8th list of 10: Facts about human trafficking

As I started my 101 entry, I thought I should do something fun. Inspired by Polly, I have decided to make 10 lists of 10; here is number 8.

  1. Human trafficking, also known as “modern day slavery,” is an umbrella term that encompasses several forms of exploitation including debt bondage, sex slavery, forced labor, and trade in human body parts.
  2. No one knows the extent, in terms of people or money, of human trafficking. Estimates globally range from 600,000 to 4 million people.
  3. Even within the U.S., numbers of traffic victims vary depending on your source from 17,000 to 50,000 individuals annually.
  4. After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms trade as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing.
  5. Women and girls constitute 70-80% of the victims of human trafficking worldwide with 50% being minors. Men are trafficked too though.
  6. UNICEF reports that every year 1.2 million children are trafficked for a profit of an estimated 10 billion dollars.
  7. Age ranges and education levels vary. Personally, I have worked with or known traffic victims with graduate degrees and men nearing retirement age.
  8. Traffic victims have been identified all over the United States, including in small towns in middle America.
  9. Most agencies have endorsed a multidisciplinary approach to working with victims of human trafficking; however, a truly integrative programming is extremely expensive. Ideally, programs would address legal, medical, addiction, material, economic, and psychological needs.
  10. One researcher explains that a staggering percentage of prostitutes in many western countries are illegal immigrants; more than 50% in Germany and as much as 80% of Dutch prostitutes are foreign born. He surmises that most of these illegal immigrants were trafficked into brothels. Moreover, he argues that all other prostitution could be understood as domestic trafficking due to the violence, the womenโ€™s lack of control, and their inability to leave

Trafficking in Canada aka the ramblings of a foreign intern

Guest writer for this post is K, a good friend and colleague. She and I were the two in our cohort who focused specifically on human trafficking. She is currently in a practicum in Canada. The following are some of her initial impression.

Also, dear readers of an MSW in Cambodia, please take time to leave a little note for K so that she knows how much her contribution is being appreciated– even if you don’t have answers or comments on her post. It’s kinda fun having a guest over here. I want to encourage it!


Things here are going well. I’m learning a lot about the Canadian system and how they view human trafficking. I’ve had some thoughts and would love your feedback.

First some context:

Canada is basically a Tier Two country. This means that the US gave them a warning that they need to improve or the US will cut off any aid. This has huge implications if your a developing country. If you don’t really care about aid (such as Canada) its a black eye on your reputation. (Some countries like Russia and China don’t really care about either). To get a Tier Two ranking you have to really be doing very little to combat trafficking. In other words, little to no victim rights, poor legislation, little awareness, etc.

Where Canada is at now:

1) Canada has two definitions of trafficking. Yes, two. This creates a problem when you want to charge a criminal and the defense attorney says, “but he didn’t meet definition number 2 and definition number 1 is just plain unconstitutional”. It also makes it difficult to do…well…anything as a policy advocate (aka me).

2) In both of Canada’s definitions you have to have movement to have trafficking. I know this means little to you all, but I’m sure Clare is gasping with horror as she reads this ๐Ÿ˜‰ This basically means that domestic slavery (the enslavement of your own citizens) is exceptionally difficult to prove because it is not unusual, at least in urban areas, for traffickers to not leave the city. For example, a runaway from Toronto is captured by traffickers in Montreal. The traffickers force the girl (who they found in Montreal) into a brothel in Montreal. By their definition, this is not trafficking. It would be anywhere else (well, in most other places). The implications of this is fewer victims rights and less penalty for the perps.

5) the federal age of consent to have sex is 14 years old. This makes sex trafficking of minors (anyone under 18 years of age) difficult if not impossible to prove. Notice how the laws don’t match up (i.e. 14 then 18…think of the two definitions). Also complicating the matter is that prostitution is legal.

Where this leaves me:

I’ve started work on the Alternative Report to the UN. The report is on how Canada is implementing the UN Optional Protocol on the Sale of the Child, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. This is our opportunity to really call the Canadian gov out while also encourage some progress it has made. (for instance acknowledging that holding a child victim of sexual exploitation in police detention with adults is not a good thing). Right now it involves me doing a lot of calling, but its a good opportunity to see the process from beginning to almost end (it will be submitted early Oct I leave end of August so I’ll miss about a month.) I also get to start my calls with “I’m writing a report for the UN” which just makes me feel cool ๐Ÿ™‚

