When Girls Go Missing – Is it Trafficking?
Ambassador Curtis Ward
There was a time when a young girl or boy failed to return home on schedule an alarm would be raised that the child is a runaway. There are other reasons. While runaways are often due to social and/or economic conditions, or abuse at home we know now recognize human trafficking as a reason. This is in no way intended to overlook or under-emphasize other crimes against girls, including child abuse, abduction, rape, or murder.
The scourge of human trafficking plagues all countries and has become one of the greatest challenges facing society.One would never know this from mainstream media which is more often preoccupied with other issues of far lesser impact on human lives and human security. My recent article highlighted the nature and extent of human trafficking hence there is no need to repeat them here. (See, Human Trafficking a Threat to Caribbean Human Security). The focus of this article is to create further awareness and to promote some proven solutions aimed at prevention and punishment.
We are now more aware of human trafficking than at any other time, due in part to global ranking of countries on the actions they take, or fail to take, in order to prevent human trafficking – public awareness and enactment of laws and successful prosecutions. These rankings seem to receive attention when they are reported and are soon forgotten until the next annual report. In every country, there needs to be a mechanism to keep this issue in the forefront of public consciousness and among the priorities of governments.
Holding governments and society accountable at all times for the protection of our women and children is an imperative. The more aware our society becomes of this grossly inhumane activity is the better equipped we will become in our efforts to prevent human trafficking from occurring. Human trafficking is now on the UN Security Council agenda. It should be on all countries’ agenda.
Recent reports about missing girls in the U.S. capital of Washington DC have gone almost unnoticed. There has been very little mainstream media attention thus resulting in concerned citizens turning to social media to prod public officials and law enforcement to respond in a more coherent and urgent manner. There is no credible evidence at this time to support the conclusion that human trafficking is responsible for some of these disappearances. The same would apply in most countries.
The atrocities associated with human trafficking are well known. The likely victims are predominantly women and girls, but boys are also trafficked. Sexual exploitation and human slavery are predominant end games of traffickers but human organs extraction is also known to take place. The financial gains to criminals are enormous – $150 billion annually which far exceeds the GDP of most countries in the world, and several times the combined GDP of the countries of the Caribbean and Central America.
Political will, a well-informed civil society, appropriate laws (relevant and specific to the crime), crime specific trained and focused (targeted and committed) law enforcement capacity, and a prosecutorial and judicial system which results in punishment which matches the heinous nature of the crime are needed in all societies, the Caribbean included.
Many Caribbean countries with limited and under-resourced law enforcement and prosecutorial capacities have struggled traditionally to deal with more common criminal activities and uncontrolled murder rates, thus paying scant attention to human trafficking. There are a few encouraging signs however, in recent months, in particular of reports of arrests of individuals engaged in human trafficking. It should be noted, the low arrests and conviction rates of perpetrators of this crime is not a reflection of the prevalence of the crime or absence of human trafficking in these countries. Rather, it is a reflection of the lack of capacity across the entire society and of law enforcement to recognize the crime.
Before being able to solve a problem one must first recognize there is a problem. Only then can solutions be found. It is equally important that the problem is discernible and can be identified. Public awareness of the key identifiers of human trafficking is a good place to start. Most trafficking takes place across national borders and Caribbean countries may be serving, unwittingly, as transit if not destination countries. Airline workers at the check-in counters and in-flight attendants are well positioned to detect human trafficking if they are properly trained to do so. The training of individuals with daily contact with the traveling public to spot human trafficking is important and a good place to start; so are public awareness programs on the nature and indicators of the crime.
There is a plan in place to do some anti-human trafficking training in Jamaica by Airline Ambassadors International, Inc., (AAI), an international NGO recognized by ECOSOC (the United Nations Economic and Social Council). AAI is a major trainer of airline workers around the world on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking. AAI has trained over 5,000 individuals in over 52 training sessions. I am pleased to be associated with AAI and involved with this initiative to bring its training program of airline and cruise ship workers to Jamaica. Similar initiatives for anti-human trafficking training programs may be possible in collaboration with interested Caribbean countries in the future.
Training of individuals to recognize, report on, and thereby help to prevent human trafficking is only one of several initiatives required to prevent human trafficking. However, it is one of several critical elements in preventing human trafficking. Each country must also deal with the social and economic factors in the households which cause young girls to fall prey to inducement by nefarious actors in the human trafficking business. Civil society must join with governments to ensure these girls exist in a safe and nurturing environment. Public awareness is the responsibility of all of society, including the schools and churches, two institutions which have significant footprints in Caribbean societies.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward