exploitation where the young victims were found to be suffering from serious physical conditions including advanced human papillomavirus infections.
INTERPOL in its recent operation called Maharlika III, held from 24th February to 20th March 2020, in the midst of the outbreak of COVID-19, rescued more than 130 victims from the terrorist transit routes in Southeast Asia. The reports from INTERPOL reveals that the migrant smuggling incidents involving Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Malaysia by sea has increased threefold from March to April, 2020. This poses a serious threat of human trafficking in the Southeast Asian region amid COVID-19.
On 12th June 2020, The New York Times reported the detention of 10 Nigerians, including 5 man and 5 women, accused in human trafficking ring by Italian police. They promised jobs and trafficked people from Libya to Italy for the purpose of prostitution from which they made a profit of about 1.4 million dollars. The victims were asked to take oath as a ritual to not to speak out or flee and to pay back the costs of migration. This incident points out how the traffickers take the advantage of their victim’s illiteracy and blind religious beliefs to hide their crimes and operate freely.
The above reported cases are not exhaustive as the majority of the victims of trafficking go unidentified and unreported due to its hidden nature, lack of proper definition of the crime and lack of awareness. However, the UNODC’s 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons claims an increase in convictions for human trafficking in Asia, America, Africa and the Middle East. It also says that in 2009, only 26 countries had an institution which systematically collected and disseminated data on trafficking cases, while by 2018, the number had risen to 65. As human trafficking is a global issue, the UN’s efforts to combat this greatest human rights violation collectively is a progressive venture which started with Trafficking in Persons Protocol in 2000.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN INDIA & THE IMPACT OF COVID-19
Human trafficking is a crime in India. According to NCRB data, India had 5,788 reported victims of human trafficking in 2018, including 3719 female victims and 2834 minor victims. In India, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment creates greatest challenge in the battle against trafficking. The children engaged in begging across the streets of the country, the flourishing male and female commercial sex trade in cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, the child labored factories and brick kilns, etc. proves that human trafficking in India is not only transnational but also regional and sub-regional.
Most recently, the Supreme Court of India issued notices to the Centre and the governments of Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Assam, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Delhi and Telangana seeking responses to a PIL filed by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an NGO, to provide urgent mechanism to save lakhs of children facing the potential threat of trafficking as a result impoverishment of their families due to lockdown in the wake of COVID-19. Additionally, India’s increasing unemployment rates catalyzes the chances of a massive spurt in trafficking post lockdown.
Human trafficking is an anathema to the core principles of individual freedom, right to life and the rule of law and hence, it is an intolerable blight on any society dedicated to such principles. With its clandestine nature, trafficking knows no boundaries as every nation in the world has been affected by this undeclared pandemic. In modern days, the web is so entrenched that it is difficult to untangle as it involves a bunch of ancillary crimes such as illicit money flows, use of fraudulent travel documents and cyber crimes.
The menace of human trafficking can be wiped out only by fixing its root causes. Firstly, it is a market driven illicit business based on supply and demand factors. It is closely linked to the worldwide growth in demand for cheap labour, commercial sex, terrorist activities, etc. Secondly, it is fueled by the increasing unemployment rates, poverty, armed conflicts, etc. which provides for the supply side. Moreover, the lawlessness and low conviction rates increase the confidence of the traffickers to operate scot-free.
This article is written by Anitta Varghese, 3rd Year BA LLB at St Joseph’s College of Law, Bangalore.