child soldiers in MyanmarFor half a century, Myanmar has struggled to reduce its number of child soldiers. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has a long history of using children in armed conflict, which began when the country gained independence in 1948. In 2002, Human Rights Watch listed Myanmar as the country with the highest number of child soldiers. Though Myanmar has taken action to reduce this, the number of child soldiers in Myanmar is still disturbingly high, requiring greater intervention.

Previous Use of Child Soldiers

According to the Child Soldiers Global Report 2001, 20% of Myanmar’s army was made up of children younger than 18. Although Myanmar’s legislation does not establish compulsory military service laws, it does require each district to meet a recruitment quota. District authorities that fail to meet the quota often receive fines. Hence, to meet the quota, many underage children are coaxed into joining the army through financial rewards or prestige. Other times, the army abducts children from public areas, forcing them to become soldiers. The highest number of recruited child soldiers in Myanmar occured between 1990 and 2005 when the military junta was in power.

During this time, Myanmar received several on-ground assessments by the Committee of Experts of the ILO, followed by recommendations to revise the Village Act and the Towns Act. The Committee requested that the government amend these Acts to comply with the Forced Labor Convention of 1930. Hence, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by Myanmar in 1991.

After several concerns raised by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch verified that Myanmar had approximately 70,000 child soldiers in 2001. Myanmar’s government responded to international concerns in a letter to the U.N. Security Council in 2004. In the letter, the government demonstrated no interest in making any legislative amendments nor any intention to prosecute local authorities for forced labor and child abuse by stating that “the Myanmar Armed Forces is an all-volunteer force and those entering military services do so of their own free will.”

Gradual Measures to Reduce Child Recruitment

Finally, in 2005, four local officials received prison sentences for the illegal imposition of forced labor after supposedly recruiting child soldiers. In 2009, several rebel groups such as the Chin National Front signed unilateral deeds pledging to stop recruiting child soldiers.

In 2012, Myanmar signed the Joint Action Plan. This committed the government to work alongside the U.N. to prevent child recruitment. Following the Plan’s implementation in 2012, which established stronger age assessment procedures and the adoption of military directives prohibiting the recruitment of minors, 956 children and young people were released from the army. Further improvements occured in 2015 when Myanmar signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the use of minors in armed conflict.

Since then, Myanmar’s government and the U.N. have launched several public awareness campaigns, also establishing a hotline so that citizens can report cases of recruitment of minors. As a result of the continuing decrease in child recruitment and Myanmar’s efforts to protect children, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres removed Myanmar from his annual “list of shame,” which names countries that have committed grave violations against children.

The Need for More Action

Despite Myanmar’s recent efforts to decrease the number of child soldiers, in 2021, the United Nations verified the recruitment and use of 790 children in the previous year. With 56 children dead and 17 children abducted, the U.N. believes Myanmar will return to the “list of shame” unless the government follows U.N. recommendations, including:

  • Release children using the framework of the Joint Action Plan
  • Make the 156 pending cases of suspected minors a priority among national courts
  • Prosecute those who are guilty

With 10 armed attacks in national schools in 2020, the United Nations also strongly recommends that Myanmar endorses the Safe Schools Declaration, which requires states to commit to safeguarding schools and universities from armed hostilities.

Existing efforts as well as implementing U.N. recommendations will help to fully eliminate the use of child soldiers in Myanmar, protecting the well-being of children across the country.

– Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Burundi
Burundi is a landlocked East African country bordering Tanzania and Rwanda. The majority of its population faces extreme poverty, with 65% of Burundians falling below the poverty line. In Bujumbura, the country’s capital, agricultural workers earn an average wage of 3,000 francs ($1.82) per day. In rural areas, the minimum wage is a third of the capital city’s, forcing rural workers to make ends meet on less than a dollar a day. Many Burundians lack access to clean water and basic sanitation and less than 5% have electricity. In addition to a high rate of extreme poverty, political instability and widespread violence have led to an increase in human trafficking in Burundi.

Trafficking in Supply Chains and “Cash Crops”

The Education Policy Data Center found that, as of 2014, 62% of Burundians aged 15-24 never complete primary education. Child labor is common, especially in agriculture. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Government of Burundi found, in a collaborative study, that child labor was commonly used to harvest “cash crops” such as coffee. Forced labor also occurs, sometimes because of human trafficking.

Gold mining is another Burundian industry plagued by human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, children and young adults often fall victim to forced labor in the gold mines surrounding the city of Cibitoke. The U.S. State Department also finds that traffickers try to recruit people they know into forced labor.

Children are the most common victims since they are easier to mislead and exploit for monetary gain. Burundi’s primary catalysts for human trafficking are its major industries. Implementing anti-trafficking protocols within these industries and refusing to buy exports produced using forced labor and trafficking would go a long way toward ending human trafficking in Burundi.

