The Scourge and Pain of Human Trafficking

by Father Shay Cullen

This article was originally featured in The Manila Times



Every year worldwide there are 2.5 new victims of human trafficking, it is a form of the most insidious cruel human slavery and in world history there has never been anything like it. Yet the most tragic aspect of this terrible crime against poor and vulnerable people is the apathy and indifference shown by most people.

It is the age-old form of human exploitation, it is the selling of human beings, not just depersonalized “workers”, but each is an individual person with family, feelings, and a struggling life of poverty. Each with rights and dignity that are violated daily. They are recruited and tricked or coerced into underpaid or non-paid work under cruel and onerous living and working conditions. This is a horrific world situation and there is likely to be a victim of human trafficking close to you as you read this article. They work in restaurants, hotels, baggage carriers, food-servers, in beauty salons and spas. Then of course there are the victims of sexual exploitation, the evillest form of trafficking.

The most recent case of human trafficking that I have been involved in, and they are many, is that of Angelica- a 15-year-old girl sold by her mother to her employer. He is a rough, crude man, the owner of several mini-buses and from which he earns a lot of money and could afford to buy children for sexual abuse.

Angelica was brought to this middle-aged Filipino man in a distant town to be sexually exploited and abused and that is the crime of human trafficking, child rape and sexual abuse. He brought her to a hotel and the hotel manager and staff either ignored it or were complicit in the trafficking and he raped her there. Her mother was guilty also of human trafficking of her own child.

He is a child rapist and he sexually abused Angelica several times and gave money to her and to her mother. The child could not resist, she was only 13 and she was under the power and influence of the adults in ascendency over her and controlled by her own mother.

There are many hundreds of thousands of similar cases of human trafficking and abuse happening everyday around the world and not only in the Philippines. It is all too common especially in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East and the United States, anywhere where laws are lax and not enforced. In some countries, child abuse is tolerated under some guise of cultural practice like child marriage, which is rampant in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

An estimated 24.5 million adults, children and youth have been victims and are trafficked worldwide in the past decade by organized crime syndicates. Human traffickers are criminals who operate in many ways. Most of the 24.5 million victims are women and 33 percent are children under the age of 18. These are estimates and can vary.

The victims of human trafficking are almost always poor, unemployed, not well educated, and vulnerable. Many minors come from broken families, are abandoned, and left with a distant relative who neglects them and treats them as a servant or sells them to traffickers for a promised job in a hotel or as a domestic helper. They are frequently abused, underpaid, and sexually exploited.

The root of the problem is in the broken home. Without a secure, stable loving and caring family, children don’t have a chance to succeed in life. When the parents have no love for each other, the child is generally unloved too. They are easy prey for human traffickers.

Human trafficking and abuse of women and minors as under paid labor, or to pay off debts, is so widespread that millions of people are trafficked everywhere. From Eastern Europe, many thousands are trafficked and brought to wealthy Europeans in the mega-brothels, which are legal. But the women are not free to leave and are trapped in a web of insidious debt.

In some countries like the Philippines, the age of sexual consent for a child under the Penal Code is very low, 12 years of age, and traffickers and abusers take advantage of that to try and justify a relationship. The Penal Code must be changed. However, in the Philippines the child protection law otherwise known as Republic Act 7610 supersedes the old Penal Code. Anyone who abuses a child sexually below the age of 18 is criminally liable. If the child is below 12 years of age, it is statutory rape.

Action must follow on knowledge. If you know of a child being abused physically, psychologically or sexually you are morally and legally obliged to report the abuse to the parents or relatives, to a trained social worker, a police officer or government official or to anyone who can help. Failure to do so makes a person liable to complaints of complicity; aiding and abetting child abuse and human trafficking and even obstruction of justice if one person stopped another from reporting it and especially if the child asked for help and was refused.

In the case of Angelica, it was the child who suffered greatly. She hated what her mother and the man did to her and one day just after another session in the hotel where the abuse happened, she went to a local government official in the barangay hall and reported that she was being abused. She did not report that her mother sold her to the accused.

The suspect was arrested and jailed right away since the report was received within 24 hours of the crime being committed and he was charged with human trafficking and child rape. He paid the grandmother to file a case of habeas corpus case to get the child out of the Preda home, but the child told the judge that she wanted to stay. The case of human trafficking and child rape is ongoing and Angelica, after a year in recovery, was able to testify clearly and coherently. He will surely be convicted.

It is very important that we all understand and are aware what is going on in the world. Human trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is an everyday crime. Child sexual abuse is all around us, we just don’t know it as they are ordered with threats to remain silent.

They fear they will not be believed, that they will be severely punished if they reveal it. Most live with the pain and secret all their lives.

Human trafficking is the most widespread crime against persons and is the third biggest earning business in the world after drug trafficking and arms smuggling. he earnings are estimated to be 32 billion US dollars a year according to a UN report.

Human trafficking is according to the United Nations, the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or coercion...for the purpose of exploitation.” So bringing anyone to a place where they are exploited by being made to work for very low wages under the control of there boss is human trafficking. The trafficker and the buyer of the person being exploited are guilty of violating the law. An estimated 1.4 million persons in India are victims of human trafficking and forced labor. They are trapped in bonded labor usually to pay off a debt, the very poor have to borrow to buy food to live and survive and then they cant find work and are forced to pay off the debt by working for no wages.

