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city planning and poverty reductionWhen Bogotá, Colombia, elected Enrique Peñalosa mayor in 1997, Mayor Peñalosa faced an uphill battle. Informal settlements, faulty public transportation and congested roads increased poverty and reduced the quality of life for Bogotá’s citizens. Mayor Peñalosa had a plan, though, and his success in fusing city planning and poverty reduction provides a blueprint for developing world mayors around the globe.

Bogotá’s Challenges in the 1990s

Bogotá faced many challenges as a city in the 1990s. With a lack of city planning, informal settlements dominated the landscape. Nearly 200,000 illegal water connections existed and only 60% of the population had access to the main sewer system. Fearing crime and the bustle of moving cars, many could not enjoy the streets on which they lived, with impoverished neighborhoods lacking accessible public spaces.

With these challenges, Peñalosa knew there was only so much he could do. He realized that in his one term as mayor, he would not be able to lift every citizen of Bogotá out of poverty. Thus, he decided to look at the implications of poverty. To him, development constituted a “better way of living, not being richer.” The lack of access to water, food, housing, transportation and green space, which the wealthy class enjoyed in plenty, constituted poverty, not just a low monthly income. By addressing those issues directly, Peñalosa could combine city planning and poverty reduction without aiming to increase wages.

Formalizing Informality

One of the biggest problems urban populations face in the 21st century is informality. As of 2019, according to the United Nations, nearly one billion people live in informal housing or slums. Informal housing commonly leads to community marginalization and decreased access to food and water distribution networks. Fortunately, city planning and poverty reduction strategies can rectify these situations, and, Peñalosa did just that.

During his tenure as mayor, Peñalosa formalized 322 neighborhoods and provided nearly 700 sewers for informal settlements, drastically improving the livelihoods of those living in these neighborhoods. Utilizing many city planning strategies, he also provided better transportation access so that those living in these neighborhoods could access the amenities of the wider city. His strategy of focusing on formalizing and connecting informal settlements rather than increasing wages allows for a greater return on investment as the wider access to the city will naturally boost the quality of life.

Sustainability and Public Spaces

Peñalosa entered his tenure as mayor with the goal of developing Bogotá around people and not cars. In a city where just about 30% of people drove cars, designing a city entirely around this vehicle would be illogical. He especially wanted public spaces suitable for the most vulnerable, the elderly and children, aiming to reduce poverty by increasing standards of living.

Peñalosa focused on three types of public spaces for reducing poverty. He first focused on a common city planning and poverty reduction strategy: transportation. In his tenure he built roughly 220 miles of protected bike lanes, opening up the streets to more than just cars. He also formalized the public transportation network to allow more equitable access.

His second strategy for city planning and poverty reduction covered educational space, building libraries and public schools to accommodate 200,000 new students. The educational infrastructure serves as one of the most important tools in fighting poverty and boosting literacy.

Third, he focused on leisure spaces, ordering the construction and restoration of public parks. Access to these three spaces combined —  transportation, educational facilities and leisure spaces — can greatly reduce the impacts of poverty. Furthermore, the public status of these amenities meant that access would not depend on an individual’s wage.

Implications for Fighting Poverty

Mayors around the world can use Peñalosa’s tenure as a blueprint for their own cities. The strategies for city planning and poverty reduction that Peñalosa used were innovative at the time, but further research has shown their efficacy worldwide. Formalizing informal areas and expanding green space has become a norm for urbanists across the globe. While not without its flaws, Peñalosa’s strategy to combine city planning and poverty reduction helped fight poverty by focusing on raising living standards rather than pure income measurements.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia

Sexual Assault in South AfricaOver 50 care centers in South Africa provide support and resources for survivors of sexual crimes. They serve as “one-stop facilities” for those seeking help. Their mission is “to reduce secondary victimization, improve conviction rates and reduce the time between when a crime is committed and when the perpetrator is finally convicted.” These centers have had success but the overall number of sexual assaults in South Africa, which in reality are most likely significantly higher, are staggering.

Sexual Assault in South Africa

Sexual assault in South Africa is shockingly high. Estimates determined that a sexual offense occurs every 10 minutes. Between April 2019 and March 2020, police statistics reported 53,295 sexual offenses but it is likely that most crimes are not reported. The Medical Health Council estimates that victims only report one in nine attacks. Violence toward women seems to be a normalized part of society as data from 2000 shows similar results. Some claim women in South Africa might experience rape every 17 seconds. Others say every 26 seconds but regardless of exact numbers, it is clear sexual violence toward women is a massive problem for the country.

