Tuesday, March 30, 2010

California Ballot Initiative Strengthens Human Trafficking Laws

From PRLog:

California Against Slavery is now gathering signatures for a state ballot initiative to strengthen human trafficking laws. The initiative would deter traffickers with stiffer criminal penalties, aid district attorneys in prosecuting human trafficking offenses, increase protection for human trafficking victims, and mandate human trafficking training for law enforcement officers.

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery and its victims are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. It happens in the United States and worldwide.

"We support and desperately need to see revision in our state law with regard to human trafficking," said Jenny Williamson, founder and president of Courage to Be You, a Sacramento-area organization that rescues and restores victims of child sex trafficking. "Severe fines and extended jail time for the perpetrators of this evil must be enacted if ever this crime is to be deterred. Our courageous law enforcement officers must be equipped and encouraged with mandatory, specific training so that rescuing these vulnerable victims and putting their perpetrators away becomes a priority within our state."

The California Against Slavery initiative is endorsed by many organizations combating human trafficking, including Breaking Chains, Captive Daughters, Courage to be You, International Justice Mission (IJM), Lotus Outreach, MISSSEY, Oasis USA, Polaris Project, Shared Hope, and Stop Child Trafficking Now.

"California is a major hub for human trafficking," said Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope International. "We fully endorse the California Against Slavery initiative because we see the strategic importance of having stronger state laws in place in the fight against human trafficking."

Read the full article

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Lost Girls

From the Texas Monthly by Mimi Swartz

Most people who are aware of the existence of human trafficking think that it happens in faraway places, like war-torn countries in the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia, or Eastern Europe. Few can imagine that slaves are brought into the U.S. to work in restaurants, factories, and sexually oriented businesses (SOBs to those in the know). In fact, across the country, tens of thousands of people are being held captive today. Depending on whom you ask, Houston is either the leading trafficking site in the U.S. or very near the top, along with Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, and New York City. . .

In recent years there have been several high-profile arrests and prosecutions in Harris County, which has some of the toughest anti-trafficking laws in the country and one of the country’s most innovative anti-trafficking task forces. In 2005 police brought down Maximino “El Chimino” Mondragon, who ran one of the nation’s largest sex-trafficking rings, in which young women from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mondragon’s native El Salvador were forced to work as prostitutes. That same year, a sixty-year-old man named Evan Lowenstein was arrested for operating at least a dozen brothels stocked with women from Eastern Europe who had been brought into the U.S. with promises of legitimate work. He got probation and disappeared. . .

But each time a case is made, the business simply morphs and grows in a new way. Case in point: When officers in the FM 1960 area set up a task force and began shutting down massage parlors that did not have legitimate licenses to operate, the traffickers began circumventing state regulations by reclassifying their operations as “tea parlors” and, in a novel twist, “art galleries.” “We could have fifty people doing this 24/7 and still not have enough manpower,” says Skip Oliver, a captain in the Harris County Constable’s Department in Precinct 4. “You can punch a button here and get a girl from Thailand in the pipeline. We’re nibbling at a piece of the problem. We don’t even see the whole picture.” . . .

Many rescuers know that women who wind up as trafficking victims were usually abused earlier in their lives, often by a family member or a spouse; that’s what makes them so vulnerable to the traffickers’ feigned affection and false protection. But the repeated rapes that captive prostitutes endure can turn someone with low self-esteem into someone with a serious psychiatric illness. Many suffer from severe dissociative identity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder is usually a given. Some are bipolar. Many of these conditions have similar symptoms: extreme highs, harrowing lows, paranoia, drug or alcohol abuse as self-medication, and various forms of self-destructive behavior, including self-mutilation. . .

Usually trafficking victims are profoundly ashamed of what they have been doing or believe they have failed at it, disappointing the families who depend on them for survival. Like battered spouses, they often return to their abusers. Many have no other way to make a living. . .

“They break people beyond repair,” Dottie [Lester, coordinator for the Trafficked Persons Assistance Program for YMCA International Services] says of traffickers. “If I shattered a glass and then put it back together, it wouldn’t hold water.”

Read the Full Article

Arresting traffickers, rescuing victims, and prosecuting cases are the more high profile ways to fight human trafficking. As this article points out, though, such efforts are only first steps at best. Trafficking victims and survivors require long-term services and support beyond escape and rescue. High-profile arrests and shutting down SOBs do not address the root causes or trafficking and in many cases do little to address demand. While these efforts are important, and I strongly believe we need to advocate for increased prosecution of traffickers, these efforts must not exist in isolation but instead need to be part of a holistic anti-trafficking strategy. Otherwise, they are stop-gap measures at best and potentially counterproductive or harmful at worst.

Photograph by Van Ditthavong for the Texas Monthly

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why We Need the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act

It is still a shock for many, that in a technologically advanced and a small world like ours, where we are separated from one another by only six degrees, slavery still exists. Some say it is not possible for such a hideous phenomenon to exist and even if it does exist, it is not possible for it to exist around us. We would've known about it, they say.

But the reality is that it does exist; it is all around us and it is part of our lives. It many not be just around us, but it may be in our homes and part of our lives - from the shoes we buy to tomatoes we eat. It is very possible that its existence plays a critical role in how we dress, what we eat, and how we live our lives. Problem - Global and Local International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that around 12.3 million adults and children are being trafficked at any given time. The majority of these people are women and girls forced into sexual servitude. One thing which is common across cases is that the society does not treat them as victims and in fact penalizes them.


  • When Maria was five, her father’s common-law wife started selling her for prostitution in Nicaragua. After a few years, NGO workers found Maria living in the city dump and took her to a home for little girls. She behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with the other girls, as that was the only life she had ever known. She was asked to leave that children’s home. Maria was taken to another children’s home for her protection while investigators documented her abuse and worked to terminate her father’s parental rights.
  • When Julia was 8, a man took her and her sisters to a neighboring country and forced them to beg on the streets until their early teens, when he sold them into prostitution. Julia’s traffickers expected her to bring in a certain amount of money each day or face beatings. At 14, Julia ran away, eventually coming under the supervision of local authorities. They placed her in an orphanage where she was not allowed to go to school due to her undocumented status. After a few months, Julia ran away from the orphanage and became involved with a pimp who prostituted her to local men and tourists. Recently, Julia was arrested on narcotics charges. She will likely spend the next two years in a juvenile prison, where she will finally learn to read and write.
  • Many victims don’t know where to go for help when they escape from their traffickers or after they return home. A male victim of forced labor explains: “I knew nothing about the assistance available for trafficking victims. I didn’t know who to address in the destination country in case I needed help. I thought I could go only to the police. There I didn’t have enough courage to go to the police because the [traffickers] used to say that they bought the police. They threatened me with death in case I went to the police. I was afraid.”
  • Prostitutes are arrested more often than their pimps and customers and can face police brutality. This is particularly true for the prostitutes operating at the lowest level of the prostitution subculture—including those on the street and drug-addicted prostitutes. According to senior retired police officer Joe Haggarty, in order for a case to be prosecuted against a pimp, at least one of the pimp’s girls must testify, but many refuse. Despite their abuse, pimps provide a roof over the heads of their prostitutes, and the girls are often very loyal to their pimps. New York Police Detectives added that it is very difficult to have the chance to talk to prostituted girls because any statements made against the pimp could also incriminate the girls.
It is clear that most sexually exploited victims do not feel there is any way out. They feel like criminals! According to several sources and agencies, New York City is one of final destinations of human trafficking activities. National Institute of Justice estimates approximately 4,000 child sex trafficking victims in NYC. Some claim this is a conservative estimate!

U.S. Department of Justice released a report in January 2009, which said a) about 80% of the reported trafficking incidents involved sex trafficking, b) about 90% of the victims were female, c) about 30% of the sex trafficking incidents involved children, and d) about 60% of the sex trafficking victims were US citizens. The picture for victims of sex trafficking is worse: the world often fails to see them as victims. They are not treated like the victims of violence and human rights abuses that they are. We need better laws and better services for the victims.

This is what
New York Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act is trying to do. The Act, which comes into effect in April 2010, is the nation's first such act which recognizes sexually exploited children as victims and offers them social services instead of punishing them. Both the Trafficking in Persons Report and the UN meeting with survivors of human trafficking have pointed out that the victims need a safe place to speak out and we need to help them break out of the cycle of fear.

In the next post, I will write about what we can look forward to regarding the impact of this act. I hope to interview NGOs and researchers to find out how they feel this act can help and if they feel it is sufficient do what we hope to do, which is to stop this abuse!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

DOL to start certifying U Visa applications

From the Department of Labor:

US Labor Department to exercise authority to certify applications for U visas.

Action will help victims who aid law enforcement

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis . . . announced [on March 15th, 2010] that the U.S. Department of Labor will begin exercising its authority to certify applications for U Nonimmigrant Status Visas. U visas — as they are known — are designed to help victims of qualifying criminal activities who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of those crimes.

"Regardless of immigration status, no one should have to suffer criminal abuse silently. U visas give some measure of security to immigrant victims who are desperate to escape an abusive situation and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement," said Secretary Solis. "I have instructed Labor Department investigators to identify potential U visa applicants as they conduct workplace investigations. This action will help local law enforcement rescue vulnerable immigrants from suffering and help put criminals behind bars."

Individuals who receive U visas may remain in the United States for up to four years and may eventually apply for permanent residency. The U visa was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. Qualifying criminal activities involve violations of certain federal, state or local criminal laws, including: abduction, abusive sexual contact, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, female genital mutilation, felonious assault, hostage-taking, incest, involuntary servitude, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, obstruction of justice, peonage, perjury, prostitution, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, slave trade, torture, trafficking, witness tampering, unlawful criminal restraint and other related crimes.

Labor Department authority to certify U visas will be delegated to its Wage and Hour Division, which will identify potential applicants in appropriate circumstances during the course of workplace investigations. Among other U visa application requirements, a federal law enforcement agency or official must certify that the U visa petitioner has been helpful, is being helpful or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

To view a fact sheet and more information about the certification of U visas, click here.

Read this news release en EspaƱol.

While the U Visa is not strictly for trafficking survivors, this is potentially big news for service providers, particularly legal service providers. The Department of Labor is involved in many investigations and task forces around the U.S., and the Wage & Hour Division's access to farms and workplaces make their inspectors particularly important eyes and ears for detecting trafficking. For those of you who are not familiar with the recent history of DOL inspectors, the number of inspectors plummeted and remained low during the last two decades. Just this year, the GAO released a report detailing their findings on the inadequacy of the Wage & Hour Division's Complaint Intake and Investigation Process, which the GAO felt left many low-wage workers unprotected. In addition to this new certification ability, the Obama administration earmarked funding to improve the Wage & Hour Division earlier this year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

South Africa Introduces Human Trafficking Bill Before 2010 World Cup

South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe announced Tuesday that South Africa is planning to fast track a newly introduced anti-human trafficking bill before the World Cup, which starts in June.

The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill creates new offenses, including trafficking in persons, debt bondage, possessing or destroying the travel documents of trafficking victims, using the services of trafficking victims, and facilitating human trafficking. Traffickers could face heavy fines or life imprisonment.

The bill will give courts jurisdiction over cases involving offenses committed outside of the country, as well as require internet service providers to report internet addresses suspected of containing information that facilitates or promotes human trafficking. The law also provides multiple protections for victims, including prohibiting prosecution of trafficking victims.