The Impact of Human Trafficking on Burundian Families

Young women and children are especially vulnerable to human trafficking. Many leave their families because of traffickers’ false promises of “good jobs,” which women and children see as their only chance to escape poverty. Human trafficking also causes emotional trauma for families with members who have been trafficked. NGOs working in the area believe that between 500 and 3,000 young women from Burundi became trafficking victims in the Middle East between 2015 and 2016.

OLCT, a Burundian NGO that stops transnational crime, reported that at least 527 girls and women arrived in Middle Eastern countries in 2017 as a result of human trafficking. Additionally, more than 250 girls and women arrived in the Middle East in 2018. According to the chairman of OLCT, Qatar is the most common place internationally trafficked Burundian girls end up in due to preparations for the 2022 World Cup.

Human trafficking in Burundi and the exploitation of young girls for monetary gain is a major problem in Burundi. However, ending human trafficking is possible with the proper prevention programs. Burundians stand to benefit both emotionally and economically from greater support from both the African and international communities in preventing human trafficking and keeping families together.

Ending Human Trafficking in Burundi

In April 2021, the Ugandan police intercepted a human trafficking caravan in transit to another nation. The police saved 29 Burundian girls and arrested and charged five human trafficking racket suspects. According to a Ugandan police spokesperson, the girls’ destination was likely the sex trade. Uganda is a cut-through country for traffickers bringing girls into other countries. Human trafficking in Burundi and Africa as a whole will end only if bordering nations cooperate with each other. Uganda’s rescue of 29 young girls displays what can happen when nations work together.

The Burundi Counter-Trafficking Project

Gaston Sindimwo, the vice president of Burundi as of 2019, says that fighting human trafficking requires universal respect for human rights and the understanding that human trafficking is a global issue. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with the Burundian Government to launch Burundi Counter-Trafficking, a project to strengthen the government’s capacity to fight human trafficking.

The Netherlands has fully funded the $3 million project, which will run until the end of 2022. Caecilia Wijgers, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Burundi as of 2019, stressed the need to protect people suffering exploitation and deception. Funding from the Netherlands has limited the number of trafficking rackets in the past few years and has allowed Burundi to work with its neighbors to stop trafficking throughout the continent.

The Burundi Counter-Trafficking project is helping reduce human trafficking in Burundi. However, much work still lies ahead in order to end the exploitation of Burundians and ensure no more families suffer as a result of human trafficking.

– Curtis McGonigle
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in KazakhstanIn 2018, a migrant named E.Sh.M. lost his documents while trying to cross the border into Kazakhstan. Upon arrival at the nearest market, human traffickers kidnapped him and sold him into forced labor on a farm. There, he was illegally detained and subjected to inhumane working conditions where his employer would regularly abuse him. On one extreme occasion, E.Sh.M.’s legs were beaten with an ax, and his finger was cut off. E.Sh.M. serves as just one example of the treatment that migrants who become victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan endure.

The Influx of Foreign Migrants

Kazakhstan used to be a land of emigration and transit to Russia. However, this changed at the start of the new millennium when the country’s economy improved. The influx of migrants increased even more after the Russian financial crisis in 2014 as Kazakhstan became more financially accessible to citizens from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, who now make up the bulk of the migrant population. In 2015, the U.N. estimated that 20% of Kazakhstan’s population were migrants.

What Leads to Migrant Vulnerability

The case of E.Sh.M. is not an anomaly. Rather, it is emblematic of the larger issue of human trafficking in Kazakhstan, which has registered more than 1,100 crimes in the last three years. Labor exploitation, especially of male migrants coming from Central Asia, is just as dominant as sexual exploitation in the country. Trafficked migrants are forced into construction and agricultural work. They are lured with the promise of a high income. Instead, they are illegally detained and forced into labor. Therefore, the poor economic conditions of the migrant’s native country combined with the common recruitment tactic of a deceptive income are factors responsible for the exacerbation of human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

Although E.Sh.M. lost his documents, a more sinister approach for human traffickers in Kazakhstan is forcefully taking away documents and leveling violent threats against migrants. Rodnik is an NGO that helps survivors of human trafficking in Kazakhstan. Diana Bakyt, a lawyer who works for Rodnik, reiterated this point in an interview with The Borgen Project. Bakyt stated, “the main risk factor for getting into a situation of human trafficking is the lack of identity documents.” If a migrant emigrates for work without proper documentation stating their relationship with their employer, they risk trafficking.

The Impact of COVID-19

With borders closing at the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of Central Asian migrants were left stranded at the Russian-Kazakh border. However, as restrictions eased, the plight of the migrants did not. Migrants lost income during the lockdown, and they were also subjected to a migrant phobia media onslaught. Rhetoric, such as “hotbeds for infections” and “breeding grounds for the virus,” has stigmatized migrants. Migrants stranded at the border became “congestions.” These notions further worsen the vulnerability of migrants and increase the risk of human trafficking.