Police are defensive about sexual assault in South Africa. They say the rate of sexual offenses decreased in the province of Gauteng, but the Institute for Security Studies has pointed out a flaw in their logic. If one considers updated population statistics, the rate of sexual assault increases by 1.5%. As a result, one can determine that 127 people out of 100,000 people were victims of sexual assault.

Rape is an extremely underreported crime. A study in Gauteng in 2010 showed that one-quarter of women who underwent questioning experienced rape in 2009. However, “only one in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported the matter to the police, while only one in 25 of the women raped by their partners reported this to the police.” Therefore, as previously mentioned, statistics about sexual assault in South Africa only show a small amount.

Why Are Numbers So High?

A few factors can show why sexual assault in South Africa is so high. These include how the country struggled to move on from apartheid along with high unemployment, high poverty and unequal land distribution. Both the government and pro-democracy groups used violence to further goals, and after 50 years, society saw violence as normal. The government “used violence to keep control over the ‘non-white’ population, whilst the pro-democracy campaign encouraged violence as a means to further their goals.” The police used violence against women which led to many women fearing or mistrusting the police. This mindset continues to this day.

Police Conviction Records

Convictions for instances of sexual assault in South Africa are low. Around 14% of perpetrators receive sentences for sexual assault with that number going down to 3% when it is against adult women. Around one in 400 rapes in South Africa end in a conviction. Reports say some police take bribes so charges will go away and in Southern Johannesburg, around one in 20 pieces of evidence goes missing. The reasons why most women do not report sexual abuse are clear, as are the reasons why the real number is high. The chances of conviction are very low. While numbers and data often are skewed and naturally change over time, the overall amount of evidence suggests clear problems in the police force when it comes to responding to sexual assault.

Care Centers

Thuthuzela Care Centers have really helped people and since 2006, 51 centers have emerged. The centers are helping survivors and trying to improve conviction rates. Most are near or even attached to hospitals as sometimes medical assistance is necessary. For years, the centers made progress, and now, many centers get around 60-80 patients a month. During holidays, the number is up to around 100-120. The United Nations and the government are currently working to improve the centers even more.

Care centers operate using a five-step process:

  1. A survivor reports a rape case to a center or police station.
  2. The staff at the centers help the survivor obtain medical attention.
  3. The care centers organize counseling for the survivor.
  4. The staff at the centers help the survivor open a police case, which can occur at any time.
  5. The staff arranges ongoing counseling and court preparation for the survivor.

The care centers provide many services to help survivors. However, long-term solutions should also emerge so the actual root of the problem can reach a resolution. However, care centers are still a significant step in the right direction.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Democracy in Haiti
An unidentified gunman assassinated Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in his residence on July 7, 2021. The assassination marked a new chapter in Haiti’s tumultuous history of governance. Never possessing true legitimacy, years of institutionalized corruption and patronage to Haiti’s small business elite characterized Moïse’s time in office. People accused Moïse and some of his top staff of embezzling billions of dollars in foreign funds. He had no intention of leaving office, and instead closed Haiti’s parliament and delayed legislative elections. In Haiti, the thought of democracy in Haiti – with free and fair elections – is a distant dream.

Internal corruption has led to governance that prioritizes the interests of the nation’s wealthy minority, holding the prosperity of Haitians hostage in the process. The country has yet to reflect the true democratic will of the Haitian people. For far too long, the Haitian people have suffered due to their country’s political turmoil. They deserve a government that will work fervently towards providing economic opportunities and an educational infrastructure that will benefit future generations.

The Heart of Haiti

While resilient at its core, Haiti is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Furthermore, the country never recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed over 250,000 people. The COVID-19 pandemic has recently exacerbated its already deteriorating infrastructure. Lagging behind the rest of the world, Haiti has not administered any vaccines. Despite a lack of basic resources, the Haitians refuse to give up. Family farms and women-led food markets in urban hubs have transformed the national economy. As a result, hope is undergoing restoration in a population that its own elected officials have unfairly marginalized.

As Haiti navigates this transition of power, it is ever as important for the international community to support the Haitian people. Following Moïse’s assassination, White House press secretary Jen Psaki professed, “We again stand ready to provide support, provide assistance, in any way that is formally requested by the government there. We’re looking forward to hearing from them on what they would request and how we can help them through this period of time.” The next month will prove to be vital in ensuring the restoration of democracy in Haiti. As U.S. officials and other members of the international community offer hands of assistance, it is crucial that their vested interests remain out of the picture.

