Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Australia's Anti-Trafficking Law Fails to Fully Support Victims

Source : Corbis

From ABC News:

A new report by an international alliance of non-government organizations suggests Australia's anti-people trafficking measures should be reviewed. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women argues Australia puts too much emphasis on law enforcement instead of protecting victims. In a recent report, the organization also raised concerns that temporary skilled work visas under the 457 visa scheme could expose migrant workers to exploitation.

Human rights lawyer Eleanor Taylor-Nicholson from the Alliance says there is a focus on the sex trade in Australia at the expense of other workers. "This is not unique to Australia, most of the emphasis has been only on the sex industry, it hasn't been on other industries at all," she said. "The 457 visa, which is a way for people to come into Australia and work and provide really great services, is also being used by some employers to exploit people and in some sectors people are suffering such severe exploitation that you might consider it to be trafficking. Their assistance services are linked to their visa status, so if they decide they don't want to help the police or if the police don't find their case interesting or the person doesn't have enough relevant information, then the police can just revoke the visa at any time and the person is sent back to their country."

Read the full article here

Source : Corbis

To be fair, however, sub par efforts of addressing human trafficking are apparent in countries across the globe as recently observed by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime.

From ABC News:

The United Nations has condemned as uncoordinated and inefficient global efforts to counter human trafficking, saying the crime implicates nearly every country in the world. "Virtually no country in the world is unaffected by the crime of human trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor," the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its first study on the scale of the phenomenon.

"Efforts to counter trafficking have so far been uncoordinated and inefficient. "The lack of systematic reporting by authorities is a real problem. Governments need to try harder."

UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa says it is "extremely difficult" to establish how many victims there are worldwide but adds that "the fact that this form of slavery still exists in the 21st Century shames us all".

Read the full article here

Source : Corbis

My thoughts:

In a better world, modern day slavery would have been eradicated long ago. In a better world, modern day slavery would have been something relegated to the history books that is studied as an example of where we went wrong.

In today's world, however, human trafficking is a thriving business generating up to $10 billion dollars a year according to the UNODC. Whereas slavery was historically legal and in the open, and thus easy to track, it is now illegal and clandestine in nature. Whereas slaves used to be expensive and generated steady but modest profits, slaves today are more abundant than ever, and thus cheaper than ever, earning huge profits for their owners. Gone are the days of long term master and slave relationships. Slaves today are generally exploited for much shorter periods of time. Instead of staying with a slave owner for a lifetime or even generations, slaves today can be exploited for as short as a few months at a time. We live in a globalized world and modern day slavery reflects this reality in the form of a never-ending flow of cheap slaves from China to Colombia.

The unreliable support provided by Australia to trafficking victims is unacceptable and counter -productive to combating modern day slavery. True, government services are offered to victims, but if they don't have relevant information on a case or are unwilling to share it with authorities, they can be deported. This displays an insensitivity on the part of the Australian government to recognize the distress and danger that the trafficking victims are in. Often times traffickers know where the families of victims live and use that as a threat to deter victims from testifying in court. This alone is a powerful motivator to withhold information from authorities. While this is a problem when prosecuting traffickers in court, it is not solved by deportation. Deportation implies that victims are only entitled to services if they are of value to a legal case. While this is important, it should not preclude uncooperative victims from having access to services.

Signs for strip clubs in Kabuki-cho, Tokyo's red light district. Japan is a major destination country for victims of sex trafficking. Many of them end up working in club like these. Source: Corbis

But trafficking is not only Australia's problem. The point is not to single out Australia, but rather to emphasize the necessity for all countries to develop legislation that provides trafficking victims with the services and support that they need in tandem with increasing the conviction rate. Even beyond legislation, the point is for countries to first acknowledge that the problem is occurring within their borders, which according to the above UNODC report is not yet being done. Many times I have spoken of the need for a holistic strategy against trafficking that involves collaboration between the public, private and civil sectors of society. This idea must be extrapolated to include cooperation between countries. Traffickers are making huge profits. They are motivated by money and will continue to exploit any loopholes that exist, whether in the form of incomplete legislation, inefficient cooperation between countries or lack of public awareness of trafficking. This is why it becomes crucial for countries to take this problem seriously. Window dressing may look nice in the form of anti-trafficking laws and international initiatives, but if laws are incomplete or not utilized and if cooperation remains written on paper but not translated into action then our efforts become little more than self-delusions, a false pat on the back that says "hey, we are giving it our best shot."

