In recent days, we have witnessed a prime example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man and the evil so prevalent today. Hidden in the darkness is a crime so shocking and vast it requires a concerted effort of the international community to resolve it.
The crime is human trafficking. The setting was San Antonio, Texas where nine people perished in the back of a stifling hot semitrailer, what law enforcement officials deemed was a clear case of smuggling people across the border for exploitation. Unfortunately, as San Antonio Police Chief William McManus pointed out, this was not an "isolated incident." All too often people from Mexico and other Latin American countries risk their lives embarking on perilous journeys seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families. Oftentimes they fall prey to human traffickers, and their treks northward end in devastating fashion.
The United Nations has recognized the global impact of human trafficking. Each year, on July 30th, the world highlights this problem through the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The International Labour Organization (U.N. agency) places the figure at approximately 21 million people who fall victim to "forced [labor]." In December 2000, 148 nations assembled in Palermo, Italy for a high-level conference regarding the new U.N. Convention against Transnational Crime. The responsible agency for overseeing this Convention is the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The Convention contains three protocols:
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.
Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their parts and Components and Ammunition.
The Palermo Protocol, as it is known, expressly addressed the crime of trafficking in persons. It has become the universally accepted norm of human trafficking. The United Nations points out that due to the way human traffickers operate compiling accurate statistics is a difficult task; thus, reporting the problem is a major challenge. However, the global body has released numbers reflecting a level of progress made because of their work.
With respect to child labor, the overall numbers have seen a decline from 246 million to 168 million since 2000. Approximately 50 percent, or 85 million, are involved in hazardous work; this number has fallen to 171 million. Child labor among girls has dipped 40 percent; for boys, the number is slightly lower at 25 percent. These are indeed numbers that are still extraordinarily high, but through the efforts of the U.N. the needle is moving in the right direction.
There is a causal connection between globalization and the increase in the demand for cheap labor. Individuals who operate with no moral compass have been able to capitalize on this demand. Under Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it expressly states: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and servitude shall be prohibited in all their forms.” International organizations (IOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimate that there are approximately 46 million people across the globe who are enslaved – close to 58,000 of them located in the U.S. The Walk Free Foundation of Australia surveyed 162 countries and their results found slaves in each one. The greatest concentration, the organization indicated, were in: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Every year the U.S. State Department releases its annual report titled Trafficking in Persons (TIP). It highlights the problem and ranks countries based on the progress they are making, or lack thereof. The most notable finding this year was the downgrading of China. This was an important outcome in the report. Why? It places China under Tier 3 on par with North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria as the world’s worst offenders regarding human trafficking. The report ranks each nation it analyzes based on the overall progress they make year-to-year. A Tier 3 ranking indicates that the country has not complied with, nor is it making any progress towards compliance, with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). By placing China on Tier 3 it subjects it to possible sanctions as well as affecting its dealings with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Further, the Asian nation can be prevented from participating in any educational or cultural exchange programs with the U.S. government.
It has never been more apparent than it is today that this problem needs greater light shed upon it. Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise. Organizations like the Polaris Project have made it their life’s work to end human trafficking. It works on the frontlines seeking to eliminate this societal plague. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking hotline and the Polaris BeFree Textline have learned of and responded to 31,000 cases in the U.S. Because of the hotlines, Polaris has identified 6,500 cases that they have been able to bring to the attention of law enforcement. In addition, it has trained approximately 80,000 community, law enforcement and corporate leaders to better understand this problem.
Moreover, a free and unfettered press has a moral responsibility to shed light where darkness resides. CNN International is doing exactly this through its "Freedom Project" series. This project commenced in 2011 as an effort to highlight the devastation of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, lend a voice to the victims by providing a platform for them to tell their story and spotlight attention upon those involved in this criminal activity. This issue does not respect borders; we all need to remain vigilant and do our part to end this scourge. There are many ways to become involved specifically through organizations who seek to eradicate this menace. The time to act is now!