I want to write about why I hate human trafficking. Dear friends, I don’t profess to be the best person to share definitions and statistics, actually this last month has taught me that much of what I understood about trafficking was biased or incomplete, but as ever on this blog, I’m happy to speak up until somebody more eligible does.
For me, the trade of humans and the sexual exploitation industry went hand in hand. Whenever I referred to my specific passions for justice, I would refer to these two things simultaneously. A result was that my own awareness of trafficking began to get quite specific, my ears only perking when issues regarding prostitution were discussed. I’ve been happy to see that I am no alone in a growing uneasiness with modern day slavery (a term given to human trafficking, although disputed by a few) and notice momentum amongst other people around me too regarding the desire to see justice. Whilst women and young girls are targeted for this accelerating industry, so are men and young boys. The trafficking of humans has many outlets, the sex industry being just one of them. Another, potentially the most common demand in Kenya, is trafficking for labour. This includes domestic work, farming, fishing and construction. Classic characteristics are inhumane working hours, little to no pay and a lack of safety in the workplace. Another form of trafficking is for the gaining of organs. Often, the victims don’t survive the procedures involved. Some organs stolen are corruptly siphoned into hospitals and to specific people in need. There too are myths that albino body parts bring an assortment of healing, including the healing of AIDS, thus making albinos vulnerable to being targeted for organ trafficking. Every part of their body is valuable to a witch doctor. Whilst these are the three main groups of trafficking, there’s a collection we’ll call ‘miscellaneous.’ This includes child marriage, recruitment for carrying drugs or arms, recruitment for forced crime, recruitment for gangs, and child soldiers. Whilst I am volunteering for HAART (haartkenya.org) I have been given the opportunity to contribute an art piece that explains a certain aspect of trafficking. Liberated to be passionate about more than just freedom for women in prostitution, I have chosen to focus on men that are trafficked.
So, why to hate human trafficking? There are many factors that permit and encourage the continuation of the trade of humans, and the trafficking industry feeds and thrives from an array of components: lack of awareness, poverty and desperation. What angers me is that you don’t need all these three factors to be vulnerable to trafficking. In fact, you can have awareness of the risks of trafficking; the risks of accepting a promising international job opportunity (although trafficking is not always across borders; it can be just across the street), but if you are hungry and have no means to survive day to day, declining any offer of work is a luxury. It was brought to my attention that, for some, trafficking might actually be an improvement to their state of life. If there is a child working all day their family and have no food, a trafficking job might just provide food alongside the gruelling labour it demands. The phrase between a rock and a hard place hauntingly comes to mind. Whilst trafficking can be as black and white as somebody being kidnapped, more often there is relationship that involves a complete abuse of trust. I’ve been surprised to hear of people who were trafficked by their grandparent and by their childhood friend. Which leads me to share something new that I’ve learned: anybody can be trafficked. I naively picture this niche group, subconsciously demeaning those trafficked to surely be foolish or impulsive. In working with HAART I’ve met recovering/freed victims of trafficking and have felt surprised at the diversity of the people recruited. Some men, some women, some well educated, some fluent in English, some with degrees.
Finally, the lack of risk for traffickers (corruption, manipulation and threat all contribute to very few traffickers being reported and charged) compared to the financial gain is a pretty unbalanced scale. Trafficking can involve a network of people (although not exclusively) that each take care of small details, building relationships, the forgery of identification documents, driving transit vehicles, corrupt border officials. My fear is that in and of themselves these jobs don’t provoke a feeling of great responsibility or guilt and thus there are many people facilitating the fluid functioning of trafficking with little exposure to its devastating consequences.
By Bethan Uitterdijk, who was an intern at HAART during the month of February. Follow her blog on bethanuitterdijk.weebly.com