Because we’re starting with almost nothing, I’m learning a lot about program development, which I didn’t learn about in school. This is a good thing. Also, we have a huge meeting on Thursday and we’re working our butt off to get everything done. A lot of government officials are coming to the meeting to talk about the rights of child victims. Many seem enthusiastic and are relatively high level. I get to practice my lobbying skills. This will be made even more interesting by the fact that the meeting will be entirely in French and I only speak a word (bonjour everyone, by the way) ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m also learning a lot about border control (which is not such an issue in the Midwest). For example, if a guy shows up at the border with 3 kids and just says he’s their uncle (no actual proof of this) the Canadian border control won’t even ask a question. The Canadian government has recently acknowledged this is probably not a good thing (this acknowledgment came about after a report which indicated tons of kids from the US were being trafficked into Canada for sexual purposes). Still, they have indicated a willingness to change which is the beginning. I will hopefully be researching best practices concerning border control and helping write a suggested protocol for investigating suspicious situations. This will be great learning opportunity.

Philosophical Implications:

1) Political navigation – I, as a foreigner, will be researching controversial Canadian issues and writing position papers. How do you incorporate what others believe about power, a victim centered/feminist view point, your own belief system about power, while being sensitive to the fact that the context has changed?

2) Trying to understand people’s confusion on things you think are self explanatory: See the two definitions issues and not asking questions about separated children (A separated child is a kid who is with an adult that is not their legal guardian. See the border example above). How do tell people they are being stupid in a nice, politically savy way? haha ๐Ÿ™‚

3) Not making assumptions about welfare policy: I have officially found out that having universal health care and a “liberal” government does not mean diddly squat when it comes to victims rights!

4) The two definitions and requiring movement have really profound implications when it comes to policies and interventions. I’m sure only my social work friends would be interested in this, so I won’t go into it here. BUT, I can see how this would impact all the social workers on this email so drop me a line and we’ll talk shop :-).

Don’t let my points give you the wrong impression. I love my internship. The fact that I have so much to talk about is proof enough.

Human trafficking in the News

Take a look at this article of Human Trafficking in the news: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1836946.ece. The story in and of itself is shocking and something America really needs to see– all too often we think of trafficking as happening in “backwards” third-world country and having no representation in our own backyards. However, this is not the case and we need to start seeing it so that we better address it.

Peter, my professor who pointed out the article, also pointed out something even more disturbing to me– the fact that it didn’t make front page, or even close to front page.ย  This story was buried were most people would not see it, thus continuing the illusion that human trafficking is not a problem in the US.

Giving money to beggars

Begger, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Beggars exist throughout the world; they are not a reaction to third world status, but rather to intrinsic inequalities in economics. Some places beggars are more pronounced then others. Some places they are harassed by the police. Some places they are used in money making rackets.

How can beggars be a business? You would think that they would not make enough money to be profitable. You would think the cost of upkeep (and legal troubles) would outweigh any profit. In many places, you would be wrong.

It is amazing how economics theory works: if there is a demand there will be a supply.

In February I was at a quiz night for a local international school raising money for a habitat for humanity project. At the quiz night, they had several items raffled off. One of these items was a chest made for wood forested in a rainforest. It went for a lot of money as I stood by in awe at the supply which is depleting our worldโ€™s rainforest. For me, I would never want to buy such an item because it encourages deforestation of rainforests. It was not just me thinking along these lines; the MC joked that it could only appreciate in value as the wood to make it would soon be extinct or illegal.

Basically, buy buying the object, we create demand.

Begging (in terms of human trafficking) parallels this phenomenon. The process is only profitable so long as the children (generally the victims of begging trafficking rings are children or the disabled) are given money by passers by. Personally, I never offer money to the children in Phnom Penh or those I see traveling around. There is too much certainty in my head that they will not benefit from my pocket change. I will, however, off to buy them food or give them a little of what I am eating.

Side note: giving the peanuts you are given for free with you beer to street children is a sure way to not be offered any more peanuts at most bars in Phnom Penh.

I do my part to break down the cycle of supply demand; but often I wonder what harm I am doing to these children. Traffickers often demand an amount of money to be collected daily be the children; if they are not able to hand over that amount, the trafficker will beat them, leave them out in the cold, withhold the little comfort they have, or force them to continue working through the night. There are cases where children were even beaten or maimed (sometimes permanently) to make them look more pathetic and bring in more cash.

Is my failure to give money contributing to this problem? If so, and it is, how do you stop the cycle? Until it is not profitable trafficking for begging will continue, but as profitability (read demand) drops, the treatment of the children will suffer until it is stopped.

Finally, how do you mix children that work on the street into the equation? For example, children who sell flowers or shine shoes. Like their counterparts who simply ask for money, these children too are often controlled by trafficking rings. They rarely see the fruit of their labor and are subjected to the same treatment. Even the idea of maiming children sellers continues because the more pathetic and helpless they look, the more likely tourists and locals are to buy the overpriced goods or services.