Human Trafficking in Iraq
The media has brought attention to violence, war and terror in Iraq. Unfortunately, there are other effects of the ongoing conflict and instability in Iraq, particularly human trafficking. Human trafficking in Iraq prevailed under the Sadam era, but in the years following the end of his regime, the issue continued to worsen. As a result, the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. Department of State ranked Iraq as a Tier 2 country. A Tier 2 status means that the Iraqi government has implemented measures to combat human trafficking but has not been successful so far.

These measures included identifying 70 victims of trafficking; however, some have acknowledged that the number is far greater than this because of the lack of functional infrastructure to accurately report and combat human trafficking. For example, the report from the Department of State determined that “as of February 2020, the KRG reported 2,893 Yezidis — including men, women and children — remain missing. Some reports have indicated that the missing women and girls remain with ISIS in Eastern Syria and Turkey or have been exploited in other parts of the region, Europe or Asia.” Yezidis are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Iraq.

The Link Between ISIS and Human Trafficking

More than seven years of war and the emergence of terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, wreaked havoc on Iraqi public and political infrastructures, leaving organizations such as the Ministry of the Interior under-resourced and lacking in accountability measures for its anti-trafficking department. Additionally, cultural stigmas have made Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian women and girls particularly vulnerable to trafficking. These stigmas include customs such as temporary marriages or traditions in some areas that a woman should marry her rapist.

Officially, Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December 2017. However, during the height of ISIS’s power, ISIS trafficked tens of thousands of women and children as sex slaves and many more children as child soldiers. ISIS trafficked an estimated 1,100 child soldiers from Iraq and Syria after taking control of large regions of the nation in June 2014.

The terrorist organization continues to have a presence in Iraq, leaving many victims vulnerable. This is especially true because victims often do not have a support network after escaping their traffickers. In this context, it is important to understand the measures that the Iraqi government can take to improve its anti-trafficking efforts on a systemic level.

There are clear steps that the government can take to address human trafficking in Iraq that will hopefully act as a framework to guide other nations struggling after the presence of war and terrorism. The U.S. Department of State published a 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report that provides suggestions on how to best combat this issue.

Investigating Traffickers

Authorities do not hold military officials in the armed forces accountable for complicity in human trafficking in Iraq. Unfortunately, reports determined that corrupt officials are working in trafficking networks themselves without repercussions due to a lack of internal accountability. Additionally, due to a lack of education, military officials who are in charge of preventing trafficking and punishing traffickers easily fall prey to bribes and schemes that blame victims for crimes that traffickers commit. Investigating, prosecuting, convicting and sentencing all complicit traffickers indiscriminately and disregarding their positions in the government or military has the potential to make a significant impact toward ending trafficking.

Regulating Trafficking and the Iraqi Government

Since Iraq has been struggling with its infrastructure, it has had challenges bringing traffickers to justice because there is a lack of framework and regulations for this cause. One important suggestion from the Trafficking in Persons Report is for officials to receive education on regulations so that they can implement the regulations better. As a consequence of a lack of education, victims of trafficking frequently experience punishment for crimes traffickers forced them to commit, such as prostitution and child soldiering.

In some cases, traffickers accuse their victims of petty crime in retaliation due to the victim reporting them. As a result, authorities arrest the victims and return them to the traffickers’ custody. Therefore, it is crucial to educate officials to better recognize trafficking and ensure they have the training necessary to respond to trafficking instances appropriately.

The anti-trafficking programs that are in place, while lacking, are a promising start. The Iraqi government prosecuted and identified more traffickers in the year 2020 than in 2019, additionally providing shelter for a limited number of victims in Baghdad. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) also allowed an NGO to build a shelter for victims of trafficking for the first time and helped liberate hundreds of Yezidi individuals from ISIS. These efforts show that the Iraqi government is moving in the right direction to combat human trafficking in Iraq.

Supporting Victims of Trafficking

Ending human trafficking in Iraq is the ultimate goal, but it is also important to think about care for those who are victims. Currently, it is against the law in Iraq for an NGO to build a shelter for victims of human trafficking. Additionally, victims are unable to move or work freely during a trial prosecuting their traffickers and need better protection services during trials. Increased access to basic needs and services such as medical care, long-term housing help and counseling services for their trauma are important first steps toward providing crucial support for victims. The Iraqi anti-trafficking framework is currently lacking in victim resources. Therefore, more focus on the direct wellbeing of victims could provide noticeable and tangible results for those affected.