What is Next?

While uncertain, the road to democracy in Haiti is promising. Legislative elections are now scheduled for September 2021, but Haiti must first solve the predicament of who will be the country’s interim president. Nevertheless, this is a monumental moment in Haitian history. The world will have to see if Moïse’s death will ignite unity across Haiti, bringing peace to its people who have long experienced immense poverty. It is up to Haiti’s political leaders to prevent democratic backsliding and in turn, forge a brighter future. Likewise, international organizations such as the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) must continue to amplify their presence in Haiti during this turbulent time. Achieving true democracy in Haiti is possible, but much more groundwork is necessary.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Volcanic Eruption in the DRCOn May 22, 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted. Hundreds of thousands of people experienced the aftershocks, including contaminated water and structural damage. The destruction of water infrastructure means 500,000 people now lack access to a safe water supply. In a press release, USAID announced that it would be committing $100,000 worth of humanitarian aid to secure clean and safe drinking water for citizens affected by the volcanic eruption in the DRC.

History of Mount Nyiragongo

The Nyiragongo volcano stands almost 12,000 feet tall on the eastern border of the DRC in the strip of Virunga Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes. The volcano is one of the most active in the world and has the largest, most active lava lake. Nyiragongo has erupted several times since 1884, with the most severe eruption occurring in 1977, taking up to 400 lives. The most recent eruption before 2021 occurred in 2002, resulting in about 100 deaths and displacing up to 400,000 people.

The Aftershocks of the 2021 Eruption

The 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC led to about 32 deaths and thousands of displacements. On May 30, 2021, in a period of just 24 hours, 92 aftershock earthquakes and tremors occurred but only about four were felt by citizens. For safety purposes, more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the North Kivu area.

Cholera, a diarrheal infection caused by drinking contaminated water, is an increased threat since the eruption.  Natural disasters often increase the risk of epidemics, especially those transmitted via contaminated water. The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the DRC caused the destruction of a vital water pipe and damaged a water reservoir. The damage cut off water access for about 500,000 people.

On June 7, 2021, UNICEF and partners announced that they were working to restore the water supply to the area. For temporary water access, UNICEF “installed 15 emergency station chlorination points” close to Lake Kivu. UNICEF also committed to assisting a task force by “supporting installation of 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that has melted.”

The Hope of Crisis Assistance

Prior to the 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC, the nation was already struggling with a humanitarian crisis, following years of political violence and conflict. At the beginning of 2021, the United Nations predicted that 19.6 million people in the DRC were in need of humanitarian assistance. With more than five million displaced persons and the highest recorded levels of food insecurity before the eruption even took place, the humanitarian crisis in the DRC has only grown. The U.N. requires financial assistance from the international community in order to comprehensively address the crisis in the DRC.

The United States serves as the largest donor to the DRC, providing more than $130 million worth of humanitarian assistance in 2021 alone. The U.S. commitment of $100,000 for water security initiatives in the DRC will aid the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF, protecting the well-being of vulnerable Congolese people.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

Italy's Foreign Aid
On October 30, 2021, Italy will host the G20 summit, the annual economic forum on international cooperation and financial stability. In addition to policy coordination between the world’s major, advanced and emerging economies in efforts to achieve global economic growth, the summit also focuses on development programs in impoverished countries. A closer look at Italy’s foreign aid shows the extent to which Italy helps the world’s most vulnerable people.

Italy’s Foreign Aid

According to U.N. standards, Italy is not contributing enough to foreign aid. Italy is the 10th-largest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) donor for the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The country spent $4.2 billion on official development assistance in 2020. However, this represents only 0.22% of the country’s gross national income. It falls below the U.N. target of 0.7% as well as the DAC average of 0.32%.

Current Fund Allocation

Bilateral aid consists of grants that go to countries without a multilateral intermediary. Italy dedicates 31.1% of its bilateral aid to hosting refugees in donor countries. The country was on track to reach the U.N.’s official development assistance (ODA) target up until 2017. It then started to decrease funding as in-country refugee costs decreased by 76% from 2017 to 2019.

Furthermore, along with many other countries in the European Union, much of Italy’s foreign aid has gone toward border control instead of basic services such as water, food and education. These services are key elements that help fight poverty and decrease the likelihood of forced migration or the need for border control. A June 2019 Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) report found that the country lacks a consistent strategy surrounding development cooperation, largely due to Italy’s fixation on migration and its opportunistic and transactional approach to foreign policy.