Trafficking victims are regular people. They seek jobs and financial stability. After they are trafficked, the need to earn money is even stronger because of the time lost during exploitation. They do not all want to become advocates for migrant rights. They do not all want to go to court. In the Philippines most of them do not pursue legal cases. One simple explanation is because the majority of victims do not have the luxury of time to pursue a lengthy legal battle. In the Philippines, a trafficking case takes an average of 2-5 years to close. The victims have families to support. They need jobs. They have lives to live. Simply because a trafficking victim does not have relevant information on a case or is currently unwilling to share it should not exclude him/her from access to services. The previous two articles make it clear that although trafficking is emerging as a global issue, there is still a long way to go and much work to be done until we can affirm that our best efforts have been given to end modern day slavery. Until then, look for traffickers to capitalize on our incomplete attempts and inefficiencies.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Filipino Med Schools Make Prime Time

The season premier of "Desperate Housewives" takes a jab at Filipino med schools.

View the scene here:

Here's a Fox News story in response to the resulting uproar amongst Filipinos:

And finally an article that touches on the reality of the health care industry in the Philippines: click here

Some facts:
1) The Philippines produces almost 150,000 nursing graduates every year.
2) According to the Department of Health, only 2,000 of them are being absorbed into the local economy.
3) Higher wages abroad fuel demand to leave the Philippines.
4) Couple higher wages with a lack of jobs in the local health care industry and there is almost no reason to be a Filipino nurse and not leave the country.

Should this be taken as a joke and simply laughed off or is the uproar justified and a formal apology the least ABC could do? I leave that for you to decide.

I will say that it is not unexpected or unjustified for Filipino migrant workers to take this personally since the majority of them spend a lot of time, money and effort to be able to go abroad, leave their families and friends and work in a foreign country with rarely a chance to visit home. It is a rough, uncertain road for migrant workers that can all too often end in some form of exploitation or even human trafficking.

But then again the name of the program is Desperate Housewives, how much can you expect from a show with a title like that?

This Week in the Philippines

Terror at the mall, political implosions and overseas workers...

Source: Corbis

Law enforcement rules out bombing in Manila mall explosion but University of the Philippines professors disagree
The Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday ruled out bombing activity in Friday’s deadly blast, saying investigators have found no traces of explosives in the Glorietta 2 explosion that resulted in 11 deaths and 120 wounded.National Capital Region Police Office Director Geary Barias said probers have reason to believe that blast was caused by gas leak from the mall’s basement. But experts from the University of the Philippines College of Engineering on Monday said the blast could not have been caused by chemical and gas leaks.Ernesto de la Cruz and Wilfredo Jose, both chemical engineering professors, said it was unlikely that a leak from the tank containing thousands of liters of diesel caused the blast.

GMA charged with dereliction of duty

President Arroyo, her husband and two other high ranking officials are charged by a civil society group before the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged overpriced ZTE-National Broadband Network (NBN) contract that is claimed to have been marked by kickbacks in the hundreds of millions.


The Department of Justice endorses pardon for Estrada
Former President Joseph Estrada, who is serving a life term in prison on plunder charges, may be receiving a full pardon. Speaking to newsmen, Department of Justice acting Secretary Agnes Devanadera said she will endorse the grant of absolute pardon to Estrada on humanitarian grounds after his lawyers, led by Jose Flaminiano, wrote the President to grant the deposed leader “full, free and unconditional pardon.”If Estrada is accorded absolute pardon, it would mean that the President is releasing him from prison punishment, with his civil and political rights restored without qualification.

China closes door to Filipino domestic workers
The Philippine Embassy in Beijing, China informed the DFA that domestic service employment is not allowed in mainland China as it sounded alarm over a scam that entices Filipino victims to pay a fee of more than P100,000 in exchange for high-paying jobs there which are non-existent. Officials from the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Public Security Bureau told the Philippine Embassy that Beijing scrapped domestic service employment of foreign nationals.

