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From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jan 30 2001 - 09:10:33 EST

A criminal by-product of globalisation, human trafficking networks now
criss-cross the world, prompting an international response, reports Vitit
A while ago, I visited, in a foreign country, four Thais who were victims
of human trafficking. They had sold their land to pay their way to that
country. Per person, they had paid about US$3000 (Bt129,000) - a lifetime's
income for many people in the world - to get their tickets, passports and
other documents via intermediaries. Upon arrival in the foreign country,
they found themselves placed in a sweatshop, compelled to work under
appalling conditions. Later, they were transported across the border to
another country - only to land up in another sweatshop.
Fortunately, some people noticed their plight, and the police were
contacted to apprehend their exploiters. A non-governmental organisation
(NGO) then intervened to help them. According to the law of that country,
the victims could stay temporarily to help prosecute their exploiters. The
traffickers have now been sentenced to jail, indicating a glimmer of light
at the end of the human tunnel.
>From this case profile, there are some instructive lessons:
First, until recently there was no universally accepted definition of human
trafficking. While trafficking for sexual purposes is often in the news, we
should not forget that trafficking is found in several forms - for sexual
purposes, for labour exploitation, for begging, and in the case of
children, for illegal adoptions. A key development offering a definition of
"trafficking" is the finalisation of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and
Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, a supplement
the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime 2000. In its
Article 3, "trafficking in persons" is defined as: "the recruitment,
transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the
threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud,
of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of
the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a
person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the
prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour
or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the
removal of organs."
Second, the trafficking is both internal (within the country) and external
(across borders). Countries are often simultaneously source countries,
transit countries and destination countries. Thailand is a case in point.
The past decade has witnessed trafficking of particularly women and
children into Thailand from China, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Meanwhile many women from Thailand have also been trafficked to other
countries, including Japan. Thailand is also a transit country not for only
Southeast Asians being trafficked en route to other countries but also
South Asians and Russian women.
Third, the root causes of trafficking are numerous. Often, we hear of
poverty as an underlying factor. There are also the growth of
commercialisation, the decline in values, limited access to education and
income generation, family disintegration, urban-rural migration, and the
less positive side of globalisation involving massive clandestine movements
of people. While poverty is often cited as a key factor behind human
trafficking, there are many poor communities where trafficking is not a
major problem, while there are many rich countries where it is. While
poverty may explain the supply factor, it does not explain the demand
factor. The latter is more linked to the "market", customers, and criminal
Fourth, the world is not short of international standards and treaties
against human trafficking. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the
Child, with its recent Protocol against the sale of children, child
prostitution and child pornography (2000), all have provisions directly and
indirectly against trafficking in women and children. The International
Labour Organisation (ILO) has propelled a host of conventions against
forced labour which can also be used against trafficking.
The 1995 Beijing Platform of Action of the World Conference on Women called
for strong measures to eradicate the trafficking in women. In regard to the
sexual trafficking in children, global counteraction was boosted by the
1996 Declaration and Agenda for Action of the World Congress against
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. This highlighted the need for
more preventive measures through education, more protection measures
through law enforcement, more recovery and reintegration measures including
psychological care, and more international cooperation.
In addition, there have been various declarations and plans of action in
the Asia-Pacific region linked with government agencies and civil society.
Between different regions, closer cooperation has emerged against human
trafficking, eg, the Asia-Europe process last year (2000). At the global
level, recently, the Protocol against human trafficking attached to the
United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime mentioned
above was adopted by the world community in Palermo, Italy. In particular,
it calls for closer law enforcement cooperation between countries.
What is missing in several settings is the effective implementation of
these standards and instruments.

Vitit Muntarbhorn is a professor at the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn
(c) 2001 Nation Multimedia Group Public Co., Ltd.
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