Unfortunately, there are at least 27 known human trafficking networks in the Iraq and Kurdistan region. This is an ongoing and urgent issue, but while Iraq has many barriers to face, there are also clear pathways that the Iraqi government can take to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and systems of governance.

– Abigail Meyer
Photo: Flickr

Marvel's Black WidowMany years since her first appearance in the cinematic universe, Natasha Romanoff or Marvel’s Black Widow, made her solo debut in the film “Black Widow.” The film debuted in theaters and on Disney+ on July 9, 2021, a groundbreaking film featuring a prominent ensemble of superwomen. However, the film is stirring the most conversation due to its powerful opening credit sequence.

The scene presents a series of video clips, images and allusions meant to represent the sexual and labor exploitation of women across the globe. More specifically, the opening credit sequence and the movie as a whole point to the fate of trafficked children.

This theme of human trafficking pivots off of Black Widow’s superhero backstory, in which the fictional underground Soviet agency known as the Red Room trafficked Natasha as a young girl. The organization abducted young girls across Eastern Europe and indoctrinated and exploited the girls to do the organization’s bidding.

The Importance of the Opening Credit Sequence

In the opening credit sequence, the audience sees the camera focus on the terrified faces of young girls lined up after traffickers kidnapped them. The opening credits also showcase ominous audio of screaming girls playing in the background of a young Natasha being separated from her younger sister Yelena and subsequent clips show older men manipulating and touching the girls.

Following the scenes, images of forced labor and indoctrination emerge, all of which are too common in the world, not just in Black Widow’s universe. The images and videos culminate in a line spoken near the end of the film by the leader of the Red Room. A man named Dreykov states that the Red Room “[uses] the only natural resource that the world has too much of, girls.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one in three females who are trafficking victims globally are children. The production team behind “Black Widow” was keenly aware of this statistic and wanted to make their movie more impactful. “Black Widow” director, Cate Shortland, intended for themes of human trafficking to come through the film.

Shortland wanted to “intersect [Marvel] with reality,” as the trafficking that defines Natasha Romanoff is based on real events that happen to thousands of young girls every year. Shortland felt that to ignore the blatant trafficking schemes of the Red Room and the atrocities that young girls similar to Natasha faced, notably forced hysterectomies, would be out-of-touch and a disservice to the impact that the film could make on audiences globally.

Human Trafficking in Russia

Russia, the location of the Red Room, comprises human trafficking for the purpose of labor and sex. This fact is on display in the film as there are numerous references to Russian culture and constant use of the Russian language throughout. As a Tier 3 country, the United States Department of State has reported that Russia has made little to no effort to combat trafficking. For example, the Russian government only investigated six trafficking or slavery cases between 2019 and 2020.

The Importance and Impact of Recognition

The UNODC has stressed that any form of awareness that one can cultivate and spread about human trafficking and gender-based violence is essential to alleviating the burdens of victims and preventing trafficking in the future. Marvel’s “Black Widow” raises awareness through the three-minute-long opening credit sequence. Meanwhile, Shortland and the rest of the cast and crew advocate for the forgotten women and those who are victims of violence and exploitation, similar to Marvel’s Black Widow, Natasha herself. Shortland then ends the film with Natasha and Yelena releasing the remaining women and girls from the Red Room in an empowering scene where the women are finally free from their abuse.

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Madagascar
Human trafficking, a form of unlawful exploitation of others for purpose of work and service, is a tremendous issue in Madagascar. With a Tier 2 ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2021, human trafficking in Madagascar is significant.

The Issue

Though human trafficking is undoubtedly a human rights issue in every place in which it occurs, Madagascar’s economy is exacerbating the issue. With a GDP of $523 per capita (within the bottom 20 countries in the world) and an average poverty rate of about 97.5%, Madagascar is certainly in an extremely impoverished state. Poverty has a tendency to make individuals more susceptible to becoming trafficking victims as they seek work.

Another notable contributing factor is the lack of proper education in Madagascar, which plays a role in child labor. This turns into a vicious cycle; people without a reliable education often end up as trafficking victims.

Sex Trafficking

A significant human rights issue that the world is facing today is the increasing amount of sex trafficking, more specifically involving children. Since children are easier to manipulate, traffickers often see them as the best means of exploitation. In this situation, traffickers lure children, particularly girls, between the ages of 12 and 17, with promises of better employment.