Meanwhile in Lebanon...

Keeping health care workers in the Philippines
Only improved employment and economic conditions in the country can stem the sustained migration of Filipino healthcare professionals, Sen. Loren Legarda said Monday. "Amid rapid globalization, the only way we can really discourage our professionals and other highly skilled workers from seeking greener pasture overseas is by willfully enhancing their job conditions here," said Legarda, chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee. One way to encourage healthcare professionals to stay is for government to start freeing public sector-employed doctors and nurses from the coverage of the highly restrictive Salary Standardization Law, Legarda said.

Indian Singer Charged with Human Trafficking

From the Sify news:

An Indian court formally charged famous bhangra-pop singer Daler Mehndi and his brother in a human trafficking case registered against them in 2003.

A Punjabi villager said the two brothers took 450,000 rupees (11,250 dollars) from him and promised to take him abroad posing as a member of the star's dance troupe -- but failed to do so.

Daler and his brother Shamsher have been charged with forgery, conspiracy and cheating. The singer was present when the charges were framed.

Read the full story here

Diversify Your Income: Organized Crime 101

Source: Corbis

Organized crime is a business. From an economic standpoint, it is simply the pursuit of different (illegal) money-making ventures. Human trafficking is one such venture that has become an undeniably lucrative industry for organized crime. While countries scramble to create laws to punish perpetrators and protect victims, while law enforcement is training to detect trafficking situations and while justice systems are figuring out how to prosecute and convict traffickers, the business of modern day slavery is thriving and generating billions of dollars every year.

Trafficking is a business. It is one that exploits and destroys lives, but for the traffickers, a business nonetheless. There is a cost (transportation, bribes, potentially getting caught, etc) and there is benefit (money). At the present time, the costs and risks are far outweighed by the benefits.

Ten convictions have been made in the Philippines since Republic Act Number 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, was passed in 2003. Ten convictions have been made in five years. That's an average of two convictions per year. Although the factors that contribute to this dearth of convictions are varied and complex, the reality is that trafficking is a business and the risks of getting caught are, up to this point, almost a non-factor in the equation.

Until convictions increase and other factors like addressing the demand side of trafficking are pursued that will increase the risk and cost of trafficking in persons, expect it to be business as usual for organized crime syndicates.

Such is the case around the world and as noted by this recent article about trafficking in the UK.

From the Times Online:

British criminals are forging links with East European gangsters to establish international networks for human trafficking, The Times has learnt. Investigators believe that the number of women and children trafficked into Britain for sexual exploitation far exceeds the figure of 4,000 a year cited by the Home Office.

They are tracking gangs across Europe that have seized on large-scale migration to make multimillion-pound profits by trading in people. “There is new evidence of British criminal involvement in trafficking,” a source said. “Some are involved in the drug trade and it’s no surprise that they are diversifying because there are huge amounts of money to be made.”

Read the full article here

Friday, October 05, 2007

Call & Response

A recent article from the Washington Post questions the magnitude of the trafficking problem in the United States. In particular the writer suggests that trafficking has been over exaggerated and, because so few victims are found, the funds alloted by the government to combat the issue may have been wasted.

Excerpt from the Washington Post:

Outrage was mounting at the 1999 hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building, where congressmen were learning about human trafficking.

A woman from Nepal testified that September that she had been drugged, abducted and forced to work at a brothel in Bombay. A Christian activist recounted tales of women overseas being beaten with electrical cords and raped. A State Department official said Congress must act -- 50,000 slaves were pouring into the United States every year, she said. Furious about the "tidal wave" of victims, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) vowed to crack down on so-called modern-day slavery.

The next year, Congress passed a law, triggering a little-noticed worldwide war on human trafficking that began at the end of the Clinton administration and is now a top Bush administration priority. As part of the fight, President Bush has blanketed the nation with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million -- all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor in the United States.

But the government couldn't find them. Not in this country.