Radebe emphasized that the bill is not motivated by the World Cup and has "been a work in progress since 2003," but noted that 2010 will present its unique challenges because of the possibility of increased trafficking activity during the World Cup.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Human Trafficking Case Manager Position in Buffalo, New York

Clients: Victims of Human Trafficking
Salary: $25,000 + benefits
Position Description:The International Institute of Buffalo is seeking an Advocate Case Manager within its Trafficking Victim Services Program (TVSP). Under the supervision of the Director of Victim Services, the Case Manager’s primary responsibilities will include direct victim advocacy, crisis intervention, general intake and coordination of support services both on-site and within the Western New York community. The Advocate Case Manager will also work within the Victim Services Department to creatively evaluate and improve the effectiveness of this project in order to more comprehensively meet the complicated needs of this emerging population. On-call responsibilities occur periodically.

Applicants must have a strong ethic of service and dedication, and should be committed to being available to program activities outside of the normal 9-5 hours. Flexibility, emotional maturity, and resilience are required, along with excellent social and organizational skills that facilitate empathetic and open communication. Applicants must enjoy working closely with a small team while exhibiting initiative and independence. Experience, comfort, and sensitivity working in multi-cultural environments are required. Applicants fluent in a second language and those with experience in victim and trauma-related fields preferred.

Client Population:Most clients will be survivors of sex and/or labor trafficking. Clients will include foreign national survivors, particularly Asian, Latino, and African. Clients will have experienced significant trauma and will require intensive victim services.

Application: Please send resume and cover letter to International Institute of Buffalo Human Trafficking Victim Services, 864 Delaware Ave, Buffalo 14209 or email to
afleischauer@iibuff.org by April 5, 2010.

For more information about the International Institute of Buffalo, please click here.

Kuwait's New Private Sector Labor Law Still Neglects 1/3 of its Population

Kuwait's new labor law became official on February 21 following its publication in the government-produced Kuwait Gazette Al Kuwait Al Youm, marking a new, significant, and uncomfortably overdue step forward taken by the Kuwaiti Government to protect its private sector workers. Shockingly, no reforms were made to the country’s previous archaic and historic labor law in over 45 years, promoting a racially-discriminate law that tended to only favor Kuwaiti employers/sponsors and neglected the rights of the majority of Kuwait’s workforce outsourced from abroad.

The new law includes updated provisions that address issues of salaries, working hours, public holidays, paid leave, sick leave and suitable end of service payments was approved by the National Assembly in 2009 and approved by His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait for endorsement.

Despite these highly anticipated gains, housemaids and domestic drivers are absent from this law’s jurisdiction, and even today, despite encouragement from local enthusiasts and an indication that such a law is forthcoming, there is still no legislation that addresses the rights of these domestic workers in private homes.

Such a law is said to be forthcoming but delayed since its jurisdiction will fall under the
Ministry of Interior, given the sensitivity of addressing legal disputes that emerge in the privacy of the homes of Kuwaiti citizens. Many are hopeful that this law will be presented in Parliament within the next six months, hopefully ending the perpetual cycles of abuse and illegal withholding of wages and documentation that leave an estimated 800,000 housemaids vulnerable to coercion. I will underscore that there are 800,000 maids working in Kuwait within a total population that is just under three million.

Many remain skeptical as to how these new provisions will profoundly impact or improve conditions in the private sector and question whether the new law will actually be implemented. According to an anonymous journalist interviewed by the
Kuwait Times, employers can still easily devise schemes to puncture loopholes in the new law and avoid paying indemnities or other forms of remuneration payable to workers. For example, an employer can transfer workers to a different division within their company or simply fire them and find new workers to avoid paying salaries. For detailed information on the new labor law’s provisions, click here to be taken to the Arab Times Online.

Kuwait still struggles to responsibly accommodate its expatriate population, which currently amounts to over
65% of the country’s total population. A renewed focus on its previously dormant labor law demonstrates the Kuwaiti Government’s interest in reform; however, 45 years of neglect indicate that continued reform will be an arduous process that will require expanded legislation to better address vulnerable contracted and domestic workers that are excluded from current jurisdiction, a legal mechanism to confront perpetrators of human trafficking, and the abolishment of Kuwait’s sponsorship system.

Recent news sources have revealed that new legislation to protect Kuwait's domestic workers is now in the works. Kuwait's Minister of Social Development, Mohammad al-Afassi
revealed that a new law would be issued as early as this coming May. A new interest in passing legislation that addresses Kuwait's domestic labor force, affecting housemaids, drivers and landscapers follows international pressures, NGO lobbying, and heightened criticism over the grievances that were not addressed in the new private sector labor law.

The Kuwait Times profiled several
interviews with domestic housemaids, asking them what they believed would be the most important clauses the new labor law should include. One worker insisted that matters dealing with domestic workers should be addressed by civilian authorities, and not the "scary and unfriendly" uniformed representatives of the Ministry of Interior. Two other housemaids highlighted the need for one day off during the workweek. They stated that they had been working for their current employers for 5 years and were only allowed one day off a year under their current contracts!

The vulnerability of domestic workers and the lack of freedoms they are awarded under the current laws has been exposed recently with heightened statistics on
suicide rates in the country. There is currently no option for employees to switch employers without consent, and low or sometimes non-existent salaries in exchange for their work make it impossible for most to repay the debts they owe for their work visas.

One Kuwaiti official has suggested
reducing the number of domestic workers who are allowed to enter Kuwait and shortening the current validity periods of worker visas to shift current demographic ratios and potentially prevent human trafficking.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Freedom Boutique for Slavery Victims

How's this for a great idea?