Bilateral vs. Multilateral

Although it seems Italy could be doing more to help the world’s impoverished, it is important to note that most of its official development assistance (62%) goes to multilateral institutions. This means that the government authorizes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank Group to allocate foreign aid accordingly. While some multilateral groups can have political leanings, NGOs and think tanks tend to operate apolitically. This minimizes the risk that Italy’s foreign aid only serves to reinforce political ambitions or national security through distribution.

For example, through Italy’s earmarked contribution of more than $82 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UNDP considers Italy a “vital partner in their mission to end extreme poverty” and is helping the country operationalize its G7 commitments through the Africa Centre for Sustainable Development in Rome. Once established, the goal of the Centre is to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa by advocating the best practices regarding food security, access to water and clean energy.

Italy in the G20

As host of the G20 economic forum, Italy has an important position among other members in leading discussions on development and poverty. In fact, in a telephone conversation with the European commissioner for international partnerships, Emanuela Del Re, the Italian vice minister of foreign affairs, asserted that the G20 could be “the relevant international forum to define measures to ensure that vulnerable countries are part of the socio-economic recovery.”

While Italy should be contributing more toward its foreign aid as a whole, its commitment to multilateral cooperation is a promising step in alienating aid from internal politics. Furthermore, by prioritizing the management of the pandemic in economically developing countries in the G20, Italy could reevaluate its interest in migration as a central development issue and create the opportunity for a more balanced allocation of foreign aid.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Flickr

Aid in Uruguay
Among all of the Latin American countries, Uruguay is unique for numerous reasons. Compared to many other countries located in the Americas, Uruguay has a fairly high per capita income. Rates of inequality and poverty are extremely low in Uruguay and extreme poverty itself is virtually nonexistent. Uruguay’s middle class is vast compared to other nations in the Americas. Its middle class makes up more than 60% of the country’s population. Uruguay’s economy has been so successful that back in 2013, the World Bank gave Uruguay the status of a high-income country. Given how successful Uruguay’s economy has been, it seems hard to believe that the country would need any form of aid. However, U.S. aid in Uruguay is prevalent in the country, and it benefits the people of Uruguay and the other nations in the Americas.

The US/Uruguay Relationship

The relationship between the U.S. and Uruguay dates back to 1867. The relationship between the two countries is incredibly strong due to its longevity. Both the U.S. and Uruguay have aligned values. Among these is the importance of democracy, viable economic policies and protection of the environment. Because of the long-existing relationship between the two countries and their similar values, it is less surprising that there is U.S. aid in Uruguay.

The Purpose of US Aid in Uruguay

There are two main reasons the U.S. gives aid to Uruguay. One is to encourage Uruguay to take active involvement in international affairs. The other is to help Uruguay improve security within its borders. Uruguay might be a high-income country, but its military is not fully professionalized. The aid that the U.S. provides can allow Uruguay to develop its military further, which would help strengthen the country’s security. Doing so will also allow Uruguay to help in international affairs. Uruguay has a long history of helping with peacekeeping missions and has provided vast amounts of personnel to peacekeeping operations conducted by the United Nations (U.N.). These peacekeeping operations allow Uruguay to help its neighbors in the Americas.

Economic Partnership

Both the U.S. and Uruguay have economic partnerships as well. According to the most recent available data, the U.S. had $1.6 billion of foreign direct investment in Uruguay in 2017. Around 120 U.S.-owned businesses are in operation in Uruguay as well. While Uruguay’s economy is in a healthy state, the economic relations with the U.S. ensure that it can maintain its economy with help from a reliable ally.

US Support of Uruguayan Education

U.S. aid in Uruguay has also come in the form of education. Uruguay has been a full supporter of Fulbright programs for some time. The Fulbright Commission and its programs allow students from various countries to study abroad. The Uruguayan government contributes $500,000 annually in support of these programs. This monetary support allows Uruguayan students to obtain scholarships that will allow them to travel to the U.S. to pursue postgraduate studies.

The Uruguayan government also spends up to $100,000 for English teachers to assist Uruguayan students in learning English. Studying in the U.S. is beneficial for Uruguayan students and any other students as well. Obtaining new knowledge will allow these students to return to their home country and obtain well-paying careers. This, in turn, will be beneficial for the economy of the home country.

The U.S. aid in Uruguay and the economic relationship that both countries share are beneficial for both sides. In particular, Uruguay can strengthen itself and be a servant of peace in the Americas. The economic relationship that Uruguay has also allowed the country to maintain its healthy economic state.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Pandemic Refugees in the United States
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected refugees, causing a migration crisis and hindering equality among poor people. Millions of people have experienced displacement from their homes since the outbreak began. This massive displacement created a concentration of immigrants in urban areas seeking asylum. The term for these individuals is “pandemic refugees.” Pandemic refugees in the United States are individuals the virus severely affected who desire a place to seek asylum and better-quality health services. However, the virus spread rapidly across borders, making it harder for refugees to find places that are genuinely safe.

Actions from the IOM

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is the United Nations’ migration agency, has worked hard to provide shelter to those the COVID-19 pandemic displaced. The organization also partnered with the World Food Program (WFP) to fight for people currently facing food and sanitary crises. Poverty deprives people of access to health facilities, allowing them to potentially avoid the virus. Additionally, the lack of new jobs and the government imposing quarantines have led people to seek help from organizations or even become pandemic refugees forced to cross borders looking for a better living standard.

Reaching the United States

Devastated economies have caused millions of individuals to flee to the United States, potentially traveling long distances in their journeys. Dozens of people pile up on the border between Mexico and the United States. These refugees pack minimum necessities and hit the road, attempting to cross the border and start a new life as unauthorized U.S. citizens. The Biden administration has encountered a significant number of refugees seeking prosperity and asylum in the aftermath of the pandemic. The U.S. Border Patrol has stated that refugees try to cross the borders daily. These numbers are quickly growing to overwhelming amounts.

Opportunity and Despair

While pandemic refugees in the United States seek a better life, they also encounter difficulties when searching for jobs. Compared to documented citizens, opportunities for undocumented citizens are different. Governments frequently attempt to send them back to their home country. Because of this, vulnerable groups like refugees are paying the highest price during the COVID-19 pandemic. Complications from the pandemic have created despair for individuals who flee their land and families. The closure of borders and restrictions on movement limit individuals’ access to food, housing and overall security. There are few cases of success and opportunities for refugees who fled their home countries seeking better opportunities. Security is also a significant problem for refugees since they are vulnerable groups and can spread the virus.

US COVID-19 Response

The United States has responded to the pandemic with a relief package of $11 billion for a global response. The U.S. government has worked hard to stop extreme poverty levels during the pandemic, and increase vaccination numbers and sustainable development. The country has also implemented unemployment benefits to give extra money to qualified unemployed individuals. Nevertheless, the U.S. must extend more of these protections to pandemic refugees. If it does, pandemic refugees in the United States will obtain the assistance and security they deserve to protect themselves and their families.

– Ainara Ruano Cervantes
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Cambodia
The IDPoor card is a critical resource in the United Nations’ new COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme. This program aims to support socioeconomically disadvantaged citizens who COVID-19 in Cambodia has impacted. The IDPoor card, which the country implemented in October 2020, is a form of payment to impoverished families and individuals that helps them access essential resources like food, housing, healthcare treatment, education and more.

IDPoor Card in Action

The Cash Transfer Programme provides Cambodians with financial resources for housing security and healthcare access. The Cambodian government registers individuals in need of economic assistance and indicates how much aid they can receive. With financial support from the U.N. and UNICEF, the Cambodian government has significantly improved the daily lives of impoverished Cambodians.

Yom Malai is a Cambodian woman who received the IDPoor card and described her experience in a U.N. News Article: “We collect the money from a money transfer service,” she says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a great help for my family. In addition, if we ever need to go to the hospital, we get medical treatment, care and medicine free of charge.”

Malai also explained the review process necessary to receive a card. It includes interviewing applicants and recording details about each household. By doing this, the government gains a holistic picture of each family’s financial resources and needs. Malai’s experience demonstrates the necessity of the IDPoor card in reducing global poverty, particularly in regions that are suffering economically due to COVID-19.

Poverty on the Rise

Even before COVID-19, Cambodians faced a disproportionately high amount of poverty. The U.N. calculated the hypothetical rise of poverty in this region in 2019, predicting that the impoverished population would increase to 17.6%, more than two times the impoverished count in 2019. Moreover, COVID-19 exacerbated many Cambodians’ financial disadvantages as the country’s economy limited jobs and healthcare needs increased. Specifically, the unemployment rate in Cambodia in 2020 was 3.2%, much higher than the 2019 rate of 0.7%.

The Cash Transfer Programme provides financial assistance to citizens registered with an IDPoor card. Each monthly payment depends on a household’s specific situation and needs. The already existing Cash Transfer Programme received further funding and spread to include as many impoverished Cambodians as possible. This act is a ray of hope amid the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia.