In the Philippines 60,000 women and minors are estimated by UNICEF victims of human trafficking into sex trade other sources say as many as 100,000 are victims.

The traffickers are men and women and sometimes teenagers without moral values or conscience who make a lot of money by tricking, cheating, and luring these young people away from their homes or wherever they live into situations where they are trapped, abused, and exploited.

They are sometimes members of a national or an international syndicate or network. The leaders order the trafficking of vulnerable desperate people and then smuggle them across borders into other countries where they work in slave-like conditions. People smugglers are somewhat different from human traffickers and slave master, but similar.

The people trying to get a better survival and a living borrow huge sums to pay people smugglers to transport them to another country but they own that money or their family will be hurt, kidnapped and even killed if they don’t pay. That’s why they are easily exploited in the country where they find a low paying job with bad working conditions provided by the smugglers and their contacts. This is when it is human trafficking.

Many poor needy people are recruited for fake jobs and most victims are tricked and cheated and when trafficked to another part of the country (In-country trafficking) or abroad, they are then forced to work in brothels, sex bars, factories, as agricultural workers or fishermen trapped on ships they cannot leave.

Other victims as said above are forced to work in beauty or fingernail salons, massage parlors, as bar tenders, hotel cleaners, domestic workers and construction work, as agricultural workers and many more jobs. They are paid a very small amount, underpaid or not paid at all with debts to pay off. Some children and adults are trafficked for body organ harvesting others are sold as child brides. These are evil and insidious forms of HT.

In Thailand fisher folk were recruited or kidnapped onto fishing boats and made to work 16 hours a day without pay. They were not let go free after months or years at sea but were imprisoned on a island of Indonesia and made to work again when they ran out of food. Many who died of exhaustion and abuse were buried on the island. They never saw their loved ones again. The canned products made from the fish and shrimps caught were processed in Thailand and sold to the US and the EU.

The Associated Press undercover journalists discovered the syndicate a few years ago. They exposed it and testified in the US Congress before the committee on human rights and South East Asia headed by Representative Chris Smith. The US then banned the products from entering the United States. During the hearing in the US Congress, which this writer attended, it was revealed that the racket of human trafficking was going on for almost ten years and hundreds of Thai fishermen had disappeared. A hundred others were later rescued. It was not unusual. Many more syndicates are doing similar forms of exploitation, but they have not been fully discovered and exposed. It is an almost impossible task to break up these criminal gangs of human traffickers.

During the same US congressional hearing I revealed the existence of syndicates exploiting street children in the Philippines using them as beggars and drug runners. The children were innocent and as young as ten years old. But their lives were controlled and the money they collected was taken from them and they received a pittance. They were caught and blamed for the crimes of the adults and they are always jailed in subhuman detention centers. They are victims of human trafficking also but even more so are the street children lured into the sex trade by recruiters, mostly women.

It’s a fact that one-in-four girls are sexually abused at least once in their lifetime. The demand is persistent, abusive men even consider it an entitlement to do it and disregard and circumvent laws forbidding it with the help of human traffickers, corrupt police and sex tourist hotels and resort owners. Local government units give operating permits to these sex bars, hotels, and resorts. They see them as a sexual Disneyland. Some officials are child abusers themselves. It is an urgent demand fueled by the internet and online cyber-sex business catering to the wealthy elite who demands such evil sexual satisfaction, dominance, and control of other human beings.

The human rights and dignity of victims of human trafficking as persons, made in the image and likeness of God are always violated. Unlike some law enforcement that treats the victims as wrongdoers and accuse them of violating the anti-prostitution laws, we must see that as the wrong approach. They victimize the youth yet again. We see them as people persons who have been abused and exploited as human beings with dignity and Inalienable rights. They have been treated unjustly and are people to be helped.

Judgmental and moralizing attitudes have no place in Christen's understanding and response. It is wrong for some people to see them as “sinners” that need to be saved as if they were responsible for the situation, they are in. They are not responsible and blaming the victims is morally wrong. We should study human trafficking and the story from this point of view and see the harm done to them and to all victims of human trafficking. We need to ask what harm was done to them.

Their inalienable equal rights to their human dignity, personal freedom of choice, and freedom of movement were violated. Their rights to a safe protected life free from abuse were violated, taken away. They were victims of trafficking to be raped and sexually exploited.

These rights are universal they apply to one and all without exception. No matter their situation in life these rights are theirs and ought never to be taken away, reduced, suspended or violated. They are rights of all especially the poor who lack education, those who suffer homelessness, jobless, sick, abandoned abused, and unjustly incarcerated and jailed. Those indigenous peoples deprived of their ancestral lands and endure a low social status are supposed to be protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights.

This terrible exploitation of human beings like what happened to Angelica is indeed slavery, banned but never conquered, condemned but never eliminated, opposed but still lives on. We must never give up the fight to overcome this pernicious evil and save the millions of exploited victims.

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