From Rochester's Post-Bulletin:

By Matthew Stolle
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

There are lots of stories in the news these days that chronicle the injustices and miseries of people in far-flung places of the world. They make interesting conversational topics, but rarely do people feel as if they are in a position to do anything about it.

Patti Brown feels differently.

The Rochester hairstylist plans to set up a Freedom Boutique at the Cutting Loose Hair Salon in Rochester later this month. The boutique will offer products either made by or benefiting people who have come out of human trafficking, slavery and abuse.

"I kind of felt after reading about the slavery issue and the human traffic problem, it's like, 'What can I do?'" Brown said. "I do think it's helping. We can end slavery by the way we purchase."

Brown said the problem of modern-day slavery afflicts 27 million women and children, and the problem is not confined to places outside of the United States. Minnesota is among the 13 most heavily sex and slavery trafficked states in the nation, according to the Minnesota Human Trafficking Watch.

Approximately 50 percent of all victims of trafficking are children.

Brown said the products she will be selling have been made by women in India and Cambodia who have escaped from forced prostitution. Others have been made by women in Swaziland and Uganda who are suffering with AIDS because of the abuse against them.

"(It's) helping people get on their feet," Brown said. "I guess it's that after-care side that really spoke to me and made me think (that) if we're going to try and help them get out of this situation, we have to help them have an income."

Coffee, chocolate, jewelry and handbags will be sold at the boutique. The products, in a sense, have already been paid for. Brown and her husband purchased the products, and the person who made them has been paid as well. The boutique is a way of keeping that virtuous cycle of purchasing alive.

"It may not sound like much, but sometimes it is the most we can do, and it not only spreads awareness, but also helps people realize we can do something to stop slavery through our purchases."

For more details, click here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Education Professionals and Anti-Trafficking

In her book, The Slaves Across the Street, Theresa Flores recounts her experience of sex slavery while attending school. She notes that, despite extreme behavioral changes and other indicators, none of her teachers or other school professionals reported or spoke with her about her situation. Though Flores experienced violence at school from her controllers, went from a straight A student to a struggling student, and was threatened and manipulated in front of teachers by her traffickers, no teacher intervened.

Flores' case shows what can go horribly wrong when education professionals are not aware or trained to recognize human trafficking. They are also in a position to make an incredible difference when they are aware and trained. Benjamin Skinner tells the story of Little Hope, a young girl who was held as a domestic slave in Florida after being brought to the US from Haiti. In his book, A Crime So Monstrous, Skinner describes the horrible abuse endured by the young girl, who ultimately was able to escape her situation through a connection she made with a teacher at a modeling school.

Trafficking survivors, whether they are survivors of labor or sex trafficking, face extreme challenges that do not end after they get out of the trafficking situation. Many were unable to pursue education before leaving slavery, and many want to and need to pursue more education in order to gain economic independence. Education professionals need to also be trained to work with and meet the unique needs of survivors.

Last fall, the Department of Education released a factsheet for education professionals, including information on human trafficking, trafficking in the US, and what to do if you suspect trafficking is occurring. The factsheet also provides a list of redflags and potential indicators for trafficking, including indicators education professionals are in a unique position to be able to see or likely to encounter:

A victim:
  • Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
  • Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
  • Chronically runs away from home
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
  • Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
  • Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
  • Is hungry-malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
  • Shows signs of drug addiction

Additional signs that may indicate sex-related trafficking include:

  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
  • Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms
  • Has a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older (10+ years)
  • Makes references to terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age specific norms; engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled “fast” by peers
This factsheet is a useful first step for educators, but like with most efforts in anti-trafficking, additional work is necessary. Education professionals need to be trained and supported to recognize and report trafficking and support potential victims and survivors. In some cases, they may be a victims only connection away from their traffickers.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Call for Papers: Second Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking

The organizing team at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln is pleased to announce a call for papers for the Second Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking. A keynote speaker will be E. Benjamin Skinner, author of the recently-published A Crime So Monstrous. Anyone who has academic or professional work to present can submit an abstract of up to 300 words (no more) on the submission website.

Call Description: The presentations will normally be 20 minutes with some time for discussion. The organizing committee is willing to consider other formats, such as panel presentations. [They] are not seeking workshops, however, but presentations of facts, knowledge, ideas, methods, program evaluations, research agendas, and research needs.

The deadline for submission of papers and presentations is April 15, 2010. Submitters can expect notification of acceptance or rejection by May 25th, 2010. The committee will expect a commitment to attend by at least one of the accepted presenters, with a non-refundable deposit of $50, by July 15, 2010, for presenters to remain on the program.
Authors will be expected to agree to a release of copyright, and allow the materials they present (in written, video, audio, or graphic form) to be made available on the conference website after the conference.

No paper proceedings will be published, but the presented materials will be available on Digital Commons (the web host for the proceedings) for a considerable time.
If you have questions about presentations, contact Dr. Dwayne Ball.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

United States To Critique Self in 2010 Human Trafficking Report

On Thursday, Assistant Secretary of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mike Posner announced that this year, for the first time, the United States would include itself in its annual Trafficking in Persons report.

The announcement came in the wake of international criticism following the Department of State's release of the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Thursday. The annual Reports have assessed other countries' human rights practices for 34 years, but have not yet included the United States. This may at least partially have been because the reports are used as a tool by the United States in developing foreign policy, and the United States also will be making a report to the United Nations on its own track record later this year. However, some countries argue that the United States needs to take a closer look at itself.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that she "want[s] us to start looking at the United States for every report we do," and added that "I think we will have more credibility if we start looking at the United States while we criticize other countries as well."

Stated Posner: "One of the challenges, one of the criticisms of the report over the years has been that we report on the whole world, except for ourselves. And Secretary Clinton has made it very clear, as has the President, that we adhere to a single, universal standard of human rights and apply it to everyone, including ourselves."

Monday, March 15, 2010

"How to Buy a Child" Child Trafficking and Child Slavery in Haiti


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Everyone has the right to life and liberty. No one shall be held in slavery.

But at least 27 million people today are held in slavery. What would shock us into action? What if we find out that we can buy a child in Haiti in less than 12 hours? That the buyer could force the child to do anything he/she wanted. What if we learn that a child can be loaned, bought or sold on the 'market' for as little as $100, and if we pressed and bargained, we could bring the 'cost' down to $50?

That's $50 for a 10 year-old child who would act as a sex partner as well as a domestic servant. And what if we find out that in Haiti, slavery still exists today and that currently more than a quarter million Haitian children are loaned and traded, mostly for sex and labor?

An ABC News story, "How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours" and the book, A Crime So Monstrous by Benjamin Skinner, show how easy it is to buy a child in Haiti for around $50 to $150 and do whatever one wants with the child. And that was before the earthquake.

In 1926, the Slavery Convention, in article 1.1., established an international definition of slavery. "Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised".

With independence, came the end of slavery in Haiti in 1804. Slavery is illegal in Haiti. In fact, slavery is illegal throughout the world. At least, officially anyway. However, according to many estimates, we have more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history. And Haiti is no different.

It is said that, technically, these children, known as restaveks, are not slaves. In Haiti, it is common to lend a child to other families, mainly relatives, to help with extra domestic work. Poor families lend their children to wealthier families and in exchange for the domestic help, those children would receive housing , food, clothing, and education. And some children do receive all this; however, the reality for majority of the children is very different. A restavek child is a servant who is forced to work seven days a week without any pay, is excluded from other children in the family, has no time for play or school, and is subjected to abuse.

Jean-Robert Cadet, who is a former restavek and the founder of Restavek Freedom, has said, "A restavek is a child placed in domestic slavery". A CNN article says, "According to the foundation, restavec children are usually responsible for preparing the household meals, fetching water from the local well, cleaning inside and outside the house, doing laundry and emptying bedpans. They usually sleep on the floor separate from members of the family they serve, and are up at dawn before anyone else to do household work. Sometimes they're physically and sexually abused".

We should not even be talking about slavery today. Throughout history, many agreements and laws have passed to abolish slavery, but still it turns out, there are more than 250,000 thousand children slaves in Haiti. Again, I wonder, what would shock us into action?

And this was the condition before the earthquake. Even before the earthquake, Haiti had a serious problem with child trafficking and slavery.

After the earthquake, the condition has only worsened for these children. These children were far away from their families and now have no where to go. In times of crisis, these children are the first to be thrown out on streets, ready to be picked up by traffickers and sold to exploiters.

Many reports warn of the dangers of child trafficking. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has said that he has received reports of child trafficking, including organ trafficking. "Any child that is leaving the country has to be validated by the embassy under a list that they give me, with all the reports," he said.

Legally this may be true, but in reality acquiring papers does not seem very difficult. As pointed out in a shocking ABC News story, it is very easy for traffickers to get fake papers. "As further enticement, the trafficker says he can even get me fake papers that would allow me to take this child back to the U.S. with me. Both traffickers say they have experience providing children to Americans. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, officials have no idea how often this sort of transaction transpires".

Clearly, Haiti needs better laws to protect these children from abuse and slavery, but all this brings up a much deeper question. Slavery is possible only because of the existence of inequality between any two people. In today's world, slavery is not about race or skin color, it is about profit and exploitation of vulnerable members of the society. Many times we've read human trafficking is caused by poverty.

Human trafficking is not caused by poverty; it is caused human traffickers and exploiters, it is a crime committed by criminals and silent observation fuels this problem. We have to attack the root of the problem; we have to attack the root of inequality. Slavery, exploitation, and abuse have existed throughout history, much before population and poverty were a problem, like in our world today. Slavery and exploitation are not new phenomena and human trafficking is just a new name for slavery and exploitation. An increase in population and poverty does not and cannot explain how one human can treat another human this way.

I cannot imagine a more horrifying crime than human trafficking - commodification of human beings so they can be bought and sold on the market, again and again, only to be used and abused by others.

So again I wonder, what is needed for every single person to act and fight against this horrifying crime? What would shock us into action?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Nannygate in Brooklyn! The hand that rocks the cradle is underpaid and off-the-books

From the Brooklyn Paper:

By Claire Glass

Moms and Dads in famously liberal Park Slope are guilty of Nannygate.

The political scandal from a decade ago — which famously snared plenty of pols for paying their domestic help off the books — is rearing its obviously not-so-ugly head as a new survey revealed this week that close to 90 percent of all local nannies work in a black market.

Only 14 percent of local parents pay their nannies fully on the books, according to the survey of 806 families compiled by the Park Slope Parents Web site.

The hand that rocks this cradle is working illegally.

And it’s no surprise — or even a cause for concern — among the mostly women who are doing the dirty work.

“Out of the seven families I’ve worked for, only one ever discussed taxes with me,” said Deborah Manwaring, a nanny for 21 years. “Parents are so worried about the cost.”

And taxes aren’t the only disturbing element of Park Slope nanny culture, according to the survey. The International Nanny Association’s most recent study says that nannies in New York City make an average of $777 a week. In Park Slope, the average is $548 weekly — and 86 percent aren’t getting benefits, the survey showed.

The earth-shattering survey also revealed that:
  • the bad economy has taken its toll on nannies. Salaries are down from last year and fewer nannies have gotten a raise. Last year 55 percent got a raise, this year just 33 percent did.
  • only three percent on nannies receive even partial health-care coverage.
  • only 33 percent of nannies have written contracts with their employers.
  • the difference in salary between nannies who are on the books and those who are paid off the books ranges from 16 cents to $2.18.
But by far, the most-shocking finding is that so many Park Slope parents are pulling the Zoe Baird and choosing to keep their nannies as undocumented workers.

Read the full article

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Demi Moore Wins Pepsi Refresh Grant to Support Anti-Human Trafficking Organization

According to a recent press release, New York-based human trafficking organization, Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), will be the recipient of a $250,000 grant, thanks to Demi Moore. Demi Moore beat Kevin Bacon in the Pepsi Refresh Celebrity Challenge using her social media network to gather votes. The money will be donated to GEMS to aid her cause, fighting human trafficking.

According to the release, GEMS is "the nation's largest non-profit organization designed to empower American girls and young women, ages 12-21 who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking."

Stated Demi, "The Pepsi Refresh Grant will allow GEMS to train 10 former victims as outreach workers and employ them to go back to their community and refresh the lives of thousands of victimized girls. I believe the work that GEMS is doing is nothing short of heroic!"

The Pepsi Refresh Project will award over $20 million in 2010 in grants for community projects. Individuals with project ideas can apply at http://www.refresheverything.com/ to have their project proposals voted on by the public.

Photo credit: prnewswire.com

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Amnesty Offered to Illegal Workers Under Bahrain's New "Easy Exit Strategy" Campaign in Response to its Growing Expatriate Population

Following the release of new labor data on Bahrain's rising expatriate population and startling unemployment figures, the Kingdom's Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) in cooperation with the General Directorate for Nationality, Passport and Residence, and several local embassies and government ministries has offered amnesty to illegal workers in Bahrain who have overstayed their work visas or failed to apply for extensions. Under this campaign, workers will not face prosecution as a result of their illegal status in the Kingdom but will be required to pay a fine that will be determined by the LMRA and immigration authorities and will reflect the length of time they have overstayed. Any worker involved in pending court cases will not be eligible for deportation under this temporary campaign.

Illegal workers are being encouraged to approach their embassies for assistance in returning home and are reminded of the benefits presented by this temporary immunity from legal prosecution and fast-tracked paperwork processing for their deportation. Local embassies are also being encouraged to forward lists with specific names of illegal workers to help the Bahraini Government facilitate the campaign. In an article from the TradeArabia News Service, quoted officials from the Indian, Pakistani, and Filipino Embassies underscored the positives associated with this initiative, noting that illegal workers should make best use of this chance to leave Bahrain without being arrested. Embassy involvement in this campaign may encourage more workers to step forward, since many are reluctant to deal with local Bahraini authorities alone for fear of being arrested by immigration when attempting to return to their countries of origin.

No reliable figures are currently available on the population of Bahrain's illegal workers; however, the TradeArabia News Service cites figures released in early February 2010 by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions documenting around 46,000 runaways - approximately 10% of the entire workforce.

This "Easy Exit Strategy" to rid Bahrain of illegal workers immediately follows the release of official figures by the LMRA last week stating that for the first time in its history, Bahrain's expat population outnumbers national citizens at a 51.4% majority, and official economic data indicating that employment opportunities for Bahrainis are declining, attributed partly to its endless supply of cheap labor outsourced from abroad.

Two key questions must be raised in response to this campaign. First: Does this new strategy allow the voluntary deportation of illegal workers who remain indebted to an employer under previous contracts? If workers are forced to remain in Bahrain until their debts have been repaid, they become victims of trafficking when held against their will with no flexibility to escape their debt or to find other means of legal employment to pay back the debt, risking arrest when they attempt to secure another job without a legal work visa. Second: What happens if illegal workers are unable to pay their determined "exit fine" if they utilize this "easy exit strategy?" This is an important point that needs to be considered given the minimal incomes that most migrant workers earn while living in Bahrain legally; incomes for illegal workers are certain to be less given the precarious nature of their status and the leverage employers have (and use) to threaten workers by revealing their status and encouraging their deportation.

But for those who refuse these carrots, alternative sticks are waiting. A recent article from Dubai-based Maktoob Business provides information on the alternative approach that is being employed by the Ministry of Labor to facilitate the deportation of illegal workers who choose to stay in Bahrain. The Ministry of Labor has publicly stated that it plans to deport 20,000 illegal workers through new initiatives that will drive vendors off the streets and detain workers that do not hold appropriate work visas or residency permits.

According to a senior member of Bahrain's Ministry of Labor,
"Tackling illegal workers in Bahrain is a national duty to protect the country's national economy and security. There are many negative repercussions from the presence of massive numbers of illegal foreigners on all aspects and we therefore need to eradicate this dangerous phenomenon through joint action with all ministries."

Nearly 60,000 workers were voluntarily deported or became legalized in an earlier five-month campaign organized by the Bahraini Government which ran until January 31 of 2008, coincidentally in the immediate wake of Bahrain's Anti-Trafficking Law; second in the region behind the United Arab Emirates.

Now that incentives have been presented to illegal workers under a newly announced period of amnesty, workers who refuse to turn themselves in voluntarily will face an unforgiving and radical alternative.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Haiti Frees Ninth Accused Missionary Kidnapper: Organizer Still Held

From the Huffington Post:

By Todd Dvorak

BOISE, Idaho — One of two Baptist missionaries still held on kidnapping charges in Haiti has arrived in the U.S. after being released after more than a month in custody.

The father of 24-year-old Charisa Coulter says she went straight to a hotel after flying into Miami late Monday, hours after she was taken from her jail cell to the Haiti airport by U.S. Embassy staff.

Mel Coulter told The Associated Press he did not know when his daughter would return to Idaho.

Charisa Coulter and nine other Americans were arrested for trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the earthquake. Only the leader of the Idaho-based missionary group, Laura Silsby, remains in custody. Mel Coulter says Silsby's situation makes his daughter's release bittersweet.