The sex trafficking of children in Madagascar has been an issue for quite some time, but there has been a sudden rise in cases including foreigners. In Madagascar, it is a sign of prestige for a young woman to have sexual relations with a foreigner, thus creating another door into the sex trafficking industry. This has resulted in foreigners, visiting Madagascar for cheap sex trafficking of mostly young women. Though there are more than 700 child-protection networks in Madagascar that have the intention of preventing these cases, not all of them have the resources they need.

Children are not the only victims of this kind of work; there has also been a rise in the trafficking of older women. In this case, traffickers may traffick the women, then murder them for their organs. In other situations, traffickers steal women from their homes before forcing their husbands and children to pay (sometimes up to $3,000) to get them back. Unfortunately, this situation is not improving with time and requires addressing.

Labor Trafficking

Human trafficking in Madagascar is also prevalent in its agriculture industry, with children working in the production of vanilla and other plants. In the entire country of Madagascar, about 22.1% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in child labor. In addition to this, Madagascar is one of the most significant exporters of mica sheets, resulting in more than 10,000 children working in dire conditions for food and water.

Human Trafficking During COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Madagascar’s economy. With the country implementing a stay-at-home order, a multitude of jobs in Madagascar underwent termination, thus leaving people looking for work. Along with Madagascar’s poverty, citizens became desperate for work in these drastic times, leading to an increase in human trafficking. In certain cases, parents even had to sell their children to traffickers in order to survive financially. In 2021, child-protection networks assisted 876 children, which is lower than the 1,666 in 2020. Child-protection services in Madagascar, such as UNICEF Madagascar, prevent child trafficking and violence by proposing and establishing legal frameworks which help with keeping children safe in their communities and away from potential traffickers.

Protection and Prevention

Though the results seem insignificant considering the large numbers of trafficked individuals in Madagascar, the authorities do not seem to take the issue as seriously as necessary. The current punishment for human trafficking for labor in Madagascar is a fine of $260 to $2,610 for offenses towards an adult victim, and between five and 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $520 to $5,230 for those towards a child victim. For comparison, the U.S. considers human trafficking slavery, thus resulting in between 20 years and life in prison. These numbers demonstrate the significance of human trafficking in Madagascar and the fact that the country should take it more seriously.

Though the situation of human trafficking in Madagascar is unpleasant, work is occurring to eliminate it. Through the efforts of child-protection networks in Madagascar, including UNICEF Madagascar, child victims of trafficking should continue to receive aid, while implementing legal frameworks to prevent child trafficking going forward.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Kuwait
Kuwait is the fifth-wealthiest Arab country. Its capital, Kuwait City, has a jagged skyline of soaring high-rises and luxurious residential areas. Within its $110.35 billion GDP per capita society and prosperous façade, however, there exists an underworld of poverty, struggle and human trafficking in Kuwait.

The Vulnerabilities of Workers

Up to 90% of all Kuwaiti households employ a domestic worker. Many of them are migrants who are processed in agencies through the kafala or “sponsorship” system. The kafala system makes domestic workers more vulnerable to human trafficking in Kuwait, as, at times, employers choose to exclude agencies and sell workers among themselves. The employers advertise on common social media and online platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Haraj.

An organization of migrant workers called Sandigan Kuwait is on the front lines in the battle for both domestic and non-domestic workers’ rights. The Borgen Project spoke with Mary Ann Abunda, head volunteer and founding chairperson of Sandigan Kuwait and the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Worker Association, as well as Chito Neri, vice founding chairperson of the Sandigan Kuwait Domestic Workers Association.

Human Trafficking Victims in Kuwait

Abunda and Neri emphasize that one of the main obstacles for both migrant workers and Sandigan Kuwait is the normalcy of human trafficking in Kuwaiti society. Some employers believe that because they pay an agency for a domestic worker, they own that person.

It is common for employers in Kuwait to confiscate their domestic workers’ passports and deny them the ability to leave the house unaccompanied. Employers also prevent workers from contacting their families and subject them to physical and verbal abuse. Workers are also denied days off and are grossly underpaid. Furthermore, sometimes workers are not paid at all. All of this is illegal under Ministerial Decree No. 68 of 2015 Regarding Domestic Workers, but the country rarely enforces the law.

