July 29, 2018

Root Causes of Human Trafficking and Slavery in Parts of the Mercy World

This year the MIA-Global Action group ‘Opposing Human Trafficking’ is exploring ways to expand their mandate, to encompass issues related to the ‘Displacement of Peoples’. During a recent conference call meeting, participants agreed to share the root causes underpinning human trafficking in their countries. In this compilation, reflecting some of the responses received, it is possible to identify similarities and differences in the causes that facilitate human trafficking. A follow up article will reflect the connections between systemic injustices, giving rise to the root causes of the Displacement of Persons.

Participants responded to the following question: 
What are the root causes of human trafficking and slavery in your country e.g. poverty, inequality, legal, social and economic issues?

Colleen Wilkinson rsm the Coordinator of Mercy House in Pretoria, South Africa (SA), responded to the question from her experience of accompanying rescued women participating in the Mercy House programme. They travel from Thailand, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe to South Africa seeking a better life or to escape poverty, as they are desperate to find employment. Those trafficked within the country also move in the hope of finding work but frequently are offered a ‘false job’. This makes them vulnerable to being abducted, or to being trapped in brutal situations because of their addiction to drugs.

The Sangomas (traditional healers) use body parts for their “cures” that necessitates acquiring human organs for their “medicine”. They buy these body parts from traffickers. A recent development in South Africa is that more women are being trafficked for pornography,. This and sexual exploitation of victims is very lucrative for the traffickers, because victims can be re-sold. Colleen believes the critical ‘root cause’ of human trafficking is ‘demand’.

Margie Taylor rsm, Newfoundland, Canada is part of an extensive network working to prevent human trafficking and accompanying victims and survivors. She cites poverty as a significant root cause, also lack of education, low minimum wages, single parent families, and the high cost of living. The closure of a lucrative fishery in Newfoundland left many workers and therefore their families with no stable income. Similar to other countries poverty has led some women to get involved in ‘survival sex’ to pay rent, buy groceries and have sufficient money to care for their children.

High salaries were part of the boom years but the subsequent economic downturn left many families struggling with unemployment and debt. A lack of psychiatric services for those dealing with addictions or mental health issues compounded social problems. This was particularly true for women, youth, also indigenous people and migrant workers living away from their communities, rendering them more vulnerable to being trafficked. Newer root causes Margie cited are social media, sex-ting, cyber bullying and ‘couch surfing’.

Carole McDonald rsm, the Victorian Representative for ACRATH Australia, highlighted the lack of programming to assist people in poverty, as a significant root cause of being exploited. Government recruitment of migrant workers from the Pacific Islands and Asian countries for construction work, farming, mining and fishing for low salaries sometimes not paid, underpins labour exploitation. Overseas students who need to work to pay for basic needs are sometimes lured towards ‘false jobs’ making them vulnerable to being trafficked for labour or sexual purposes. Also vulnerable are low income workers, pensioners, female victims of domestic violence and those caught up in addiction.

Other root causes especially for the young are associated with social media. The sexualisation of advertising, texting of graphic photos, easy access to pornography and cyber bullying often leads young people into isolation. They can also be lured or pressured into getting involved in activities that makes them vulnerable to blackmail. And few job opportunities for people with limited education, increases their vulnerability.

Jeanne Christensen rsm, Justice Advocate - Human Trafficking, Sisters of Mercy, West Midwest Community USA, believes that persons who are vulnerable are more likely to be exploited. This can occur via the widespread use of social media, where anonymity or duplicity often embroils innocent or vulnerable persons. Additionally the speed of interaction when using smart phones and related devices means decisions may be made too quickly. Escalated conversations over a short period of time, can falsely suggest a close intimacy between relative strangers. Predators use this false friendship base, to encourage the other person into sending messages with sexual content or graphic photos, thus making her/him vulnerable to being blackmailed.

Jeanne believes dangerous apps and websites on some social media platforms are too easily accessible, leading to secret meetings with someone only met online. Particularly vulnerable are runaway youth, those (including children) living in poverty, LGBTQ persons, legal or undocumented immigrants and refugees. Other root causes that render people vulnerable is a lack of education and/or job opportunities; unstable home life; history of sexual or physical abuse, including women who are prostituted; and escape from various forms of violence, especially gun violence. All of this feeds into the greed of predators because they benefit financially from the exploitation of others.

Rose Macharia rsm, a member of the Kenyan Province Leadership Team shares that young people travel to the Middle East for work, but often end up being exploited. Child trafficking within Kenya is common among vulnerable children, who are enticed by adults linked with cartels into different activities, one example being sex-tourism. Some children are abducted for a variety of illegal reasons i.e. adoption, early marriages or drug trafficking. Other issues contributing to human trafficking are poverty, unemployment among the youth, orphaned Children and those with disabilities, inequality, plus social and economic issues. Additionally some youth are recruited by cross border radical groups like AlShabaab. This is an extremist jihadist group working within Somalia and Kenya, who use young people as suicide bombers and armed soldiers. Read Rose’s full report here

Angela Reed rsm, Coordinator of the MIA-Global Action programme at the UN in NY believes the issues of demand and supply must both be addressed. Human trafficking for her is not a random act of victimization; rather it is a systematic process of cumulative marginalization, which leads to victimization. This is exemplified in the stories of trafficking survivors who draw attention to the human rights violations and systematic oppression they endured throughout their life journeys. If an adequate standard of living, quality education, safety and gender equality were in place for girls and young women, their vulnerability to trafficking would be reduced significantly. Because they were not, they served as root causes in rendering them vulnerable to being trafficked.

Angela in her advocacy work focuses on prevention. Utilizing a concept she developed called Optimal Life Course Conditions (OCCC) for girls, adolescents and young women, these conditions if in place, could curtail the trafficking of girls and young women. There are 14 OLCCs, clustered in three stages. In childhood, they include adequate standard of living, quality education, safety and security. In adolescence, they include psychosexual health and development and long-term life skills. In young adulthood, they include decent work and economic empowerment, community cohesion and personal security. Facilitating these conditions will minimise vulnerability. 

Conclusion: Human trafficking is a global phenomenon, necessitating a response from across the world. As Angela notes the belief that if we catch the traffickers and punish them, trafficking will somehow end is only part of the problem. So too is greed and power. In terms of supply this must be stopped, aided by ensuring girls, young women and youth are less vulnerable to exploitation. 

See the interview Sr. Angela did for National Catholic Reporter on this issue.

Messages to: Denise Boyle fmdm - Team Leader Mercy Global Action

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