Read the full article

Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's Day

Today marks International Women's Day. According to the International Women's Day website, "International Women's Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. . . Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements." This year, the UN's theme for International Women's Day is Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All. International Women's Day is an opportunity to reflect on the ways that gender inequalities and gender-based violence facilitate human trafficking.

Though it is impossible, due to the covert nature of trafficking, to obtain exact statistics on victims, FAIR Fund estimates that 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. In her book, The Road of Lost Innocence, Somaly Mam, a survivor of child sex trafficking in Cambodia, points out that the devaluation and dehumanization of women and girls has created a climate of gender-based violence that allows trafficking to continue and creates situations where women are extremely vulnerable to abuse. Cambodia is not unique in this respect by any means.

Martina Vandenberg
, a lawyer who represents trafficking victims and survivors, argues that efforts to prevent human trafficking must include efforts to end gender-based discrimination that makes women vulnerable. Such efforts must also include addressing forms of gender-based violence and exploitation, such as domestic violence, since whenever someone is trapped in a situation of abuse they are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

In his book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, Siddharth Kara identifies gender discrimination - along with ethnic and racial discrimination - as one of the main factors that drives the supply of trafficking victims globally (201). He points out that when women lack rights, economic opportunities, educational opportunities, and when violence against women goes unpunished and implicitly sanctioned, women are easy targets for traffickers and are likely to be re-trafficked if they do manage to leave a trafficking situation (129-33).

Women and girls are certainly not the only victims of trafficking, and gender violence and inequalities are not the only factors that shape modern slavery. Nevertheless, efforts to end slavery and prevent trafficking must include efforts to promote women's rights and end gender-based violence. Today as we celebrate women's achievements and progress that has been made towards equality, let us also remember how far we have to go and how much is at stake.

Friday, March 05, 2010

New HTP Contributor: Tyler Logan

Please welcome Tyler Logan, the newest member of the HTP Team! Look out for his articles covering trafficking in the Persian Gulf. Here is a bit about Tyler in his own words:

I am a recent graduate of the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and am currently undertaking research through a Fulbright Grant on migrant labor and human trafficking issues in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Although I am permanently stationed in Bahrain, I have widened the scope of my research to the greater Persian Gulf since many of the issues seen in Bahrain’s labor market are pervasive and shared by a number of its neighbors. I began posting on a personal research blog and recently came across the Human Trafficking Project. I am excited to share my findings and thoughts on the subject as I prepare a comprehensive analysis following my eight months of research in the island kingdom.

I first learned about human trafficking issues during a summer internship I completed with the Department of State at the American Embassy in Muscat, Oman. Tasked with collecting data to provide updates to the Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, I was given pertinent insight into the labor climates of the Persian Gulf and was directly introduced to the environments that sustain them while living abroad. A political scientist by trade, I find it fascinating to view human trafficking in a context that extends beyond economics, social development or anthropology. Instead my interests in the Persian Gulf stem from the region’s emerging political systems that host rapidly developing economies alongside substantial natural resource wealth, and national populations that are simply unable to accommodate such growth without the assistance of outsourced labor. These current political structures that champion distinguished financial and personal privileges for national citizens and offer limited freedoms and services to expatriates perpetuate a system of migrant labor and often can produce victims of trafficking. I hope that my research will present a clear understanding of these issues and provide new insight into foreseeing risks for trafficking and suggest new ways to approach the topic in this region.

After my research is complete, I will be returning to the United States and enrolling in Georgetown University’s Masters of Arab Studies Program in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

EVENT: Freedom Gala 2010 for trafficking victims

RestoreNYC is hosting Freedom Gala 2010 on Thursday, March 18, 2010. The event will be held in the Orensanz building located on 172 Norfolk Street, New York, NY 10002-1602.

The program for the evening will include musical performance by a motivated abolitionist and a lead singer of Ten Shekel Shirt, Lamont Hiebert and NYC’s all time favorite start, Tom Hayes. Faith Huckel, the Executive Director of RestoreNYC will also read a survivor’s testimony followed by her speech. In addition, light dinner, wine, and beer will be served as silent auction is conducted in the evening.

RestoreNYC aims to rehabilitate victims’ lives after rescue. As RestoreNYC believes in a holistic approach and long term aftercare service for the victims, the profits from Freedom Gala event 2010 will be used to build safe housing for the victims.

Safe housing for sex trafficking victims means more than a roof over their heads. Ideally, victims should be freed from the life styles in the sex industry and the control from the pimps after the rescue. But, the reality is quite the contrary. Even after the rescue, victims suffer long-term physical and psychological traumas caused by their previous experience as sex slaves. Therefore, Restore understands that safe housing is a necessary component of aftercare services for them. Without a complete recovery from the trauma, the victims often fall back to the sex industry because the lifestyle, at minimum, seems familiar enough to them to meet their needs.

Though the JFK Airport is determined as a major entry point of human trafficking victims by the State department, the New York city currently has no safe housing for international trafficking victims. This shows the vitality of your support for building safe housing for the victims in the city. So, if you are in NYC, come out on the 18th of March and support sex trafficking victims in New York city. Tickets can be purchased on Freedom Gala 2010 website for $75.00.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Apple admits using child labor

From the Telegraph:

By Malcolm Moore

At least eleven 15-year-old children were discovered to be working last year in three factories which supply Apple.

The company did not name the offending factories, or say where they were based, but the majority of its goods are assembled in China.

Apple also has factories working for it in Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, the Czech Republic and the United States.

Apple said the child workers are now no longer being used, or are no longer underage. "In each of the three facilities, we required a review of all employment records for the year as well as a complete analysis of the hiring process to clarify how underage people had been able to gain employment," Apple said, in an annual report on its suppliers.