Rodnik has Solutions

Nina Balabayeva founded Kazakhstan’s first shelter, Rodnik, in 2006. The nongovernmental organization has since become the leading mitigator of human trafficking in the country and has provided assistance to more than 16,000 people.

Taking on the plight of the migrants, Diana Bakyt stated that Rodnik has assisted with documentation, securing of legal fees and the return of trafficked migrants to their homeland. The organization is also responsible for combating the migrant phobia supplied by the media and is working to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure to migrants. E.Sh.M.’s story could only have a platform today because Rodnik assisted in his return back to Kyrgyzstan in 2021.

Based in Almaty, Rodnik lies in a pivotal location. Almaty is the primary destination for migrant workers in Kazakhstan. In collaboration with USAID, UNICEF, Winrock International and the Eurasia Foundation, Rodnik has successfully implemented several campaigns and projects, including multiple information drives. During one of these drives, migrant workers on the streets of Almaty received booklets. In a single day, more than 500 people learned about the risks of the human trafficking of migrants in Kazakhstan.

Owing to their founder’s degree in psychology, Bakyt stated that the organization also prioritizes providing psychological help to victims. Other institutions that Rodnik works with include governments, schools, healthcare institutions, militaries, social workers, migration officers and law enforcement.

What Lies Ahead for Kazakhstan

While stories about migrants like E.Sh.M. are heartbreaking, his fight inspires others to stand against human trafficking. Kazakhstan has recently seen an increase of new migrants as a byproduct of the pandemic. However, the tireless efforts of organizations like Rodnik show that trafficking can be overcome.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

dedicated to fighting human trafficking
There are several organizations fighting human trafficking, as it is an ongoing problem that continues to spread around the world. There are 21 to 45 million people trapped in some sort of slavery today. Whether it is referred to as “modern-day slavery” or “human trafficking,” the exploitation of people is still taking place. Fortunately, there are many organizations and nonprofits dedicated to fighting human trafficking and ending this inhumane practice. Here are five nonprofit organizations fighting human trafficking.

5 Nonprofits Working To Stop Human Trafficking

  1. Apage International Mission (AIM): AIM is a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking by protecting and caring for trafficking survivors and other victims of exploitation. Don and Bridget Brewster founded the nonprofit in 1988 after seeing the prevalence of child trafficking in Cambodia. The couple moved to Cambodia to help fight human trafficking and take a stand for the oppressed. The girls that AIM rescues often grow up to become abolitionists, with some even joining the organization. Through the nonprofit, they become social workers, teachers, artisans and even part of AIM’s SWAT team. AIM started a SWAT team after it partnered with the Cambodian government. Most of the SWAT raids on brothels that trafficked underage girls were successful. The organization has rescued more than 1,500 trafficking victims and has greatly improved the lives of trafficking survivors in Cambodia.
  2. Destiny Rescue: Tony Kirwan founded Destiny Rescue in 2001 after living in Thailand. Its mission is to rescue children from human trafficking and help them to remain free. Rescue, reintegration and prevention are the key focuses of Destiny Rescue. It has highly trained agents who go undercover in bars, brothels and on the street to track down human traffickers. After rescuing people who were trafficked, Destiny Rescue helps them return to normal life by reuniting them with families, transferring them to a transitional home and developing a Path to Freedom Plan to help decrease the vulnerabilities that led to exploitation. Destiny Rescue is diligent and dedicated to fighting human trafficking while helping victims get back on their feet.
  3. The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST): CAST is a nonprofit organization founded in 1988 after the El Monte sweatshop case where 72 Thai workers were slaves for eight years. Founder Dr. Kathryn Macmahon and a group of activists became committed to fighting modern-day slavery and human trafficking. They created the nonprofit to provide relief, social services and outreach for those who have been victims of forced labor and modern-day slavery. It helps survivors by bringing awareness to modern slavery, advocating for antitrafficking policies and helping those who have been trafficked become reintegrated into society.
  4. Crisis Aid International: This nonprofit provides services that help the most vulnerable people in the world. It partners with other organizations to bring food, materials, medicine and other necessary items for those who need them. The organization serves people who have suffered as a result of natural disasters, famine, wars, human trafficking and other types of catastrophe. Founded in 2002, Crisis Aid International has helped approximately 1,378 sex trafficking victims, the youngest being four years old.
  5. Frees the Slaves: Free the Slaves is a lobbyist group and nonprofit. Its mission is to finish the work of early abolitionists fighting against slavery. Today, modern slavery exists in the form of forced labor, forced marriage and sex trafficking, with 50% of victims being children under the age of 18. Free the Slaves helps those held in bondage escape slavery, rebuild their life and continue to make a future for themselves and their families. The nonprofit advocates for human trafficking victims, empowers them through education and brings hope to those in slavery by letting them know their rights. Free the Slaves wants to demonstrate that creating a world without slavery is possible.