Read the full article here

Donna M. Hughes a Professor at the University of Rhode Island responds:

The first question of importance is, how many victims of human trafficking are in the U.S.? There have been two government estimates of the number of foreign victims of trafficking in the U.S. (There is no government estimate on the number of U.S. citizen or domestic victims.) In 1999, the estimate was 45,000 to 50,000; in 2004 the estimate was lowered to 14,500 to 17,500. Those estimates vary widely and should raise concerns about the validity of the estimates and the methods used to calculate them. As the Washington Post correctly points out, there have been relatively few victims of trafficking identified. Victims who cannot yet be identified cannot be counted.

Researchers can employ fancy sampling methods, but they still have to rely on people who know a victim of trafficking when they see one. I predict that the funded study will be a waste of money. The study that could have given us a baseline on the scope of illegal sex industry, which recruits and exploits victims of trafficking, sadly still waits to be done. And consequently, anyone who wants to attack the anti-trafficking movement on the basis of the widely varying estimates of the number of victims still has plenty of ammunition.

Washington Post article says that only 1,362 foreign victims of human trafficking have been identified since 2000. The Post reporter slants the article to imply that relatively few victims have been found because few victims exist. This number represents the number of foreign victims certified as victims of trafficking. There are many more known victims than those who have applied for and been granted certification. First of all, certification requires that the victim be willing to cooperate with a police investigation. Following a police raid, some victims just want to go home, some victims don’t want to cooperate with police and are deported, and some victims are afraid to testify against vicious traffickers. The application for certification requires support from law enforcement. If the victim is not seen as useful for a case, or if they police don’t want to pursue a case, she has no support to stay in the U.S. and be counted as a victim of trafficking.

Read the full article here

My thoughts:

Knowing the scope of trafficking is key to combating the issue. Resources and manpower can be more appropriately distributed. At the same time assisting and supporting current victims is critical. Simply because they have yet to be found does not mean that they do not exist.

The fact that relatively few trafficking victims have been found in the U.S. implies two possibilities: 1) the problem may not be as serious as initially presumed or 2) the problem exists but law enforcement and non-governmental organizations have largely been unable to find victims. Take domestic slavery for example; it is an industry that often has no contracts and is ripe for exploitation. Its perpetrators are generally private citizens. If domestic slavery exists in the U.S. it would be extremely difficult to quantify. Only the victims who are able to escape and, on top of that, are willing to go to the authorities would be counted. Using domestic slavery as an example, it then becomes dangerous to assume that trafficking has been overstated simply because we have yet to find many victims in the U.S.

The current numbers that define the scope of trafficking are estimates. Of course the ideal is to take action based on solid empirical evidence, but while we take the time to calculate these figures, victims of trafficking may be neglected and not receive the services and support they deserve. Hopefully we can work off of better information in the near future, but the time to act is now, not later even if imperfect information is being used.

In the Philippines, the scope of trafficking is similarly hard to define, however, that has not prevented non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from taking the initiative to rescue, rehabilitate, and reintegrate victims. The numbers may be murky, but the victims rescued by NGOs who were previously enslaved in brothels, locked in condos, or forced to work in factories are not. For example, the Visayan Forum Foundation based in Manila, Philippines has assisted over 10,000 victims of trafficking since 2001. This is but one NGO working with limited resources and staff. This is but a tip of the trafficking problem in the Philippines.

The issue of human trafficking demands our attention. It requires manpower and resources to end this form of modern day slavery. It may be convenient to think that slavery is no longer an issue, and if it is than at least not in our country, not within our borders, but this notion ignores the clandestine nature of trafficking, the physical and psychological damage inflicted on its victims and their resulting unwillingness to seek assistance, and the limited means of measuring trafficking that have been employed thus far.

The U.S. Supports Philippines in Fight against Human Trafficking

From the Manila Standard Today:

The United States has set aside $5 million for the Philippine campaign against human trafficking, an illegal activity which has claimed 2.5 million victims worldwide.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney revealed this yesterday during the launching of MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) Campaign in the Philippines, stressing that the US government has always been the partner of the Philippines in fighting human trafficking.

“The problem is you really don’t know how many people are involved because getting victims to come forward to talk about human trafficking is difficult,” Kenney said.

Read the full article here

I am Constance

I came across this website the other day- it allows people to anonymously post their personal experiences of rape, human trafficking, and other violence against women issues.

It is a creative use of technology that can help progress the healing process.

Show your support, take a look:
I am Constance