Who Dares to Challenge a 32 Billion Dollars Business – Human Trafficking?

Human Wrongs Watch

By Baher Kamal*

After weapons and drugs, human trafficking is the third most lucrative criminal business in the world – a 32-billion dollars global industry, which is estimated to be exploiting over 2.4 million people, two-thirds of them are women and children. Who dares to challenge such a huge business?

Thailand: Like slaves on an auction block waiting to be selected. Author: Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department** | Wikimedia Commons

Photojournalist Mimi Chakarova, who grew up in Bulgaria, dared trying it more than a couple of years ago. She undertook a personal investigative journey, exposing the shadowy world of sex trafficking from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Western Europe.

Filming undercover and gaining extraordinary access, Chakarova illuminates how even though some women escape to tell their stories, sex trafficking thrives.

Her shivery The Price of Sexis a feature-length documentary about young Eastern European women who’ve been drawn into a netherworld of sex trafficking and abuse. Intimate, harrowing and revealing, it is a story told by the young women who were supposed to be silenced by shame, fear and violence.


The 32 billion US dollars’ figure is just a conservative estimate. Other sources believe that the real human trafficking business ranges most likely between two and three times as much as this figure, nearly a trillion million dollars.

Regardless of mathematic calculations, the very fact is that there are indeed millions of human beings who have fallen prey to human trafficking, a euphemism for slavery.

And the outrageous fact is that the demand for slaves is rapidly increasing as the global economic and financial crisis generates more poverty, unemployment and hunger among the poorest of the poor who are in desperate need to survive at any cost.

In fact, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there are “at least 12.3 million adults and children in forced labour, bonded labour, and commercial sexual servitude… at any given time.”

Of these victims, the UN body estimates, at least 1.39 million are victims of commercial sexual servitude, both transnational and within countries. 56 percent of all forced labour victims are women and girls.

But slavery is claiming an increasing number of men as well. In fact, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) informed that a large percentage of trafficked people are male and the number is increasing.

Human Smuggling

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, over one million persons are smuggled across international borders. “The common denominator of trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for profit. Traffickers can subject victims to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, or both”, says the report.

This is exactly what traffickers do.

The report says that trafficking for labour exploitation, which claims the greatest number of victims, includes traditional chattel slavery, forced labour, and debt bondage; trafficking for sexual exploitation includes abuse within the commercial sex industry, mainly.

No One Doing Enough

The report identified as “severe” forms of human trafficking:

a) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion; b) the recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud, c) coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

“The impacts of human trafficking are devastating,” the U.S. report says. “Victims may suffer physical and emotional abuse, rape, threats against self and family, and even death. But the devastation also extends beyond individual victims; human trafficking undermines the health, safety, and security of all nations it touches.”

Nevertheless, more than 170 countries “are not doing enough to tackle the problem”.

Export & Import: Women and Girls

Trafficking for sexual exploitation typically includes abuse within the commercial sex industry, says the report. Otherwise it includes exploiting victims in private homes, demanding from them both sex and work.

ILO estimated that women and girls total around 1.4 million victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The economic and financial global crisis has meanwhile affected severely East European countries, who became a major “exporter” of slaves, feeding the human trafficking business with both women and men for labour exploitation, and girls, women and children for sexual slavery.

The “importers” of sex slaves, it has been reported, are some oil-rich Arab emirates. They are becoming a major destination of women and girls sexual trafficking. The U.S. State Department estimated that over 10,000 women and girls are now forced into sex in Dubai only.

Massive Sexual Violence Corp.

Meanwhile, another form of girls and women sexual slavery has been taking place in a number of countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo being the most clamourous case.

Humanitarian organisations reported that more than 300,000 women have been violently raped by regular governmental troops, but mostly by armed groups apparently funded by giant foreign corporations.

Anyway, such huge corporations are making substantially profitable business by extracting precious minerals, like cobalt, from Congolese mines. And these armed groups, have been apparently used to terrify local population and keep control on the mining areas, would be among those who practice the child-soldiers form of slavery.

Child Sex Tourism

But human trafficking covers numerous, abominable forms of child slavery; recruiting child soldiers is just one of them.