While human trafficking still persists, nonprofits are putting in the effort to eradicate this unjust practice. With organizations like Agape International Mission, Destiny Rescue, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, Crisis Aid International and Free the Slaves, fighting human trafficking is a group effort. These, along with many other organizations, will continue to fight for a future where people will no longer worry about forced labor, sex trafficking, forced marriage or any other cruel form of exploitation.

– Jose Ahumada
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Hong KongHuman trafficking is a persistent problem all around the world, including in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region located in the People’s Republic of China. The Justice Centre Hong Kong produced a study in 2016 on human trafficking in Hong Kong and it was found that one in six of the 370,000 migrant workers in the city were forced labor victims. While Hong Kong does take steps to eradicate human trafficking, it is important to study human trafficking in every region of the world so that it can be prevented in the future.

Recent Changes and Legislation

Lawmakers in Hong Kong proposed that the government pass an anti-slavery bill based on Great Britain’s “Modern Slavery Act.” However, two of those lawmakers, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung, were removed from Parliament, leaving many questioning whether the bill would ever get passed. A member of The Mekong Club, a group in Hong Kong dedicated to fighting modern slavery said, “There is little chance that this important bill will move forward.” This, in conjunction with the current protests in Hong Kong likely means that lawmakers have had little time to focus on anti-human trafficking legislation.

Another recent development on human trafficking in the nation is that in mid-2020 the U.S. demoted Hong Kong from Tier 2 on the Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier 2 Watch List, suggesting that Hong Kong “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The government of Hong Kong disputed the U.S. human trafficking report’s claims, arguing that the report was not based on evidence and looks at minor flaws rather than the big picture.

Hong Kong’s Approach to Resolving Human Trafficking

One problem with the nation’s current anti-human trafficking legislation is that the city only defines human trafficking as “involving cross-border sex trafficking for prostitution,” which means the legislation does not cover “labor exploitation, debt bondage, domestic servitude or similar practices.” Unfortunately, the legal system can make it difficult for those who are trafficked in Hong Kong to get the help they need or support from legal authorities.

While anti-human trafficking laws could be amended, lawmakers and academics have shown there are creative solutions to the problem. Reed Smooth Richards Butler, a law firm, worked with Liberty Asia, an anti-slavery charity, to create the Legal Gap Analysis report, which explains how other laws can be used to persecute human traffickers. For example, individuals responsible could be arrested for false imprisonment rather than human trafficking directly. Creative efforts like these are important to find solutions to salient issues, including the trafficking of people.

Protecting Human Rights

While the government can certainly improve its response to human trafficking in Hong Kong, the country has implemented many measures to help reduce human trafficking and protect human rights. Human trafficking needs addressing and analyzing the nuances in human trafficking policy can help incapacitate the industry globally.

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

Forced Uyghur LaborForced labor stemming from human rights violations in the Xinjiang province of China has been linked to at least 83 major corporations. In a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in February 2020, companies such as Nike, Gap, H&M, Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen all have connections to the use of forced Uyghur labor in China. The report identified 27 factories in China that employ the use of labor transferred from Xinjiang.

Human Rights Violations of the Uyghur Population

Between 2017 and 2019, it is estimated that over 80,000 Uyghurs were moved out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China through labor transfer programs known as “Xinjiang Aid.”  The Chinese government refers to these job assignments as “vocational training” while maintaining that they are part of the “re-education” process assigned to the Uyghur population. These programs have all been identified in connection to the human rights abuses of the Uyghur population as a whole.

It is reported that surveillance tools are being used to monitor the Uyghur population in these programs and to restrict their freedom of movement. Additionally, it has been reported that they are subject to threats, arbitrary detainment and abusive working conditions.

Factories Identified and Company Responses

The companies identified in connection to this forced labor use include international brands that span across the technology, clothing and automotive sectors.

In the technology sector, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, among others, have been connected to factories that utilize forced labor in China. Amazon has issued a statement saying they do not tolerate the use of forced labor and will be investigating these findings further.

The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd has been specifically connected to forced labor of the Uyghur population. Workers at this factory also attend a night school that seems to closely resemble the “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province. Nike is this factory’s primary customer and released a statement saying that the factory has not recruited new workers from Xinjiang since last year and that it is seeking advice on the most responsible path toward handling the employment of the remaining workers from this region.

The Haoyuanpeng Clothing Manufacturing Co. Ltd is also identified as using forced labor. This factory’s corporate website cites partnerships with the companies Fila, Adidas, Puma and Nike. Adidas specifically stated that it does not have a current relationship with the company and is investigating this claim. Nike has also released a statement that it has no current relationship with the factory.

Since the release of ASPI’s report, H&M has ended a relationship with a Chinese yarn supplier due to its ties to forced labor.

The Global Supply Chain

The complexity of the global supply chain has undoubtedly made it more difficult for global corporations to monitor the connections of their suppliers to forced labor in China, but ASPI reached out to all 83 brands included in the report to confirm details of their suppliers as listed in the report.

Unfortunately, companies and consumers are now put at risk by purchasing goods that connect to forced labor. Investors in these 83 companies are potentially at risk as well. U.S. Congress has recently introduced legislation to protect investors through the requirement of disclosure of goods sourced from Xinjiang.

The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition

There are several advocacy groups dedicated to spreading awareness and furthering tangible steps to end the persecution and exploitation of the Uyghur population. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition has written to 17 companies regarding the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 3471), which is intended to end the use of forced labor from this region in supply chains. The coalition has also issued a call to action that aims for brands to remove all connections with suppliers that have used forced labor. This has been endorsed by investor organizations from more than 35 countries as well as more than 300 Uyghur groups, trade unions and civil society groups.

Ending Forced Uyghur Labor

Though most companies were not aware of the use of forced labor of Uyghurs, along with the awareness that was brought to light, action is also being taken by these companies to show that they do not support forced labor by any means. The End Uyghur Forced Labor Coalition is doing important work to continue bringing awareness to the issue and to protect the rights of this vulnerable minority population.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in South Africa
South Africa is a cultural hub of various ethnicities, races and languages and has kept this reputation despite the colonization of the country. With a plethora of issues regarding race and politics, the country also has an intense trafficking scene, presenting challenges for men, women and children alike. Native South Africans make up the largest number of victims within the country, mostly coming from the cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein. Moreover, traffickers tend to target vulnerable people in poor, rural and urban areas. Here is some information about human trafficking in South Africa and what efforts some are taking to fight it.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in South Africa

  1. Forced Labor: The International Labour Organisation Convention No. 29 of 1960 defines forced labor as “All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered him/her voluntarily.” South African law enforcement agencies increased efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers. In these investigations, authorities arrested seven Chinese nationals, four men and three women for alleged forced labor of 91 Malawians, 37 of whom were children. Traffickers exploited a total of 308 victims through forced labor.
  2. Modern-day Slavery: Slavery, according to the Sexual Offences Amendment Act No. 32 of 2007, means “reducing a person by any means to a state of submitting to the control of another person, as if that other person were the owner of that person.” Modern slavery is not dissimilar to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as traffickers are currently and continuously shipping thousands of women and girls in South Africa into brothels every year. The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act defines trafficking in terms very similar to the African Slave Trade; in simple terms, it is the harboring of people by threat, force or deception to gain control over another person and using them for exploitation.
  3. Local Victims: Nigerian cartels dominate sex trafficking in several provinces. In 2014, Western Cape reported an increased number of Nigerian sex trafficking victims, many of them coerced through voodoo rituals. Traffickers often send South African women to Europe and Asia, where some end up having to work in prostitution, domestic service or drug smuggling. Law enforcement reported that ongoing sex trafficking victims end up in positions of loyalty and submission via forced drug use, which makes rescuing victims all the more difficult. Recently, law enforcement officials across five of South Africa’s provinces coordinated and executed raids on more than a dozen brothels, as well as factories and syndicates that created and distributed unconsented pornography.
  4. Non-African Victims: Many Chinese traffickers operate in South Africa, specifically targeting Asian men and women. Officials acknowledge the growth of Chinese victims, but Thai women remain the largest foreign victim group – that is, as far as officials are aware of. Women and girls from Brazil, Eastern Europe and East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and neighboring African countries have all experienced kidnapping and placement in South Africa’s trafficking ring. LGBT persons both foreign and native are the main target in sex trafficking. Young men and boys often experience coercion into trafficking rings, especially those from neighboring countries. Authorities even arrest and deport some in forced labor as illegal immigrants. Government and NGOs found a growth in captors forcing Pakistanis and Bangladeshis into bonded labor.
  5. Women: Traffickers capitalize on South Africa’s poverty epidemic and unemployment, and poverty strips its victims of their dignity. Women who undergo trafficking come from different backgrounds of poverty and many of them are immigrants. The same applies to internal migrants. Since most of these poor women who enter South Africa are in search of economic opportunities, they do so often without formal immigration papers; such women often turn to domestic work. They work long hours every day of the week, their salaries often lower than the mandated accepted salary for domestic workers. Sometimes, employers take the identification they might have entered South Africa with for “safekeeping,” though it is really about holding these women hostage. This makes it difficult for them to leave if they are not happy with their employer’s conditions. For black women, the marginalization doubles due to their race and gender. White South Africans make up 8% of South Africa’s population yet own 87% of all farmland, according to the country’s government through AFP and the Washington Post. Since most are not living in poverty, they are less vulnerable.

