Trafficking: Some Solutions

The month was April, the year 2008. I was in Brazil with my mom, learning more about World Childhood Foundation, an international non-profit she works with. During our visit, we toured a community outreach facility located in the midst of São Paulo, South America’s largest city. The volunteers were attempting to educate and engage the poor, children and adults alike, in order to protect them from the pervasive effects of Brazilian organized crime. Specifically, they were working to protect kids and young adults from the unseen horrors of the human sex trade.

For many Americans, human trafficking is a non-issue. As a nation, we’re generally ignorant of this repellant industry, an exploitative criminal enterprise that generates $150 billion in annual profit and enslaves approximately 30 million people (more than any other time in human history). Slavery is one of the fastest growing and most heinous businesses in the world, and every day we ignore its existence, it gets stronger.

In order to combat this scourge, we must first define it. According to UNICEF, human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that “subjects children, women, and men to force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour.” Examples can include, but are certainly not limited to, pornography, migrant farming, and child soldiering.

There are three key things we must do to cripple the trafficking industry: first, we must reveal its deepest, darkest secrets for the world to see; second, communities must rise up and protect their own; and third, the public and private sectors have to do everything in their power to end slavery.

Widespread human trafficking plagues nations like India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Russia. For instance, nearly half of the world’s slaves (13.9 million) live in India, of which an estimated 1.2 million are child prostitutes. In relative terms, Mauritania is the worst; slaves constitute 4% of its population.

These are the numbers the world must see. In order to incite the grass roots, anti-trafficking movements vital to the trade’s demise, the average citizen must know the industry’s full breadth and width. If this crime remains hidden in the shadows, citizens will have no reason to take action.

To effectively combat trafficking, however, informing people isn’t enough. To truly combat the trade, communities must educate and engage with the industry’s most vulnerable targets: families and young children living in poverty. In order to protect these people, charitable organizations and local communities must work together to keep them off the streets.

Organizations like World Childhood Foundation have been working for years to do just that. Childhood stresses the importance of supporting small, non-governmental organizations that work to deter trafficking at its roots. Keeping poor children and families off the streets, and giving them homes, jobs, and an education, may save millions from bondage.

Beyond efforts to inform the world’s populace and support local charitable organizations, changes must be made at industry and governmental levels.

Codes of conduct such as ECPAT and the United Nations Global Compact offer industry leaders the opportunity to publicly express their commitment to combating human trafficking. These codes of conduct are especially important for the travel and hospitality industries, both of which are used heavily by the sex trade, because they give employees in those industries the tools to both identify and call attention to possible cases of human trafficking.

Of course, guidelines aren’t enough. Every sector has to do something: hotels can train their employees to recognize trafficking, share the National Trafficking Hotline with their guests (post it in each room, for example), and ban pornography and on their wireless networks; telecommunications companies and cell producers can pre-program their phones with relevant numbers and anti-trafficking information; airlines can make sure their attendants watch for suspicious activity; and all corporations, especially big-box retailers like Target and Walmart and restaurant chains like Subway and McDonald’s, can audit supply lines to make sure their products aren’t tainted by slavery.

At the governmental level, more nations must agree to actively fight trafficking and decriminalize victims. Furthermore, governments across the world ought to follow the United Nation’s lead in defining the inviolable rights of every human being and protecting those rights to the best of their ability.

Modern slavery is a major international issue. In a world built on speed and accessibility, the trade is thriving. In order to bring these crimes to light and save millions, nations across the world must act to inform their citizens, support grass-roots organizations, and work together via international compacts and treaties.

According to the Global Slavery Index, 29.8 million people are currently victims of human trafficking, of whom 5.5 million are children. I cannot stand idly by as millions suffer. They need our help. With international cooperation, their prayers will be answered.