Abunda and Neri told The Borgen Project that the Kuwaiti government provides citizens with food, water, medicine and thousands of Kuwaiti dinars for seemingly every major life event on a monthly basis. Though employers are to allocate a portion of those provisions to their workers, many never give it to them. Despite blatant evidence that poverty exists in Kuwait among migrant workers, the reported rate is 0%.

Sandigan Kuwait and Migrant Workers’ Rights

Sandigan Kuwait fights for migrant workers’ rights through assessment of cases against their exploitative employers as well as through counseling programs to help them heal. “Most of them are victims of human trafficking and human smuggling. So they are already victims before even coming here in Kuwait,” Abunda said, speaking about African migrants in particular.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an added strain on any possible progress in gaining rights for migrant workers. In March 2020, Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior instituted the “Leave Safely” amnesty campaign. Though he intended it to be corrective, the campaign exacerbated aspects of the crisis and made things more difficult for Sandigan Kuwait.

“How can you have an amnesty during a lockdown? During a pandemic? And it was very chaotic,” said Abunda. Neri agreed, explaining that migrants had to leave Kuwait within a month yet airports remained closed. The mad rush of people prevented the Kuwaiti government and Sandigan Kuwait from identifying potential human trafficking or unpaid salary cases before the workers left the country.

The Organization’s Successes

Sandigan Kuwait volunteers worked tirelessly to help migrant workers at the height of the pandemic. They distributed 25,000 food bags to those in need during Kuwait’s lockdown period in 2020. The organization’s other accomplishments include rescuing 65 Filipinos from sex trafficking in 2016.

It was also one of the first organizations in the Middle East to celebrate International Domestic Workers Day. Around that time, the organization was able to give awards to employers who have treated migrant workers well. The situation has slowly improved over the years. The U.S. Department of State classified Kuwait as a Tier 2 country in the 2019 “Trafficking in Persons Report” and the country has since maintained its position by gradually implementing suggestions.

Initiatives to Combat Trafficking and Exploitation

The Kuwaiti government has made some advancements in protecting migrants’ rights. It passed a decree against human trafficking in Kuwait in 2013 and the domestic workers’ law in 2015. The Permanent National Committee for the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prevention of Trafficking emerged in 2018.

In January 2021, Kuwait’s Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) launched a collaborative program with two international organizations and the Supreme Council for Planning and Development. Called Tamkeen, the program aims to digitize PAM’s labor files so as to make them more easily trackable and eliminate loopholes in the records that previously enabled employers to circumvent the labor law. With continued governmental, organizational and international support, the frequency of human trafficking in Kuwait is likely to lessen in the coming years.

Looking to the Future

Abunda and Neri have large-scale aspirations for Sandigan Kuwait’s future projects. These details, however, are not publicized for the safety of both the organization and the people it helps. Through the commitment of Sandigan Kuwait, hope is on the horizon as the rights of vulnerable people are protected and human trafficking in Kuwait is reduced.

Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Denmark
Women will often go to extreme lengths to find stability for themselves and their families. To find this stability, many leave their homes in search of better jobs. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to human trafficking with traffickers potentially tricking them into doing sex work that can be difficult to escape. Organizations such as the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) are fighting to reduce the amount of human trafficking in Denmark.

Women as Victims

Denmark is a trafficking destination. According to Newsroom, “The total number of trafficking victims identified in the period 2016-2019 was 380, including 28 children. The most frequent form of exploitation remains sexual exploitation, followed by labor exploitation and forced criminality.”

Many trafficking victims are women. According to the European Commission, “women make up the largest share of identified victims of trafficking in Denmark with a total of 547 persons (94%). Male victims of trafficking account for 6% of the total number from 2007 to 2016.”

The Problem

Migrant women come from various parts of the world such as Thailand, Eastern Europe and Nigeria before settling in Denmark after traffickers promise them employment with quality pay. However, many of these women end up in sex work by force. Additionally, many end up on the streets where they face violence and stress due to the cost of living in Denmark.

Kira West of Open Democracy said that “We have heard examples of family houses being burnt down or family members being kidnapped. Many of them are also suffering from the effects of life as undocumented migrant women in rough, street-based environments where they are subject to exploitation, violence and rape.”

Female trafficking victims not only stress about paying off their debts but also live in fear that the police will catch them. As a result, female trafficking victims in Denmark rarely report crimes. West said that “Irrespective of whether or not they have the right papers, these women have a right to protection. They should be able to report perpetrators without fearing deportation.”

Making a Change

GRETA is an organization that ensures trafficked victims have access to compensation including breaking down their cases and reviewing the eligibility criteria for claiming their compensation. This organization argues that because most victims of trafficking are migrants that they should receive asylum in Denmark. “From 2007-2016 a sum of 632 people are known to be victims of human trafficking in Denmark. Of those 632 people trafficked in Denmark a total of 517 people were being trafficked for prostitution.”

From 2016-2019, GRETA aided in nine court rulings in four different cases resulting in the conviction of 23 persons for human trafficking offenses.

GRETA has urged Denmark to review and grant residence permits to victims of trafficking as well as fund human and financial resources to protect them. In its third report, GRETA detailed exactly how trafficked victims’ cases should play out to guarantee justice in Denmark. GRETA has noted that Denmark has been implementing the establishment of a national referral system including five regional groups. It also created a website and hotline for trafficked victims which includes information in seven languages.

Making it Right

Victims are now stepping forward. The women who end up as trafficking victims do so because they want to build better lives for themselves. They live a life of violence and fear because of their citizenship status and other fake documentation. Many have had enough and are choosing to fight for their freedom. Little by little, many are reclaiming their lives once again.

Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Saudi Arabia
In April 2021, a young migrant worker named Caroline Aluoch requested permission to return to her home in Kenya. However, her employer denied her due to his rights under the kafala system. A few months later, Aluoch’s family received a report that she had died during her employment sponsorship. Devastated by their loss, Aluoch’s family recently spoke out about how the kafala system renders migrant laborers particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. Here is some information about the problem as well as efforts working towards ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Labor in Saudi Arabia

Workers from low and middle-income countries often seek better wages by taking on foreign jobs. The migrant laborer population in Saudi Arabia is around 13 million people. It consists of people from South and Southeast Asia and Africa working at jobs in construction, agriculture and domestic service.

Most of these workers enter the country through legal labor channels. These workers must adhere to certain restrictions under the employment sponsorship system. This system, known as kafala, began in the 1950s to promote labor sharing in the Gulf Nations. Without reform, though, restrictions through kafala can force laborers to remain in potentially unsafe and exploitative work environments.

Problems with Kafala

The kafala sponsorship system requires foreign workers to obtain a Saudi sponsor in order to work. The sponsor, who is most often the Saudi employer, has the right to decide if and when a foreign worker can transfer jobs or leave Saudi Arabia. According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) report, one of the most common complaints from exploited migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is that of non- or delayed wage payment. Under the kafala system, workers can become trapped in the unpaid situation.

When laborers face delayed and non-payments, they become more susceptible to economic coercion into other exploitative employment, such as organized begging or commercial sex. As an employment requirement, the kafala system creates a cycle of potential exploitation for foreign workers.

Saudi Government Efforts

In the past few years, officials have developed a legal infrastructure suited to dealing specifically with human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. These specialized courts and screenings intend to protect domestic and foreign trafficked victims and prevent future trafficking. Here are some of the Saudi government’s efforts so far:

  • Law enforcement investigated, prosecuted and convicted human traffickers.
  • Workshops and seminars instructed recruitment agencies on how to teach foreign workers about their rights.
  • The new National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is giving identified trafficking victims the choice of staying in Saudi Arabia and transferring jobs or returning home.
  • The Expansion of the Wage Protection System allows the government to monitor delayed or non-paid wages.

Saudi Arabia and many of its labor-sending countries agree that government oversight of labor has improved, which has benefitted domestic and foreign workers.

Reform to Kafala System

While the Kingdom has made great strides to create safeguards and systems to protect potential trafficking victims, stories like Caroline Aluoch’s demonstrate the current dangers of the kafala system. Sponsorship reform is one of the prioritized recommendations for ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia, according to the TIPS Report.

Because the kafala system is a decades-old, multinational system, progress has been slow. As global labor organizations have pushed for reform of the sponsorship system, some Gulf Nations have altered the employee restrictions within specific countries. In 2021, Saudi Arabia enacted plans to reduce employee restrictions and protect migrant laborers.

