Abolitionism Alone Won’t End Slavery & Human Trafficking

So I saw this tweet and it set off a series of tweets about the fallacy of using the failure of police forces to enforce anti-trafficking laws to dispute the prevalence or significance of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a crime that is hard to quantify on a global & national scale b/c of the sheer lack of awareness/sensitivity.

Let’s say that City X is a known hub for human trafficking– specifically labor trafficking or the trafficking of minors into the sex trade. In a year, the police force only makes 637 arrests pertaining to trafficking.  What went wrong here? Local police forces are likely not equipped to identify and address the crime of trafficking. This can be attributed to a lack of political will, which hinders the enforcement of the anti-trafficking laws. That fact is, the number of arrests (or even the number of convictions or the severity of the punishments) does NOT correlate to the prevalence of the crime. Continue reading

Beyond Abolition: Ending Slavery in Mauritania

[Crossposted at Future Challenges Organization]

Slavery is forced labor or exploitation with little to no pay (beyond subsistence) as a result of force, fraud or manipulation. Human trafficking (often called modern-day slavery) usually involves the added elements of recruitment, transportation and receipt of trafficking victims with the intent of exploitation. Slavery does not necessarily involve the trafficking of a person, but it does involve exploitation, forced labor, exploitation, abuse and slavery-like conditions. A person is a victim of trafficking if he or she has been moved within a country or to another country as a result of force, fraud or manipulation and is exploited or made to work as a slave. It is estimated that there are over 27 million slaves today worldwide and they are exploited in many forms including: forced labor, forced begging, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and the sale of body parts.

The Mauritanian government, under President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has recently announced measures to regulate the working conditions of domestic servants and workers within the country‘s borders. However, approximately 20 percent (well over half a million) of Mauritania‘s population remains enslaved particularly in the domestic and agricultural sectors. Mauritania has failed to fully abolish slavery within its borders, in spite of repeated passages of laws abolishing the slave trade in the years 1905, 1981 and 2007. Continue reading

The Feminization of Migration and the Fight Against HIV

[crossposted at Future Challenges Organization’s blog]

Is there a direct relationship between the feminization of migration and HIV prevalence on the African continent? The answer is more complicated than it appears. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the aftershocks of regional conflict have had disproportionate impacts on African women, the assumption that HIV/AIDS and conflict/displacement are somehow related is spurious. Yes, migration in its myriad forms- primarily labor migration and forced migration- does add risk factors that contribute to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot say that it is a direct relationship. Women who migrate for work face vulnerabilities (risk factors including separation from partners, family, loss of support base) that increase their chances of being infected with HIV.

Areas where there are disruptions in the social order tend to have higher HIV rates. This includes war zones, impoverished and disenfranchised outer-city slums. There are various forms of migration: examples include forced migration due to regional conflict or land grabs or labor migration in response to high regional unemployment. It is important to note that in the last fifteen years, we have seen the feminization of migration on a global scale. A majority of refugees and internally displaced people are women and their children, and an increasing percentage of migrant laborers are women. A growing number of rural-to-urban migrantsare women in both Asia and Africa. Globally, women represent about 50 percent of the migrants.

Areas with low levels of education, high unemployment tend to have high rates of circular labor migration. In South Africa, gendered migration patterns were largely due to the several factors. First, a decline in patriarchal control, plus the end of Apartheid afforded women greater mobility. Prior to the fall of the Apartheid government, Influx Control Acts specifically granted economically-productive (Black) African men the right to migrate for work, while limiting their female counterparts‘ mobility.

In 1995, 38% of South African women ages 15-65 were actively looking for work. In 1999, that figure was 95%. This trend South African women entering the migrant labor force occured in the context of decreasing marital rates and income insecurity. Taking all of these factors into account, there is a trend of women increasingly constituting temporary, migrant labor populations. Migration is essential to economic well-being- especially for women.

In West Africa, migration patterns have been a mainstay of the regional economic bloc, dating back to the trans-Saharan trade of the 8th century. This includes North-South migration within Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria and the longer distance migration between the northern Sahelian countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) and the coastal countries to the south. Historically, migrant populations have been mostly male, but recently, women have comprised significant number.

High HIV Prevalence Among Migrant Women:

There is a circular relationship between HIV and population mobility.  Migrants face separation from their partners and families, also separation from the social mores that might govern their behavior- particularly when they face loneliness and isolation in communities that are not theirs. Additionally, migrants‘ vulnerability to exploitation is exacerbated by a loss of localized social support systems, linguistic differences and power imbalances between job seeker and employer. For migrant women, especially refugees and internally displaced persons, sexual violence is a risk factor. For all migrants, lack of access to healthcare is a major factor in heightened prevalences of HIV among migrant populations.

Labor Migration

In South Africa and Northern Tanzania, migrant women have higher prevalences of HIV than their non-migrant counterparts. This is due, in part, to the fact that the sex trade serves as a complementary work sector to local mining industries. In the mining sector, workers often live away from their spouses, living in company-owned housing. For this reason, among others, there is a demand for a localized sex industry. Within the sex trade, young girls often recruit their peers, citing opportunity and income. However, for the less-fortunate, sex trafficking is their entry into sex work. I discuss the overlap between human trafficking and HIV/AIDS in Africa in this article.

Forced Migration

A 2007 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCRreport questions the commonly-held belief that there is  direct relationship between conflict, forced migration and wartime rape and increased HIV prevalence among internally-displaced persons and refugees. The data, culled from seven countries/regions affected by conflict [Democratic Republic of the Congo, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, and Sierra Leone] revealed that there was no increase in prevalence of HIV infection during periods of conflict. However, it is important to note that the sample population was primarily refugee and IDP women and children who sought and received antenatal care.

