philippines_human_trafficking
New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith and his congressional team traveled to the Philippines earlier this week to meet with victims, aid workers and government officials in the regions hit by Super Typhoon Hayian.  The U.S. government has spent $50 million in emergency aid to the Philippines, providing much needed food, water and emergency medical care. However Smith says that rising human trafficking in the Philippines is also a major issue. The Philippines is a large source for both sex and labor human trafficking. The poor are especially vulnerable to human trafficking in the aftermath of natural disasters when they have lost their homes as well as their communities and are looking for a way out.

Congressman Ed Royce hosted a house committee on foreign affairs hearing in Fullerton California on November 27, 2013.  One of the speakers was Angela Guanzon, who traveled to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2006 in hopes of a better life. “I worked 18 hour days and had to sleep on the floor in a hallway,” Guanzon said. “My co-workers and I were threatened if we tried to escape.”

Human trafficking is what the State Department, law enforcement officials and NGOs are calling “modern day slavery.” Following narcotics, it is the second most profitable criminal enterprise worldwide and the Philippines has the second largest victim population. Many poverty stricken Filipino women leave their families in the hope supporting them from abroad.

Approximately 1 million Filipino men and women migrate each year, currently there are 10 million Filipinos living abroad. Many of these workers are subject to forced labor and harsh conditions, not just in the U.S., but in Asia and the Middle East as well.  Women who work in domestic positions often suffer violence, sexual abuse and rape. Traffickers use local recruiters in villages and urban centers who often pretend to be representatives of government sponsored employment agencies.  Furthermore, victims are required to pay “recruitment fees” that leave the workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage and prostitution.

Many Filipinos live in poverty and are often swayed by recruiters who offer work and a better life. Furthermore, the vast majority of victims are also women and girls; 300,000-400,000 are women and 60,000 -100,00 are children; over 80% are females under the age of 18.

To combat this, the Philippines government created the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and has made minor improvements since then. For example, it increased funding to the anti-trafficking agency from $230,000 to $1.5 million and went from eight full time staff members to 37. They were also able to repatriate 514 Filipinos from Syria in the winter of 2012, 90% of whom were trafficked. Even with an upgraded version of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, much work still needs to be done in the Philippines and in the U.S. to ensure that women and the poor in the Philippines are not vulnerable to modern day slavery.

– Lisa Toole

Sources: CNN, NJ.com, ABS CBN, HumanTrafficking.org
Photo: The Guardian

brazil_human_trafficking
Ranked the third largest source of slaves in the Western Hemisphere behind Mexico and Colombia, Brazil‘s human trafficking situation is grim. In 2009, the Brazilian Federal Police estimated that 250,000 to 400,000 children are exploited by domestic prostitution. An estimated 75,000 Brazilian women and girls work as prostitutes throughout neighboring South American countries, the United States, and Europe–most of them are trafficked. Additionally, around 25,000 Brazilians, mainly rural workers, are enslaved domestically each year.

As Brazil emerges as an economic powerhouse, it’s human trafficking situation only worsens. More migrants from neighboring countries and as far away as Asia are increasingly attracted to the promise of jobs in Brazil. Many of them are duped by traffickers into exploitative work situations. Preparations for the upcoming Olympic games and World Cup are significantly driving up labor needs and fueling exploitative labor practices. Just last month, an investigation into the expansion of Sao Paulo international airport discovered migrant workers in “slave-like” conditions.

Fortunately, this has not gone unnoticed by the Brazilian government. The government announced its first anti-trafficking plan in 2008 and introduced its second this year. The new plan includes tougher border controls, a revision of the penal code, and the training of 400 staff for victim services.

However, many are skeptical that the government’s funding and efforts will be enough. Enter: the Slavery, No Way! campaign. Since its launch in 2004, the Slavery, No Way! campaign has trained and provided on-going support to more than 2,200 educators and community group leaders, ultimately reaching over 60,000 people. Together with partners Reporter Brasil, Pastoral Land Commission, and Free the Slaves, Slavery, No Way! works to “enable communities to prevent trafficking of workers into slavery.”

In response to teachers’ asking for innovative approaches to engage children on the issue, Slavery, No Way! created a board game to teach children about trafficking and how to address it. In order to win, players must utilize dialogue, strategic thinking, and reason to end slavery outbreaks. The game emphasizes cooperation over competition and entails three lines of action: preventing vulnerable populations of Brazilians from becoming enslaved, aiding those already enslaved, and combating the root causes of slavery. Characters in the game include justice officials, activists, slaves, and traffickers.

Reports of human trafficking in Brazil have risen 1,500% in 2013 alone, according to government figures. Such a dramatic rise in reporting suggests that campaigns like Slavery, No Way! are bearing fruit in confronting Brazil’s stark slavery issue.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: Free the Slaves, U.S. State Department, In Sight Crime, BBC, UNODC, Slavery, No Way!

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“I am 17 years old. In the relief camp, when I was sleeping in the night, I was raped. I did not know what had happened to me. I do not know the face of the man. I had heavy bleeding…now I see some disturbances in my body and when my mother took me to the hospital, I was told I am pregnant”.

This is what a young girl from Tamul Nadu in India experienced after a tsunami devastated her hometown. Like her, millions of other girls in developing countries are the hardest hit by disasters in comparison with other segments of the population. Not only do women receive non-preferential treatment during emergency rescues, but they are also at a greater risk of sexual exploitation, child marriage, and being deprived of an education.

According to a report released by Plan International, a child rights NGO, girls fare far worse during disasters than the rest of the population. Given their gender, age, and humanitarian status, girls and women experience a triple disadvantage during crises since pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities are exacerbated.

In this way, a 14-year-old girl in a slum will experience a flood or an earthquake differently from a 14-year-old boy in the same situation. Such is the case of a son and a daughter who were swept away by a tidal surge in a cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991. The father of these children is cited as saying that he could not hold on to both and had to release his daughter because “his son had to carry on the family line.”

In other cases, adolescent girls and women are driven to sell sex because they have no alternative to feed themselves and their children. “I don’t work. I don’t have parents to help. So, for around a dollar, you have sex just for that…it’s not good to do prostitution, but what can you do?” said Gheslaine, who lives in a camp in Croix-de-Bouquets in Haiti.

Disasters also lead to an increase in child marriages. Research in Somaliland, Bangladesh and Niger found that child marriage is often used as a community response to crises in which girls are sold for income and food. In Niger, girls are taken out of school, wed and impregnated at the age of 13. Many of them suffer from fistula (a rupture between the birth canal and bladder caused by prolonged obstructed labor) and die.

One of the least prioritized issues during disasters is facilitating education for girls. Although most families would rather continue education for boys rather than girls, girls who receive an education are more likely to be healthy, marry later in life, and survive into adulthood. In fact, it is one of the most important determinants of practically all desired outcomes related to the Millennium Development Goals, from poverty reduction, to reduced infant mortality rates, and to enhanced democratization.

Despite the evidence that confirms that the empowerment of women has a transformative power in all types of societies, this study reveals that the rights to protection, education, and participation are still not granted to most women and girls, especially during crises.

– Nayomi Chibani
Feature Writer

Sources: IRIN, Plan International
Photo: UNHCR