Human Trafficking: Understand it to End it!
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(08 June 2022) — While the human trafficking scourge is an abhorrent and widespread criminal activity in every country, operating as major domestic and transnational criminal enterprises, human trafficking seldom receives media attention except when law enforcement shuts down an operation and make multiple arrests. Generally, law enforcement actions of this nature are transnational in nature and result from cooperation and collaboration across several law enforcement agencies in different countries. Law enforcement response confirms the transnational nature of the crime and the large sums of money involved.
Human trafficking is a transnational crime which makes lots of money for traffickers and affects tens of millions of people. The estimates of annual earnings of human traffickers from this egregious crime are more than $150 billion annually. It is estimated that human trafficking, also referred to as modern day slavery, affects over 40 million people, and takes many forms.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” According to the UNODC, “traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.” Noting that the act of human trafficking takes place in every region of the world, the UNODC offers a synopsis of the nature of the crime as, “Physical and sexual abuse, blackmail, emotional manipulation, and the removal of official documents are used by traffickers to control their victims.” And that “exploitation can take place in a victim’s home country, during migration, or in a foreign country.”
The UNODC points to many forms of human trafficking, including exploitation for sex, entertainment and hospitality industries, and as domestic workers or in forced marriages. Also, victims are exploited in the labor force wherein large numbers are forced to work in factories, on construction sites or in the agricultural sector with low wages, while living in fear of violence oftentimes in inhumane conditions. Some victims of human trafficking are forced to provide organs – organ harvesting – that are trafficked for large sums of money. As with other transnational crimes, money laundering is a corollary to human trafficking.
Responding to the human trafficking scourge, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons adopted in 2000, defined the act as an international crime. The Protocol strengthened global response to human trafficking by providing an international definition of human trafficking which made identification of the crime and cross-border investigations a collaborative exercise. Universal application of the Protocol allows cooperation and collaboration between national jurisdictions to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking. Ratification of the Protocol mandates criminalization of the defined acts constituting human trafficking. All 14 CARICOM member states, plus Cuba and the Dominican Republic are among the 178 countries that are Parties to the Protocol giving the entire Caribbean region legal coverage of anti-human trafficking laws in national criminal codes. There are 193 member states in the United Nations.
Human trafficking is everywhere and could be taking place next door to you, in your neighborhood. Unless you are familiar with the signs and characteristics of human trafficking you are unlikely to recognize it. Knowing it is the first step to stopping it! You must understand it to end it, or at least lend support to those facing these challenges on a daily basis. Have you asked yourself what exactly do you know, or need to know, about human trafficking? Do you know who the victims are, or likely to be, and who are the traffickers? It is incumbent on each of us to become familiar with the crime if we are to contribute to ending it.
I have written several articles in the past in The Ward Post about human trafficking, and I had the opportunity to sit down recently with a former victim of human trafficking, someone who has been liberated from what we refer to as modern human slavery, someone who has put behind her the worse conditions and experiences of sex exploitation and physical abuse imaginable to become a leading anti-human trafficking advocate. My recent conversation with Shamere McKenzie on my podcast, Real Talk with Ambassador Curtis Ward, was elucidating and offered hope that despite the many challenges and the widespread nature of the scourge, working together we can prevent human trafficking wherever we are.
In June of each year, the U.S. State Department issues the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report ranking the anti-human trafficking activities of countries around the world. The TIP Report has significant implications for many countries. Many countries which rely on U.S. government foreign assistance experience the jitters in anticipation of the ranking they will receive. A poor ranking has consequences. Some countries could lose U.S. economic assistance if rated as non-compliant or determined not to have made good faith efforts to end human trafficking in their jurisdictions.
Some countries, however, despite good faith efforts, lack adequate expertise to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes. They lack the requisite operational capacity and trained personnel resources in their law enforcement and justice systems. But not having the expertise is not an excuse. Countries lacking capacity are expected to proactively seek assistance from bilateral partners, such as the U.S., and multilateral agencies which are willing to assist. The United Nations offers technical assistance through the UNODC. There is really no excuse. Try they must and succeed they must. Failure is not an option. Ending human trafficking saves countless lives. The lives of people – women, girls, and young men – are on the line. It’s a moral imperative.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post