Apple has been repeatedly criticised for using factories that abuse workers and where conditions are poor. Last week, it emerged that 62 workers at a factory that manufactures products for Apple and Nokia had been poisoned by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause muscular degeneration and blur eyesight. Apple has not commented on the problems at the plant, which is run by Wintek, in the Chinese city of Suzhou.

A spokesman for Wintek said that "almost all" of the affected workers were back at work, but that some remained in hospital. Wintek said n-hexane was commonly used in the technology industry, and that problems had arisen because some areas of the factory were not ventilated properly.

Last year, an employee at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that is one of Apple's biggest suppliers, committed suicide after being accused of stealing a prototype for the iPhone.

Read the full article

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ex-NBA All-Star accused of sex trafficking

From the AP:

SAN ANTONIO - Former NBA All-Star Alvin Robertson has been charged with sexual assault of a child, trafficking an underage child for purposes of sex and forcing a sexual performance by a child.

The charges were contained in an arrest warrant Friday. Robertson has not been apprehended. Authorities claim the 47-year-old former Spurs star was part of a ring that kidnapped a 14-year-old girl from San Antonio, forced her to have sex with clients and to dance at a Corpus Christi strip club last year.

The girl escaped her alleged captors, prompting an investigation. Seven people have been charged, including Robertson’s girlfriend, and he’s the only one who has not been arrested.

The seventh overall pick in the 1984 draft, Robertson averaged 14 points over 10 seasons and was voted to four All-Star games.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Business of Human Trafficking

Picture by Kay Chernush for the U.S State Department

Introduction: While law enforcement, government, and non-governmental organizations may be more obvious actors in the movement to end slavery, businesses and corporations have a vital role that is often overlooked. Slavery and labor exploitation flourish because we tolerate them and even benefit from them in the form of artificially cheap products. Corporations thus are in a unique position; some, due to their egregious actions or negligence promote slavery; others, due to their commitment to social responsibility, human rights, and fair-labor practices are actively combating slavery.

Jennifer K.: Though the chocolate industry has garnered a great deal of attention for the use of child labor and forced labor, it's far from the only tainted food. The Solidarity Center released a report in 2008 detailing the True Cost of Shrimp and the ways that workers are exploited to keep prices low. In the Department of Labor's report on goods made with forced labor and/or child labor, the shrimp industry was indicted for the use of both. Ambassador Mark Lagon, former Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, described the conditions endured by a slave laborer in the shrimp industry in Southeast Asia, "Aye Aye tried to escape this labor camp, but she was caught, dragged back, beaten, tied to a stake in the middle of the common yard, refused food and water, and had her head shaved. All this to demonstrate to her colleagues what would happen to those who tried to escape." Thailand's shrimp industry is particularly horrifying, utilizing children and teenagers, keeping workers locked to avoid escape, and using threats and violence. Moreover, "Thailand is the world’s largest seafood exporter and the United States is its largest buyer. One third of America’s shrimp is imported from Thailand."

Youngbee: Wal-Mart's notoriety with labor exploitation and child labor is widely known. Even an average Joe who isn't familiar with human trafficking remembers the news report on its child exploitation with the Mary-Kate clothing line. The company was caught multiple times for child labor violation since the early 2000. In year 2000, The New York Times reported on an internal Wal-Mart audit "pointed to extensive violation of child labor regulations." The children missed 60,767 breaks and 15,705 meal times. In 2005, the company once again was caught in violation of child labor regulations in Connecticut, where the labor department found 11 violations in three Wal-Mart stores. The good news is that Wal-Mart seems to respond to the bad publicity. In 2008, it told the suppliers to stop buying cottons from Uzbekistan, where children are exploited. But, this does not mean that it no longer relies on child labor and other forms of exploitation. It just means that at least, it began to recognize the gravity of the problem.

Shreya Exploitation and forced labor are widespread problems in today's society. In November 2009, International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) released their 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame report, which apparel and textile companies that employ inhumane and exploitative labor practices in the name of providing cheap consumer goods. Many of these companies force laborers to work in dangerous conditions and pay them below poverty to poverty wages. If the workers attempted to protest or organize, some of the companies have used illegal practices, such has threatening and beating the workers, to prevent them from voicing their concerns. The official 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame inductees are:
  1. Abercrombie and Fitch
  2. Gymboree
  3. Hanes
  4. Ikea
  5. Kohl’s
  6. LL Bean
  7. Pier 1 Imports
  8. Propper International
  9. Walmart.
Many of these companies project a different image and seem to have inconsistent policies. For example, a recent article talked about how Ikea is working with Unicef to help fight child labor. However, according to the report, Ikea has been purchasing linen from a factory where four workers died as a result of unsafe working conditions. We are part of this problem and we can be part of the solution. There are many ways to support non-sweatshop products in the apparel industry. For more information on buying clothing made under ethical and just conditions, visit www.Sweatfree.org/shoppingguide.

Meg: Nike is a good example of how consumer pressure can be used to improve the labor practices of businesses. Many of us can remember the negative publicity and boycotting of Nike during the nineties, when it came under fire for slave labor conditions in its factories. In response to the negative exposure, Nike admitted to its mistakes, specifically with regards to children, and started taking steps to improve conditions. Although opinions seem to vary about whether Nike has sufficiently improved conditions in its factories, it is clear that public opinion is important to the company and has had an effect on its actions. However, these days it seems that so many large companies have been linked to slave labor that it has become almost commonplace. If we avoid becoming desensitized, I think we can do a lot of good in influencing labor practices just by using our power as consumers to discourage businesses with poor labor practices, and encourage businesses that are taking positive steps. For a great first step, check out change.org's weekly Red Light Special.