There is no substantive evidence that refugees exacerbate the HIV epidemic in their host communities. With the exception of the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, HIV prevalence is higher in urban areas than in rural areas. Most refugees on the African continent are fleeing rural areas- which typically have lower HIV prevalence- affected by conflict. This may explain why refugees generally have a lower HIV prevalence than that of their host communities. In Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, HIV prevalence in urban areas  affected by conflict had similar rates to urban areas unaffected by conflict. In the rural areas of these countries, the prevalence of HIV infections remained relatively low and stable. Furthermore, there is no evidence that refugees exacerbate the HIV epidemic in their host communities.

One of the challenges here is to broaden the sample population beyond the minority of refugees who had access to medical care. While the regions of origin for most refugees and IDPs are rural areas are typically characterized by low HIV prevalence, we cannot assume the same for future conflicts. Unchallenged assumptions about trends in migration, pandemics and regional conflict will only endanger the most vulnerable among us.

On Aid: Why Good Intentions Are Not Enough

[Cross-Linked w/ my other blog]

Let’s take the story of a giant, engorged on wealth and privilege. This giant trods upon the earth with greater might and size than his compatriots. He has had the advantages of being able to manipulate a global system that dictates who gets what- even down to potable water, fresh food and life-saving pharmaceuticals. Somewhere in the progression of history, this giant grew to prominence- likely after a world war that left his former rivals indebted to him. He turns his attention to the nations that his rivals colonized- namely those African, Asian and South/Central American nations many of us cannot name.

The giant’s steps invariably crush the voiceless, disempowered and disenfranchised as he drafts documents outlining what a human right is and how to measurepoverty in terms of numbers and indicators. The problem is- those numbers and indicators fail to take into account the most basic of human needs- access to potable water, access to and ability to produce food, access to vital knowledge. Additionally, the assumed universal of “modernization”– a teleological progression from hunter/gatherer to subsistence farmer to an industrial/urbanized society is adopted as a model of “progress.”

So the well-intentioned giant takes it a step further. He introduces Structural Adjustment Plans that require the liberalization, privatization of state-owned enterprises, demonization of labor unions and de-regulation of the “lesser” nations’ governments and economies. He normalizes debt, reduces tariffs, disincentivizes government provision of public goods and undermines the building of taxation structures- in the name of neoliberalism. Meanwhile, multinational corporations threaten the biodiversity of African and Asian ecosystems through intellectual property rights and patents. Claiming plants with medicinal properties and seizing the land on which they grow, these corporations displace the inhabitants of the land, forcing them to move to cities that are urbanizating too quickly to develop the infrastructure that would support the burgeoning urban populations.

In the wake of the destabilizing effects of these myriad policies Continue reading

Human Trafficking (Slavery) News Roundup: November 16, 2010

The Examiner: Global Human Trafficking Roundup (November 16, 2010)


Finland: A Somali born Swedish national was sentenced 60 days in jail for attempting to smuggle foreign women. He attempted to bring young Somali women from Stockholm to Turku. While woman testified that she paid smuggling fee to the man to come to Finland and traveled without identification,  the man claimed that he met her by chance at the airport.

Romania: Increasing number of Romanian women are working as prostitutes in Finland. Romania is one of the biggest hub of human trafficking in Europe, according to the report. One advocate in Finland says that as the number of women who are in sex slavery is increasing, the average of their age is becoming younger.


Philippines: Immigration officers caught six Indian nationals who were heading to Malaysia. During the interrogation, they admitted that the human trafficking ring based in India facilitated their trip to Malaysia. The Immigration authority said that none of the Indians possessed proper documents. The Indians also will be deported immediately.

Cambodia: A journalist investigates Cambodia’s child prostitution with a British police.  When they walked into the bar and asked for younger girls, the madam brought three or four girls in the age between 12 and 13. And when they asked for children that are even younger, the madam said that she could arranged something with 6 or 7 year old off the premise. Continue reading

Race and Gender in Immigration, Political Asylum and Human Trafficking

Greek tea workers, 1905-1915 (forced migration, agricultural labor)


The intersection of gender, race and ethnicity is apparent in the plight of female immigrants and asylum seekers in the United States.  Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, not counting those trafficked domestically. It is estimated that 79% of human trafficking victims are women and children.  Women and girls do occupy a subordinate position in patriarchal societies, facing  a particular proneness to hunger, poverty, exploitation and violence.  These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by illiteracy, low education levels, localized and internecine conflicts, and limited job opportunities. The search for better employment opportunities is a major motivating factor in immigration. The fact is that most individuals exploited in informal economies, the sex trade and and other forms of human trafficking are immigrant women.  The feminine face of poverty is one explanation for the overwhelming  femininity of the exploited underclass.  These findings are considered in this report that focuses attention on this issue to encourage the development and implementation of solutions that address these risks. Continue reading

Addressing Poverty’s Role in Human Trafficking

The emphasis on the poverty’s influence on the plight of victims of human trafficking so often de-emphasizes the role of the entities that create demand for exploited labor.  It also implies, on some level, that poverty can be equated with a lack of virtue or a loss of humanity.  This is certainly not the case.  Wealth (or lack thereof) is no signifier of virtue or human worth.  This makes me consider the salience of Malthusian arguments for overpopulation predicated on the basis that the willful neglect of “redundant” and “impoverished” persons in the developing world is, in fact, beneficial for the whole.  The embedded assumption that impoverished subjects are devalued in a globalized world or in capitalist societies is (seemingly) tenacious.  At this point, it is necessary to critique the capitalistic mores that enable human beings to be commodified and judged based on their ability to consume- or the amount of effective demand they possess. Continue reading