The South African Government and A21

The South African government convicted three law enforcement efforts and initiated the prosecution of 19 sex traffickers back in 2014. Meanwhile, the Department of Social Development oversees victim shelters, which assisted 41 victims. However, a serious lack of capacity and widespread corruption among the police force makes anti-trafficking efforts harder. Though when the government fails, South African NGOs such as A21 provide helpful solutions to human trafficking in South Africa by raising awareness, providing education and acting as problem solvers in place of corrupted police.

According to A21, trafficking victims are often unable to speak the local language, appear to be trapped in their job or residence, may have bruises and other signs of physical abuse or do not have identification documents. Brothels, farms, factories and shebeens are common places captors keep victims. A21 provides the opportunity to contact it if a person suspects that human trafficking might be taking place, offering the chance to save lives.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Qatar
The U.N. defines human trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.” Human trafficking in Qatar is a longstanding concern among international nonprofit organizations and human rights groups. The wealthy Gulf State’s ongoing campaign to bolster its soft power on the world stage and brand its capital Doha as a financial and investment hub comparable to its UAE neighbors Dubai and Abu Dhabi has gathered considerable momentum in recent years. The country is using large-scale construction projects such as an extravagant airport and lavish tourist attractions to cement the city’s position as an oasis of luxury and opulence. However, the dark cloud cast over how exactly the small but ambitious kingdom is achieving these construction feats remains a critical question mark.

The crown jewel of the Al Thani monarchy’s publicity campaign is undoubtedly the 2022 Qatar World Cup, which the country attained under questionable circumstances in a 2010 bid involving a high-profile bribery scandal and a multi-billion dollar proposal to secure the rights to host the upcoming soccer tournament. With the desert state’s day in the sun on the horizon, the kingdom began ramping up construction to prepare stadiums and indeed the city of Doha itself for its month in the spotlight of international attention.

Why Import Labor?

For a country like Qatar, one of the smallest sovereign states in the world covering an area roughly the size of Connecticut, such a large-scale undertaking presents one very crucial problem – labor. This is where human trafficking and labor exploitation are rearing their ugly heads time and time again in the development of the Gulf States. The ruling family and sponsors of Qatar’s development projects are seeking to meet the country’s manual labor needs by employing millions of vulnerable men and women from countries like India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Sudan seeking work abroad to send remittances back to their families. Today, of the 2.6 million people currently living in Qatar, 2.3 million are migrant workers from abroad working primarily in the domestic and construction sectors.

Abuse and Exploitation

Unscrupulous, predatory and loan-sharking recruiters in laborers’ home countries often work closely with contractors in Qatar to lure workers to the peninsula for extended periods of time under false pretenses. Upon arrival in the country, migrants are at the mercy of Qatar’s Kafala system of laws that govern the relationships between migrants, their employers and the Qatari state, placing economic migrants in a dangerous position of dependency. Under this structure of rules, the migrants’ visa and work permit status ties to a sponsor or employer which makes it illegal for workers to leave their employer or indeed the country itself without the employer’s official permission, creating a situation that is ripe for economic bondage and human trafficking in Qatar.

According to the U.S. State Department, workers suffer abuses such as:

  • Withheld Wages and Delayed Payment
  • Passport Confiscation
  • Abhorrent Company-Sponsored Living Conditions
  • Excessive Hours
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Hazardous Working Conditions
  • Debt Bondage
  • Prostitution
  • The Threat of Serious Physical Harm

Progress and Promises

There is hope, though. Facing mounting international pressure from democratic governments and NGOs such as the United Nations and Amnesty International, the Qatari government is making “significant promises of reform ahead of the 2022 World Cup” according to Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s deputy director of global issues. Such reforms include the establishment of a workers support and insurance fund, the announcement of a new minimum wage, dissolution of the laws necessitating employer permission for workers to leave the employer or the country, and a signed commitment to the International Labour Organization (ILO) to combat the brutal exploitation of workers and human trafficking in Qatar.

The Good News

Although the reforms on paper still lack the unwavering enforcement that is necessary to implement the new laws to their fullest extent, their creation signals a willingness of the Qatari government to meet certain labor standards ahead of the 2022 World Cup, which at this time should proceed as scheduled. The good news is that the country’s need to build and preserve its reputation at the center of its soft power initiatives allows for a motivated international community to demand immediate reforms and changes in labor laws and policies. In the context of growing calls to boycott the tournament if it does not meet standards and increasing international attention as the tournament nears, the Qatari government is likely to respond to sustained pressure if others apply it with strength and in numbers.