For individuals who qualify, the card also acts as a form of medical insurance. It allows registered Cambodians to receive healthcare treatments or consultations without being charged. This healthcare coverage is extremely helpful to families as medical bills and incurred costs are large components of poverty.

In a UNICEF article, a young woman named Leont Yong Phin conveyed how her IDPoor card has helped her. “I’m still paying back a loan from when I got bad typhoid,” she says. “This money means I can repay and afford food. We’ve never had help like this before, it’s so reassuring.”

Encouraging Equity

In addition to providing necessary economic support and medical access, the IDPoor card program is essential for encouraging equity in Cambodia and reducing the disadvantages that come with certain socioeconomic conditions. By reviewing applicants’ economic history and family situation, the government can adequately provide the support necessary to address all citizens’ needs. In this way, the Cash Transfer Programme helps Cambodians with daily expenses and works to end inequity across the country.

Although the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia has been significant, the IDPoor card and Cash Transfer Programme are greatly improving life for many Cambodians. With more support from international organizations like the United Nations, nonprofit organizations and even individuals, the program can provide even more resources to impoverished Cambodians.

– Kristen Quinonez
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

Human trafficking in the Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is an African country that is home to more than 105 million people, forming the second-largest country on the continent. The DRC is rich in natural resources such as coal, gold and petroleum, which provide the country with economic sustenance. However, human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo stemming from governmental corruption and internal conflicts continues to plague the country.

Economic Background of the DRC

Economic growth in the DRC decreased from 4.4% in 2019 to merely 0.8% in 2020. The slowed growth rate correlates with limitations related to COVID-19. Private consumption, government investment and non-mining sectors dipped because of pandemic-related complications and limited government spending. The Democratic Republic of the Congo falls in the bottom 10 countries in the Doing Business 2020 annual report. The Human Development Index (HDI), which measures holistic standards of living, placed the DRC in the bottom 15 countries for 2020.

The pervasiveness of poverty in the DRC is reflected in the estimated 73% of Congolese people who lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2018. About one in six people living in conditions of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are from the DRC, with more than four in 10 Congolese children classified as malnourished. The Human Capital Index (HCI) indicates Congolese children operate at roughly one-third of the potential productivity possible with full education and complete health. The DRC ranks below average in the HCI compared to other sub-Saharan African nations.

Human Trafficking in the DRC

In a 2019 report, the U.S. Department of State classified the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Tier 3 nation in its handling of human trafficking. The classification is due to the Department of State’s determination that the DRC “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

While the Congolese National Army (FARDC) showed no cases of child recruitment for the fourth year in a row, the FARDC is said to have recruited child soldiers through partnerships with local militias. The Congolese government reported additional cases of sexual violence but did not differentiate sex trafficking crimes from general sexual violence crimes. Furthermore, there continues to be a lack of victim identification procedures and criminalization of trafficking crimes.

The U.S. Department of State recommends several mitigation methods for handling human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. Some overarching recommendations include efforts to “develop legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties which are sufficiently stringent.” Additionally, the U.S. Department recommends the use of “existing legislation to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict and adequately sentence traffickers, including complicit officials.”

United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking in the DRC is not going unnoticed. In 2020, the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking announced its commitment to a short-term program to deliver humanitarian aid to human trafficking victims or those who are fleeing crises. For the DRC, the project focuses on “supporting underage girls trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation in artisanal mining zones in Kamituga, Mwenga territory, South Kivu province in eastern DRC.” Additionally, the project will provide clothes, shelter and mental support to trafficked women and young people in the DRC.

US Assistance

In 2020, the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, Michael Hammer, initiated a $3 million program with the U.S. Agency for International Development focusing on combating human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. The program prioritizes three tasks:

  1. Create effective anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives.
  2. Gather and communicate data on human trafficking.
  3. Reform “existing legal and medical services for victims of trafficking.”

The program also aims to strengthen prosecution efforts against human traffickers, reflecting the recommendations of the U.S. State Department. “The best way to prevent trafficking is to hold those responsible for it to account and to end impunity for this heinous crime,” said Ambassador Hammer at the program’s introduction. Hammer believes that the program, along with increased accountability for human traffickers, will provide pathways for development, security and humanitarian progress in the DRC.

International aid and development programs from prominent figures such as the U.S. can aid in eliminating practices of human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. With international assistance, human trafficking may no longer be a prevalent humanitarian problem for Congolese people.

Jessica Umbro
Photo: Wikimedia Commons