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Cross-Border Crime
July 12, 2007

Global solution needed to eradicate human trafficking
Human Trafficking today is a multi-billion dollar industry and a major
human rights concern that requires the collective effort of the global
community to be successfully eradicated, according to a senior official of
the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

“The U.S. Justice Department ranks human trafficking as the third largest
criminal enterprise worldwide, generating an estimated $9.5 billion per
year in terms of profit,” the fund’s Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer
said during a recent lecture on gender, migration and human trafficking,
hosted by the Asian Development Bank.

Trafficking of persons includes prostitution, debt bondage, forced labor
and slavery, and exploitation of children as workers, soldiers or sex
slaves, said Heyzer. Data from the International Labor Organization show
that the migrant population currently stands at 120 million, of which
around 12.3 million are enslaved in forced or bonded labor or sexual
servitude at any one time, she said.

The magnitude of the human trafficking problem facing the world today has
prompted the Group of 8 countries to issue a communiqué identifying the
phenomenon as the dark side of globalization, she said.

“Population movements, whether voluntary or forced, are not new. What has
changed in our world today is the regulation, as national borders and
their control are tightening. Those who fail to meet entry criteria become
illegal, giving rise to people smuggling and trafficking. And this has in
turn increased the involvement of organized crime,” she said.

Heyzer traced the dramatic growth in migration and trafficking flows to
so-called “push and pull” factors. Push factors would include uneven
economic growth, war and armed conflict, natural disasters, high levels of
gender inequality, and family violence. Prosperity and stability in medium
and high growth countries and regions act as pull factors creating
increased demand for imported labor in what Heyzer termed as the “global

Migrant workers are cast under two categories: highly skilled
professionals demanded by the new global economy and technologies; and the
much larger group composed of semi-skilled and unskilled workers willing
to take low wages, insecurity and dangerous work, said Heyzer.

“We need to understand and realize that many people are not sharing in the
benefits of globalization,” she said, noting that despite the expanding
global economy, the concentration of wealth remains with a few. “The
figures I have is that the richest 2% of the global adult population today
owns half of global wealth, whilst the bottom half of the world’s
population in fact owns barely 1%,” she lamented.

The Asia Pacific region is an example of such lopsided distribution of
resources, said Heyzer. The region includes countries with some of the
world’s highest growth and some of the worst poverty, the highest human
development with some of the deepest and greatest exploitation and
deprivation, she pointed out.

While the number of people in the region who live on less than $1 a day
had fallen from 31% to 20% from 1990 to 2001, the decline masks
significant difference among subregions and in the local setting, said
Heyzer. China and India account for much of the region’s economic
expansion, but they also harbor deep pockets of poverty and regional
differences, she said.

“Globalization has obviously opened up new opportunities for those with
skills, with capital, but at the same time, it has also shut down
employment and livelihood options for those without them, especially in
some of the poorer countries and in the rural areas that have failed to
compete in the global marketplace,” said Heyzer.

Despite the dismal circumstances often facing migrants in the global
marketplace, Heyzer noted that the wages and conditions that are
substandard in rich and middle-income nations still prove alluring
compared to those in poorer countries. This is especially true in the case
of trafficked women, who continue to persevere despite suffering from
human rights violations as they see themselves as able to solve some of
the urgent economic problems faced by their families back home.

“In today’s world, we do not need to have this situation, and it is not
acceptable, to have a crisis of survival where the only way out for a
family to survive is by trafficking their daughters,” said Heyzer.

As long as capital but not labor can move freely across borders, illegal
migration and trafficking will remain rampant. International norms and
standards have been established in the past in an effort to arrest such a
trend. “But if rights are to be meaningful they must be claimed by those
who hold them. In other words people should know that they have these
rights, and very often you find that people who are supposed to have
rights did not know that they have these rights,” she said.

Heyzer proposed several measures to help mitigate human trafficking. One
is to make it difficult for traffickers to operate with impunity by
raising their cost to operate. “It’s unfortunate that there’s still a lot
of impunity over such crimes especially with some of the local corruption
of officials and high placed government personalities,” she said.

Another measure is to raise public awareness of this form of human rights
violation and create public outrage so that people will be discouraged
from using goods and services provided by traffickers and recruiters, said
Heyzer. The same way as sex abusers of children are identified, so too
should human traffickers, even if such a measure may be deemed
controversial by some sectors, she said.

“Many of the people are trafficked because they are provided with
basically false information. They are promised a different kind of work
and they end up with something else,” said Heyzer. “Ultimately, the
problems created by the global phenomena, such as migration and
trafficking, require a global solution. And in an age that has been marked
by a huge upsurge of rhetoric about human rights and women’s rights, a
global solution must match this with implementation and with
accountability. We need to accelerate seriously this work to end
discrimination and gender inequality.”

By Micheline R. Millar

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