Two big changes to the Saudi implementation of the kafala system seem extremely promising; first, laborers will be allowed to leave the Kingdom without explicit permission from their employers. Second, workers will be able to transfer jobs without their employers’ permission once an employment contract ends. These changes should protect workers like Caroline Aluoch, who wanted to return home when she deemed her work environment too dangerous. Reform to the kafala system is a crucial step towards ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

Hayley Welch
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking in TanzaniaEvery year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide. Forced labor, sexual exploitation and debt bondage are the most common reasons for this crime. Human trafficking happens in every country, even developed ones like the United States. Trafficking is modern-day slavery and affects women and girls disproportionately. About 71% of trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls. Profits reach around $150 billion per year for traffickers globally, with $99 billion of that earned through commercial sexual exploitation. Experts believe 20-40 million people are in modern slavery, but the number is hard to estimate because many cases go undetected. Human trafficking in Tanzania is a current problem in the country, but there is hope for improvement.

Victims of Human Trafficking in Tanzania

The country reported that it was able to identify 165 potential victims of human trafficking in Tanzania in the most recent reporting period, compared to 161 in the previous reporting period and 13 in the period before that. About 90% of the victims in those periods have been female, a population particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Efforts Against Human Trafficking In Tanzania

Tanzania is currently classified as a Tier 2 Watch List country in terms of human trafficking. This means it is failing to meet minimum standards for preventing human trafficking but is nonetheless making a diligent effort. For example, it has increased funding for its national anti-trafficking committee and its victim assistance fund.

However, Tanzania’s recent efforts have been disappointing compared to those of previous years. Charges and punishments have remained light for traffickers compared to perpetrators of other major crimes. Many traffickers are not convicted, and if they are, their punishments are fines and short prison sentences. The country has not implemented victim identification or protection programs, leaving victims vulnerable to further exploitation. Tanzania has also made no recent efforts toward investigating fraudulent labor groups or commercial sex acts.

These lapses would typically result in regression to a Tier 3 country. However, Tanzania is working to conform to the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The guidelines of this act, when implemented, will allow the country to meet minimum trafficking prevention standards. As it stands, Tanzania remains on the Tier 2 Watch List for the third year in a row.

Hope for the Future

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act involves many measures to protect victims with the support of trained workers. Trained workers will be able to identify the country’s more vulnerable populations, including orphans and impoverished children. In line with a Tanzanian anti-trafficking law from 2008, identified victims of human trafficking in Tanzania also receive professional counseling and a place to stay for the period immediately after their escape from a trafficking situation.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act also involves more investigation of traffickers and corrupt systems. It will increase the likelihood of proper punishment for traffickers and will replace small fines with larger penalties befitting the seriousness of the crime. Tanzania saw great improvements in its trafficking situation before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, giving hope for the upcoming reporting periods.

– Haleigh Kierman
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in ItalyHuman trafficking is not an issue that occurs in just a single country or region of the world. Rather, it is a global dilemma requiring a global solution. However, human trafficking rates vary per country. Human trafficking in Italy represents an issue affecting other European nations as well.

Human Trafficking in Numbers

As of 2018, Italy ranked in the top five EU Member States with the highest number of registered trafficking victims. Italy also tied fourth for the highest percentage of sexually trafficked people at 82%. The other EU countries with similar statistics include Greece, Czechia and Hungary. In comparison, EU states like Sweden and Croatia have rates of 24% and 28% respectively.

Basics of Human Trafficking in Italy

Unaccompanied, young migrants seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Italy. Italy’s government reported at least 1,660 victims of trafficking, with many other victims unaccounted for. Save the Children points out the concerning increase in children and minors affected by trafficking, which increased from 9% to 13% within a single year. Many of these children end up contributing to underground labor, which fuels the Italian economy.

The risk factor for other workers falling victim to forced labor and labor trafficking in Italy feeds to these statistics. The United States Department of State found that, in 2020, roughly 3.7 million irregular workers and 1.5 million unregistered workers were at potential risk of labor-related trafficking.

Preventing Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State classifies Italy as a Tier 2 country. This means that the Italian government has participated in some efforts to combat human trafficking but still has work to do. For example, the country has demonstrated greater cooperation with international policies and laws against human trafficking. It has also prioritized additional fundraising to support victims of trafficking and places more emphasis on training Italian law enforcement to address trafficking.