According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, there are tens of thousands of children exploited in conflict. “Child soldiers exist in all regions of the world.”

The United Nations estimated that some 57 armed groups and forces were using children in 2007, up from 40 in 2006.

Two Million Children Subjected to Prostitution

And UN children fund UNICEF calculated that as many as two million children are subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade.

Child sex tourism is another form of “demand” for victims of child sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department.

“It involves people who travel from their own country — often a country where child sexual exploitation is illegal or culturally abhorrent — to another country where they engage in commercial sex acts with children.”

Child sex tourism, the report said, is a “shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of violent child abuse. It often involves trafficking, as a trafficking crime likely was committed in the provision of the child for the sex tourist’s exploitation”.

Debt Slaves

Meanwhile, workers may also inherit debt in more traditional systems of bonded labour, according to the U.S. State Department report, which informs that traditional bonded labour in South Asia, for example, enslaves huge numbers of people from generation to generation.

A January 2009 report by Anti-Slavery International, a London-based NGO, concluded that this form of forced labour, traditionally more prevalent in villages, is expanding into urban areas of the region, rather than diminishing on an aggregate level, as the result of development and modernisation.

At the same time, reports from Asian countries, like India, talk about increasing cases of suicide among poor farmers due to their incapacity to re-pay their debts, a circumstance that forces their young sons and children to replace them both in work and debt loads.

The Financial Crisis

According to the U.S. State Department, rising unemployment leads to greater trafficking vulnerabilities. “Numerous international organisations have warned of the trafficking consequences of the ongoing global financial crisis.”

For its part, ILO Global Employment Trends 2011 report says that the number of unemployed stood at 205 million in 2010, essentially unchanged from the year earlier and 27.6 million higher than in 2007, with little hope for this figure to revert to pre-crisis levels in the near term.

The global unemployment rate stood at 6.2 per cent in 2010, versus 6.3 per cent in 2009, but still well above the rate of 5.6 per cent in 2007.

According to ILO, the economic crisis is causing dramatic increases in the numbers of unemployed, working poor, and those in vulnerable employment.

In its 2009 report, ILO had already predicted that “If the crisis continues, more than 200 million workers, mostly in developing economies, could be pushed into extreme poverty.” In Asia alone, the ILO predicted a worst-case scenario of 113 million unemployed in 2009. And money sent home from abroad will also drop.

Increasing Demand

The UN is of the view that the worldwide rise in this form of modern-day slavery is a result of a growing demand for cheap goods and services.

And UN officials expect the impact of the crisis to push more business underground to avoid taxes and unionised labour, and anticipate increasing use of forced, cheap, and child labour by multinational companies strapped by financial struggles.

These facts are mostly based on findings by ‘big democracies’ and world institutions funded by them to a great extent.

UN: 300,000 Dollars To Help Victims

Meanwhile, the UN announced a new fund to help rehabilitate victims of human trafficking.

Organisations in 12 countries that help victims of human trafficking seek justice, return home and otherwise recover from their ordeal were collectively awarded on OCT. 18, 2011, some 300,000 dollars in the first grant of this a new UN fund.

From Albania to United States

The 12 projects selected for the first year of the facility cover all major regions of the world and set to be rolled out in Albania, Cambodia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, France, India, Israel, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Moldova and the United States.

With projects running from 10 months up to three years, the funding assists in several areas, with the ultimate aim of empowering trafficking victims to regain their futures.

The services include legal support to allow victims to seek justice against those who enslaved them; facilities to register their identities and return home, and much needed counselling, training and support to ensure they are in a position to rebuild their lives.

It is a positive small step. The road toward defeating the big business of trafficking in human beings is still too extremely long. (2011 Human Wrongs Watch)

*Baher Kamal, Human Wrongs Watch publisher and editor, is an Egyptian-born, Spanish national, secular, anti-war journalist. This report was drafted with inputs by Babukar Kaska in Nairobi. **Photo credit: Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.

Copyright © 2011 Human Wrongs Watch

This article can be republished, sourcing and linking to: Human Wrongs Watch

14 Responses to “Who Dares to Challenge a 32 Billion Dollars Business – Human Trafficking?”

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