– Cem Gokhan
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Human Trafficking in Uzbekistan
On February 26, 2020, Uzbek Assembly Officials and Chonburi Provincial Police rescued four Uzbek women in Pattaya, Thailand. The women were victims of a human trafficking scam, traveling under assumptions of better pay and work. Traffickers held them captive in a condominium in south Pattaya doing undisclosed labor. Sadly, human trafficking in Uzbekistan is not new. In fact, 600,000 new migrant workers enter the Uzbek labor force each year, looking to take advantage of the opportunities within central Asia. Many workers are vulnerable to anonymous traffickers who have access to making high profits from construction, agriculture and entertainment industries, and can easily exploit environments where governments do not act upon human rights violations. In many aspects, workers’ rights and human trafficking indefinitely interlink, and looking at places like Uzbekistan can shed light on how to go about changing the playing field.

Uzbekistan’s Progress at Eliminating Human Trafficking

Shavkat Mirziyoyev is the current Uzbek president-elect since September 8, 2016.  Mirziyoyev has made considerable progress on advocating for human rights following the death of former president Islam Karimov, but still has a lot of work to do. Since 2017, Uzbekistan is currently on the U.S. Department of State’s Tier 2 watch list, failing to decrease cases of severe trafficking and lacking evidence of government efforts to implement prosecutions, investigations and convictions on trafficking crimes; this is mostly because the country itself is guilty of violating human rights.

Both government officials and privately owned businesses have forced Uzbek employees from the public sector to work on cotton fields, threatening them with job-related consequences while making a profit from their free labor. Around half of the respondents from an online survey that the Uzbek Forum conducted claimed they could not refuse the demands of employers or government officials. The survey consisted of employees from banks, government administrations, police and medical/educational personnel.

Forced Labor in Cotton

Cotton has historically been a viable cash crop for the Uzbek government, providing close to $1 billion per harvest season, historically demanding Uzbek farmers meet high quotas for company distribution. Mirziyoyev has refuted these circumstances, claiming his plan to reduce forced labor is by mainly exporting fiber and focusing more on mechanized harvesting. The U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan reported that in 2017, president Mirziyoyev incorporated international NGOs to track potential traffickers and laborers, and through wide-reaching campaigns and production monitoring, the number of people being forced to work the fall harvest has fallen each year. However, the demand for cotton has not ceased, and it found that reports of forced labor were increasing within the Uzbek subdivisions of Syrdarya, Surkhandarya, Khorezm and Tashkent in 2019.

Even with legislative power, the need for cotton was still prominent, and corrupt government officials still threatened public sector employees to work. S&P Global reports that near the end of 2019, President Mirziyoyev proclaimed “Instead of using forced labor, I’d prefer not to have the cotton. Let it stay in the fields.”

Successes

In March 2020, President Mirziyoyev abolished the state-set cotton quota as a plan to incentivize representatives to double down on cotton production, therefore reducing the need for forced labor. In late September, The Ministry of Agriculture announced that Uzbek cotton-picking wages increased from $60 per ton in 2019 to $90 per ton in 2020. Monitoring has also played in Mirzoyev’s favor since late 2019, with the International Labour Organization (ILO) successfully recording 1,282 cases of forced labor, which has been assisting Uzbekistan since 2013.

Today, the ILO is an integrated third-party monitoring agency in Uzbekistan, working with its own training, methodology and monitoring tactics. Elena Urlaeva, a human rights activist and monitor for the ILO, says Uzbekistan has given the organization badges to access cases without question, and due to the new legislation that President Mirziyoyev signed on January 2020, “we have also recently introduced criminalization of forced labor, which we hope will serve as an effective deterrent.” However, the country lost an estimated  670,000 migrant jobs due to COVID-19, and the need for voluntary labor overruled the new legislation.

Human Trafficking in Uzbekistan and the Internet

On the local level, the internet has given a platform for migrants to find work easily but also allows traffickers to facelessly trap their victims online. The IOM UN Migration, an intergovernmental organization, reported that “We’ve noticed a sharp increase in this phenomenon of online trafficking in the past two years, and it’s high time that we fought back, also online.” The organization worked within the Uzbek region to further its campaigns online, workshopping through social media to safely spread the word of working fraud online.

Coincidentally on August 19, 2020, within the midst of COVID-19, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), hosted an online awareness campaign, promoting younger kids in Uzbekistan to send in “the best video, article, fine art, photo and essay on the subject of “Youth against human trafficking!” produced by young people of Uzbekistan.” There were thousands of submissions and the event occurred in an auditorium with panels of kids participating and learning through Zoom.

