Human Trafficking – The Root

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Human Trafficking - The root

Written by Maran Karisma

     Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to exact people into forced labour or sexual slavery for the traffickers or commercial purposes targeted towards both adults and children. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 1.2 million children are being trafficked each year, which makes up 28 per cent of the human trafficking industry. Given the magnitude of the problem, we need to ask who the primary entities are responsible for resolving human trafficking? And why have the existing laws on anti-human trafficking failed to achieve the desired result? This article will show that the convergence between government authorities, the wealthy at the top, and the high poverty level of citizens at the bottom, whose misery is often exploited for profit, led to the frequent halts in the progress of combating Modern-Day Slavery,

     The poor are the most vulnerable to human trafficking. The primary reason is that they are economically disadvantaged. Poverty and human trafficking are often very closely interrelated. For instance, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation, India, infamous for its poverty rate, is often referred to as the top destination for human trafficking and was once the most dangerous country for women in terms of human trafficking. They recorded a total number of 5264 cases of human trafficking in 2018, involving 64% women and 48% girls under the age of 18. 

     We can further scope down this issue of how the poor constitute most human trafficking victims into three factors:

  1. First and foremost, the poor, particularly the homeless, are easily spotted and kidnapped by traffickers(Polaris Project 2020). Living in makeshift shelters built from scrap construction materials or in makeshift tents on the street means no security or community support in an emergency. However, it’s crucial to remember that not all victims were kidnapped before being trafficked; some enter voluntarily, and the majority are youths. They may be yearning for a way out of their poor livelihood; hence they easily fall prey to traffickers’ offers. For example, pimps provide prerequisites such as food and shelter to homeless youths, making them more vulnerable to human trafficking than adults. Research shows that homelessness itself is traumatic to youth and the desire to escape from the trauma shoves them down into a more profound trauma (Covenant House New York 2013).
  2. Secondly, for adults, the greater the poverty level, the easier it is for them to turn into prey to the pimps. As reported in the case of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, the lack of opportunity for employment in their home country prompted them to move and live in Malaysia (Caitlin Wake 2016). Traffickers noted a high demand in moving to Malaysia among the Rohingya and thus demanded 2000 USD from those wishing to move.  However, they were then trafficked and held for ransom in the Wang Kelian village in Perlis located on the Malaysia-Thailand border (Al Jazeera 2018). Men feared death threats while women feared being sexually assaulted. Not only that the Rohingya have continued to be pumped into the human trafficking pool, but many others have also been lured in by false promises of a better life and job in neighbouring nations.
  3. Third, being economically disadvantaged also pushed parents to give their children up for marriage and child labour willingly. The low monthly ratio and the absence of a stable source of income lead to a livelihood crisis, which “justifies”, at least to their argument, their decision to marry their daughters off sooner, even to older men, and sell off their children for labour. To worsen the existing issue, child marriage is often detrimental to the child. In 2013, an eight-year-old Yemeni girl died of an intestinal haemorrhage on her wedding night after marrying an older man (The Guardian 2013). Forced marriage is also considered involuntary servitude as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, despite the practice being claimed to be rather cultural in some societies. For the most part, the grounds of forced marriage among young women is based on the belief that girls should marry young to avoid premarital pregnancy, damaging the family’s name.


     Next, governments have been insufficient in ensuring the security of their expatriating nationals, resulting their nationals risk of being exploited by traffickers. This was best reflected when many Haitians fled to the Dominican Republic (DP) to escape poverty in their own country (The Guardian 2015). However, a change in the country’s constitution in 2010 and a subsequent ruling by the Constitutional Court in 2013 reinterpreted the definitions of nationality, causing many Haitians to lose their citizenship (CMS, Center for Migration Studies 2014). The verdict was criticised by activists, international human rights groups, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as a breach of the right to nationality and discrimination towards Dominicans of Haitian heritage. Haitians were referred to as smuggled migrants and ultimately as criminals. The Dominican Republic government reported undocumented migrants, with more than 52000 detained. Official data on human trafficking in DP did not include any instances of Haitians being trafficked. Still, a worldwide human trafficking report found that Haitians in DP accounted for 30% of all victims, with forced labour accounting for almost 40% of all trafficking cases (New Security Beat 2016).

     On top of that, discriminations and biases in anti-trafficking regimes led to dark-skinned and poor Haitian women losing the claim to victimhood as the more Latino Venezuelan migrants of Dominicans were accepted as victims. Moreover, men are less likely to be regarded as victims because they do not fit the “ideal category” of a victim. This is a petty, made-up, unreasonable reason that the Dominican Republic government constructed to continue categorising them as criminals who do not deserve sympathy. When the Haitians are marked as criminals, the government has no necessity to serve their welfare. As a result, unacknowledged Haitians are neither protected nor acknowledged by the government, thus, increasing their risk of being trafficked.

     Another compelling reason driving the failure of anti-human trafficking laws is the corruption of government officials. Malawi, for instance, is an infamous country for its fraudulent white-colour practices contributing to human trafficking. The police and the immigration officials are complicit in the problem of trafficking, mainly women, into Malawi (US Department of State 2020).  The poor and corrupted legislation system allows traffickers to walk away without imprisonment. Delayed judgement owing to poor work ethics among judicial officers and staff members is a threat to justice delivery. Malaysia is not exempted. For example, traffickers of the Rohingya refugees in Wang Kelian circumvented the law thanks to the police’s help by reporting that the camps were destroyed even before the officials conducted investigations (Al Jazeera 2018). Indeed, organised trafficking cannot exist without corruption. Human trafficking happens when corrupt officials join hands with criminal groups. In the human trafficking cycle, corruption makes the crime undetectable, drives its execution, and ensures the re-victimization of trafficked victims. It is a symbiotic relationship since corruption is central to the success of traffickers and has become a necessary investment for criminals.

     Furthermore, the government’s failure to notice the seriousness of the human trafficking issue leads to the failure in policy implementation. Governments in developing countries fail to identify and rescue unfortunate individuals, which leads to only a few receiving financial assistance. The problem will persist as long as the government fails to cooperate with NGOs and other anti-human trafficking bodies. The lack of political will among conservative leaders and unwillingness to lend out financial support to repatriated children cause many kids or women previously trafficked into prostitution to return to that practice. The government’s ignorance destroys many childrens’ childhood and puts them in a vicious cycle of exploitation that continues until adulthood. 

     In conclusion, many actors are responsible for the global human trafficking problem. From traffickers who profit from the lucrative business to corrupt government officials, unwilling to spend for the people’s welfare, the issue is intricate, allowing for the vicious cycle of human trafficking. To sum it up, the motive of traffickers—regardless of the type of human trafficking they are engaged in—is clear: money! Another point to ponder is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on human trafficking. Due to the pandemic, demand for cheap labour has increased. The gradual detachment of children from education due to the lack of basic necessities for the online education system seems to offer a solution. Detachment of students from education will drag them into the working force. Left unattended, the upsurge of poverty rates will escalate the prospect of child labour, opening up their vulnerability to being trafficked. This leads us to another question: To what extent has the coronavirus pandemic laid a platform for traffickers to take advantage of the pandemic to widen the human-trafficking chain further?