In addition, many global groups such as the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) have worked hard to hold countries like Italy accountable for strengthening their policies. GRETA has noted decent progress on the issue of human trafficking in Italy. GRETA monitors human trafficking as the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings stipulates.

The Council maintains a human rights treaty among European Nations and the Council of Europe to reach an overarching goal of assisting and protecting trafficked human beings. GRETA thus performs legislative evaluations to ensure countries meet these goals and provides comprehensive reports and guidelines on combatting trafficking and prosecuting identified traffickers.

GRETA has acknowledged the progress in combating human trafficking in Italy as recently as 2019. The Italian government increased its funding for anti-trafficking projects, which has gone toward safeguarding protections for unaccompanied children who have fallen victim to human trafficking in Italy.

Challenges in Combatting Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State has noted that Italy still has not reached the “minimum standards” necessary to adequately and fully combat trafficking. As a result, the U.S. government has kept Italy at a Tier 2 status. Italy is not meeting the standards due to a decrease in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The Italian Ministry of Interior reported only 135 trafficking investigations, which is a substantial decrease from 314 persons in 2018 and 482 persons in 2017. The government also does not have a consistent database for consolidated information about trafficking investigations, convictions or prosecutions. This adds to the difficulty of monitoring and assessment efforts.

Hope for the Future

Nevertheless, hope still exists in the fight against human trafficking in Italy. The U.S. government noted improvement in Italy’s 2020 trafficking report, acknowledging the measures the country implemented, even though there is still room for improvement. For example, improvements have emerged in victim assistance and increased funding for victims and victim’s rights groups. Funding has also gone toward NGOs advocating for trafficking rights, which GRETA specifically acknowledges as a step toward overall improvement in policies. With these efforts, Italy can reduce incidents of human trafficking in the country,

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Fiji
To make progress toward eliminating the threat of human trafficking, the U.S. State Department ranks countries on a four-tier system of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watchlist and Tier 3. In 2018, Fiji dropped in ranking from “Tier 2” to “Tier 2 Watchlist,” meaning that, for the most part, it adhered to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) recommendations but still has work to do. Traffickers force victims into commercial sex, forced labor, excessive working hours and dangerous living and working conditions. Therefore, not only must the government of Fiji fully meet each specification, but it must also amend other provisions in the Crimes Act of 1914, including criminalizing all forms of human trafficking in Fiji.

The Past

Before its 2018 drop from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watchlist, Fiji’s government made significant efforts to combat human trafficking by complying with TVPA standards. The country continued to investigate human trafficking-related crimes by adding additional officers to the human trafficking unit, creating a victim services unit and assembling an interagency subcommittee to oversee the entire initiative. However, the government has failed to make further progress. Some reports went as far as implying collusion in slowing anti-trafficking efforts.

The Present

In June 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with Fijian NGO, Homes to Hope, announced a two-year plan to reverse the declining effort to crack down on human trafficking, Empowering Fijian Civil Society Countering Trafficking in Human Beings. The proposal strengthens preventative measures for human rights violations while protecting the rights of victims who have already experienced abuse.

The European Union is providing financial assistance to the program’s ambitions, totaling €498,750. The project also includes implementing a significant research study addressing human trafficking in Fiji. This initiative will provide new and accurate data.

Furthermore, the last reporting period listed just one case. The lack of known cases and statistics does not mean the crime itself is diminishing. Victims have reported being trafficked into Fiji and there is corroborating evidence by domestic trafficking victims within the country itself. Human traffickers target both domestic and foreign victims within Fiji.

Many families in Fiji have traditions of sending children to live in larger cities with relatives. This puts many children are at a high risk of exploitation. Traffickers know that they do not have to put in much effort to coerce those riddled with poverty into sex trafficking in exchange for food or shelter.

The Future

The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report from 2020 equipped the Fijian government with a list of recommendations. These recommendations illustrate what the country can do to expedite the fight against human trafficking in the future. Some proposals include proactively screening those most vulnerable to trafficking.

These screenings include establishing plans for meticulous investigations to prosecute and convict traffickers and actively investigating those who may be complicit in human trafficking-related crimes. The U.S. State Department’s 2021 report of human trafficking in Fiji recommended a demotion in the country’s ranking. However, because the government has provided an adequate written plan, Fiji’s ranking remained the same. In addition, the 2021 report urges Fiji to amend the trafficking-related provisions of the Crimes Act.