President Mirziyoyev seeks to keep helping victims by pushing laws that help rehabilitate trafficked victims and using his legislation to uphold human rights, but even though trafficking numbers have fallen, Uzbek Parliament reveals that traffickers’ selling of newborns has risen by 43% in 2020. As a result, the fight to eliminate human trafficking in Uzbekistan continues.

– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

 

Human Trafficking in Belarus
The eastern European country of Belarus is a hub for human trafficking. In fact, the country ranks as Tier 3 for human trafficking according to the U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, signifying a dire need for improvement going forward. Belarus’ Tier 3 status makes it one of the worst places for human trafficking in the world, despite its consistently slowing rate. Here is some information about efforts to eradicate human trafficking in Belarus.

The Situation

Belarus recorded 128 confirmed trafficking victims and nine potential victims in the Trafficking in Persons report for 2020. Meanwhile, data that NGOs compiled in 2019 has indicated that 91 identified victims comprised of 58 men and 33 women. While victims exist within Belarus, they also exist outside of Belarus’ borders as the traffickers export men for forced labor to Russia and women for sex work to western Europe. Of the 91 victims, 52 experienced exploitation in Russia.

At the moment, human trafficking predominantly affects men in Belarus by way of labor exploitation. In particular, it is common for Belarusian men to find themselves enslaved in Dagestani brick factories. Forced labor also takes place in Belarus through state-sponsored programs called “subbotniks.” These governmental programs force factory workers, civil workers and students to work on farms and clean streets, and anyone who resists experiences threats and intimidation.

Regarding trafficking rates, although they have declined throughout recent years, it would be a mistake to assume that Belarus has solved the problem as it still has a Tier 3 ranking through the U.S. State Department. The people most susceptible to falling victim to human trafficking in Belarus are women from poor families and men from small towns and villages.

Potential Solutions

In terms of where to improve, one of the most direct courses of action that Belarus can take against human trafficking is to put a stop to all subbotniks. State-sponsored forced labor poses a substantial barrier for any country wanting to seriously tackle human trafficking. Additionally, putting an end to subbotniks will help Belarus achieve a better rating from the U.S. State Department. A more broad way to eradicate human trafficking in Belarus would be to minimize poverty in the country. Since many of the people who fall victim to trafficking live in poverty, increased financial stability for those in poverty could provide alternative opportunities for them to escape it and create a recruiting challenge for traffickers.

Unfortunately, Belarus has seen heightened civil unrest and economic displeasure amongst the people under President Alexander Lukashenko’s leadership, specifically regarding stagnating wages and a lack of opportunities to earn more. Belarusian leadership should properly address these grievances in order to help elevate the peoples’ standard of living. Moreover, Belarus’ rural communities should have a specific focus on reducing poverty as they are dramatically poorer than their urban counterparts. Despite the fact that Belarus is one of Europe’s least impoverished countries, rural areas have poverty rates as high as 45.6%. With this in mind, it is essential that programs such as USAID’s Increasing Access to Finance for the Rural Population in Belarus continue in order to further help Belarus’ rural population.

La Strada

NGOs such as La Strada are also doing great work in Belarus to prevent human trafficking. La Strada lobbies, provides resources for victims, grants education for the purpose of prevention and conducts media operations to raise awareness about trafficking.

Crisis Rooms

Crisis rooms are an important part of the victim rehabilitation process and Belarus currently has 136 of them. They are places of temporary residence for trafficking victims which provide protection and resources at no cost to the victims. Belarus needs more rooms, as well as an improvement in the government-run crisis rooms. Most victims try to find private crisis rooms due to public crisis rooms being poorly equipped and short on qualified caregivers. Improving both the quantity and quality of government-run crisis rooms could provide a more accessible and healthy rehabilitation for human trafficking victims.

Belarus’ Efforts

Belarus has continually strengthened its efforts to eradicate human trafficking in Belarus. These efforts have come in the form of increased police training, substantial prison sentences for offenders and more victim protection and rehabilitation resources. The government has rolled out a national action plan which is in place to protect minors from the dangers of sex trafficking. Also, the Belarusian government, with the help of NGOs, has run a large public awareness campaign that utilizes television, radio, print media and billboards. Furthermore, La Strada set up a hotline in 2001 which people can use to help prevent trafficking by identifying illegal recruiting practices and assisting with safe travel for migrant workers.

Ultimately, Belarus has made considerable progress over the past few years in reducing rates of trafficking, but as its Tier 3 designation suggests, it still has considerable progress to make. The next steps Belarus could take would be to end subbotniks, provide assistance to NGOs and ease the difficult political, social and economic circumstances of its people. Economic disparity is a growing concern in Belarus and the implementation of programs such as USAID’s Increasing Access to Finance for the Rural Population in Belarus are crucial to mitigating disparity since poverty is conducive to human trafficking.

– Sean Kenney
Photo: Unsplash