Though Fiji has yet to bounce back from its 2018 drop in ranking, the government has implemented steps to improve the conviction process of human traffickers. Slow progress is better than no progress in the ongoing fight against human trafficking.

– Kana Ruhalter
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in BruneiAccording to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, there were more than 50,000 cases of human trafficking reported in 148 countries. The report suggests that human traffickers prey mostly on women, children, migrants and unemployed people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that the United Nations fears that the number of human trafficking victims will increase. In 2020, 114 million people lost their jobs and children had to stay home. The Business and Human Rights Resource Center has emphasized the vulnerability of those low down in the supply chain, particularly those working in countries that had failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the past. Human trafficking in Brunei is on the rise, prompting action from the government and organizations.

Migrant Workers in Brunei

Wealthy in natural gas and oil, Brunei houses more than 100,000 foreign workers who come in search of low-skill jobs. However, many migrant workers have fallen victim to human trafficking in Brunei. Employers withhold their wages, switch their labor contracts, confiscate their passports or confine them into involuntary servitude through physical abuse. Traffickers mostly take advantage of foreign workers’ illiteracy and lack of knowledge of local labor laws. Debt-based coercion and the withholding of salaries is also a frequent experience for domestic workers. The U.S. Department of State 2020 Report suggests traffickers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand use Brunei to transit sex slaves.

Vulnerable Women and Children

With one-third of human trafficking victims in East Asia being women, traffickers force thousands of women and girls into prostitution. Thousands of children who are trafficked in Brunei each year experience domestic servitude or sexual exploitation, according to the 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. However, according to the United Nations, there was an influx in cyber trafficking, making the industry worth $8 billion by the end of 2020. During lockdown in Brunei, traffickers often live-streamed sexual abuse of children on social media. Furthermore, thousands of victims experience deportation or receive convictions for crimes without investigation into whether they were trafficking victims.

Brunei’s Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking

Despite passing an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Order in 2019, which differentiates migrant smuggling and human trafficking crimes, Brunei’s government failed to prosecute or convict any traffickers between 2017 and 2021. The last conviction for human trafficking in Brunei was in 2016. The government has also failed to allocate any resources to victims or the repatriation fund upheld in the Order.

This comes after Brunei demonstrated efforts to diminish human trafficking by ratifying the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP) in January 2020. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created the Convention to affirm its commitment to prevent and combat human trafficking by establishing a legal framework for regional action. As it ratified the Convention, Brunei is responsible for implementing domestic laws to enforce the ACTIP at the local level. However, Brunei’s government has not introduced or amended any laws since the ratification.

Attempting to demonstrate that efforts to stop trafficking are active, Brunei has carried awareness campaigns for employers of foreign workers. These materials are in both English and Malay. In 2020, Brunei’s labor department distributed business cards containing its hotline for reporting violations in more than 500 factories and plants. Nonetheless, Brunei employers withholding wages and confiscating migrant workers’ documentation remain common practices. No improvements received recognition in Brunei’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report in comparison to the previous year.

Outside Recommendations

As the United States Department of State suggested in its 2020 report, to effectively tackle human trafficking in Brunei, it is necessary that the government not only increases efforts to investigate and convict traffickers but that it also allocates funds to protect and shelter victims. Brunei must also ensure labor contracts are in the employees’ native language and that workers can retain a copy of their contract and documentation.

Furthermore, the government should direct awareness campaigns at both employers and employees so they are aware of their rights. Campaigns must be available in different languages, particularly those that are common among migrants such as Indonesian, Thai and Filipino. The government must also offer nondiscriminatory essential services to victims of trafficking to protect people regardless of their nationality.

To prevent traffickers from targeting children, teachers must receive training so they can identify and report cases of suspected abuse. It is also important for children to obtain education about their rights and the dangers of social media. This can stop cyber trafficking from taking place. To combat cyber trafficking, the local government must carry out human trafficking campaigns digitally as well.

The Road Ahead

Brunei’s government has done more than just create hotlines for people to report potential human trafficking or labor violation cases. It has publicized numerous labor inspections of government ministries and agencies to promote transparency and accountability. The government of Brunei has also partaken in the Youth South East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) to continue to raise awareness on human trafficking. By participating in the United State’s YSEALI, young citizens of Brunei attended seminars on how to actively combat human trafficking. As people learn about human trafficking and raise awareness, human trafficking in Brunei will hopefully soon decrease.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr