A quick mention of the word slavery brings to mind the colonial era, a period of Western penetration of black Africa, the removal of Africans from their homeland to be used in forced labor in the West and the Americas; a time when the trade in human was a flourishing and lucrative phenomenon. Nowadays, slavery and human trafficking have gone beyond the borders of Africa; human trafficking has now become a common business in Europe, South East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Balkans.
The issue of modern day slavery has gained more attention in the 21st century more than any time in history. It is estimated that there are about 30 million slaves in the world today that is, people held against their will to be used not only in forced labor but also for sex and the profitable business of organ trafficking. The current technology and the internet revolution has made it possible for criminals and traffickers to take advantage of the medium as a tool for their illegal dealings in human, for organized crime, and the exchange of assets and commerce.
Due to the current technology, it is not uncommon for someone in Lebanon to request that a girl be sent from the Philippines to be used as a slave in Beirut. Reports indicate that on arrival, migrant workers in Lebanon are subject to servitude and slavery, they are made to work in extreme conditions and sometimes not paid or owed back payments for services rendered. Recently, a CNN report, indicate that migrant workers in Lebanon are not only subject to physical abuse, they also experience gruesome sexual abuse by the host and the employer.
On arrival at the port of entry to their destination, immigration in Beirut hand over their passport to the employer; the migrant worker is never allowed to go out alone without company and those who try to go back to their home country, are not allowed to do so because the employer or host would not release their passport. They are paid less than the worth of the entire service if paid at all, and unfortunately, the Lebanese Government protect the employer rather than one enslaved.
The same practice goes beyond Lebanon and across the Middle East and all the way to places like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where migrant workers from South East Asia are subject to abuse and sexual mistreatments.
Those that are not used in forced labor are used as sex slaves. For example, it is possible for a trafficker in New York to request via the internet, for vulnerable girls to be sent to NY from Cambodia or Vietnam. On arrival, such girls including children are used to service brothel, strip clubs, massage parlors, and lap dance bars.
Traffickers are known to target the most vulnerable and economically depressed part of the world in their illegal trade. In the 1970s, human trafficking flourished in South East Asia in places such as; Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Today, human trafficking has moved to Africa targeting places like; Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia and the like. Vulnerable and destitute girls including children from these regions are transported to the West with the promise of helping them find employment. On arrival, their passports are seized before they are handed over to be used in forced labor or as sex slaves.
In the 1980s, most part of Eastern Europe was still under the grip of the Soviet Union. As a result of strict travel and immigration demands, there was limited or no cases of human trafficking in the region. The trafficking of girls from Eastern Europe was uncommon however, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the situation changed dramatically. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) nearly a quarter of a million females were trafficked from Eastern Europe to the West to be used in forced labor and as sex slaves.
In 1992, majority of women and children trafficked came from places like; Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. By the mid 1990s, the traffickers change route and moved their illegal operations to other economically unstable regions such as; Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Moldova. Just as one trades in goods and commodities, the traffickers also trade in girls wherever they find the greatest profit.
The traffickers are known to engage in the despicable acts not only by trafficking young girls but also boys. They are known to target children/minors age 12 through 17 years old and in some cases, prepubescent children are sold to pedophiles as sex slaves; as long as the demand and money flows, the trafficker cares less about any moral or sense of social responsibility. As in the United States and other places, the “slave owner”- pimps, recruiters, and brothel owners are known to hide in the shadows while they organize the trafficking and then, wait for money to change hands through their network of traffickers.
Unfortunately, the society is misinformed about who the victim is. Some in the society perceive girls found in brothels and strip clubs as prostitutes and therefore, they should bear the blame for any evil that befalls them. However, what is unclear to such people is that the real criminals are the traffickers. The girls are made to work under pressure by coercion and the threat of deportation. Girls subject to forced prostitution, suffer abuse not limited to lock-ups, floggings, genital mutilation and the like. They are referred to by the pimps as “my property” and those who failed to work and deliver money as required by the pimps are threatened and made to endure physical abuse.
What makes the situation worse is that, enslaved girls are usually in denial of the fact of their slavery. They believe that by telling of their experience, they might face arrest by law enforcement and eventually deportation. They also fear that by telling, they would face further mistreatment and abuse by the pimps. As a result of their lack of education and self esteem, they loose control of their body and allow the traffickers to determine how their body is used.
Traffickers are known to focus their illegal business on societies that lack social power. Sometimes, poor parents give up their young children to the traffickers without knowing the implications. The horror of poverty and the lack of financial as well as economic stability lured some parents into giving up their children to be used as slaves. The slave owner promises the parent to find job for the child in another location however, he exercises control over the child through violence and shows no regard for the physical or emotional health of the child. The trafficker’s goal is to use the child for his financial and economic gains.
It is not uncommon for selfish parents in both Asia and Latin America to sell their kids into slavery so as to obtain money for the purchase of commodities such as; a car, a small piece of land, and other consumer goods. A child sold by the parent is then made to work hard labor by the trafficker or used as sex slave. If the child attempts to leave, she is made to work harder until the parent can pay back the money with interests. There was recently a report in the NY Times that some parents in the Balkans (Albania) sold their children to traffickers so they could purchase a color TV.
Parental involvement in the trade is also common in places like rural India where bride trafficking is now flourishing. Women are sold to slavery and made to work round the clock; a woman can be sold for as much as 5,000 Rupees and due to the higher cost of dowry, some parents cannot afford the exorbitant price therefore, the family cash in by selling off the woman.
Bride trafficking though a new phenomenon is becoming rampant in rural India. Some women are married off even without their knowledge; they are married off to places like Buttapur village in rural India. In Assam, girls are brought from other places to be married, some girls are drugged, married off, and then subject to sexual abuse. It is estimated that more than 10 million people are in slavery in India.
So far the role of law enforcement has been misleading. Law enforcement in some parts of the world is known to participate in the illegal trade; for example, it is not impossible to find a police or two guarding the entrance to a brothel. They act as security protecting the girls inside but sometimes, a family member of the brothel owner may be a member of the armed forces; the service of such people are used to legitimize the trafficking business.
Besides the illegal trade in human, some traffickers also engage in the most outrageous form of human treatment called organ trafficking. One tribe known for the trade in human organs are the Suwarka of the Bedouins. The Suwarka are the most numerous of the Bedouins, they are found in the north of Sinai, at the Mediterranean Coast centered on Al Arish. In all Sinai there are approximately 80,000 Bedouins, some work in the tourist business. These Bedouins are found in the region between the Monastery of St Catherine and Sharm El Sheikh.
The past few years have seen Bedouins trading in the human organs of African refugees crossing from Africa through the deserts to get to Israel. Recently, CNN reporter Frederick Pleitgen unveiled how Bedouin smugglers engage in people trafficking by stealing organs from African refugees seeking to enter Israel for a better life. Some of the African refugees come from places like Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and more. On entering the Bedouin’s territories, the Africans captured are seized against their will and detained by the Bedouins to extort money from their families back home before they are released if lucky.
A girl from Eritrea who traveled from Sudan to Sinai recounted how she was raped repeatedly by the Bedouins before she finally made it to Israel. African refugees captured are usually held in labor camps while the girls are raped and imprisoned by the Bedouins until their families back in Africa pay the ransom for their freedom.
An Egyptian organization called The New Generation Foundation for Human Rights, claim that bodies of African refugees have been found in the desert and in most cases, the bodies have one vital organ or two missing. A Bedouin source indicated that criminals in the Suwarka tribe are responsible for the killings and the illegal trade in human organs. One of the Suwarka leaders stated that he was aware of the trafficking, torture and bonded labor but claimed that only rogue members of the tribe are involved.
The damaging part of the story is that some Egyptian doctors are involved. They collaborate with criminal elements of the tribe to gain access to vital human organs which are then used to treat their sick patients. According to Hamdy Al-Azazy of the New Generation Foundation, traffickers extract the organs from the refugees while they are still alive; the refugees are either drugged or given anesthesia not because the traffickers care about them but purposely because they don’t want the refugees to cry or be aware while they remove the organ. Despite the gravity of the illegal trade and the involvement of Egyptian doctors, the Egyptian authority has not been able to make a single arrest.
Mobile clinics with advanced technology for preservation of the organs while it is transported, is brought from a private hospital in Cairo to an area in the desert, where physicians conduct physical on the refugees to know who is fit and in good health for organ removal. The Bedouins are known to charge $2,000 to $20,000 for a human organ; organs removed are mostly kidneys, livers, and corneas. One refugee, who made it to Israel but in need of medical treatment for injuries suffered in the hands of the Bedouins, was given medical treatment in Israel while he is chained to his hospital bed awaiting deportation by the Israeli immigration. Those who are not so lucky are raped, have their organs removed, and left to die in the deserts; bodies lucky to be found are then buried in landfills by the Egyptian authority.
Now that we have seen through the evil of modern day slavery and the horror of both human and organ trafficking, the question that comes to mind is what makes those involved in illegal trafficking engage in such outrageous acts? Why would a man leave NY to go and pay for sex with a child in Cambodia or Vietnam? Engaging in sex tourism has now become a common evil; men who travel thousands of miles to pay for sex with enslaved children are willfully blind to the idea that their “date” is a sex slave. Some believe the only mishap as they prefer to call it is engaging in prostitution but not by forcing a child to have intercourse with them. They do not identify the child as a victim of sexual exploitation.
Such men are afraid of the legal consequences of engaging in sex with a minor in their own country and would rather commit such deviant criminal act thousands of miles away where they are able to get away from prosecution.
The abolitionists are of the view that legalizing prostitution indicates a social acceptance of commercial sex. The legalization of commercial sex by some nations, makes the prosecution of the traffickers-pimps and the like difficult. As a result, adult males and would be pedophiles are encouraged to demand for young girls to be used as sex slaves. The legalization of prostitution in some countries has allowed the traffickers to survive and prosper in their illegal business at the expense of vulnerable girls.
The international community through the UN must bring back attention to the horror of modern day slavery. At the local level, we as concerned people must work to spread the news about the horror of modern day slavery. Kudos to the work of people like Nicholas Kristof a New York Times columnist, for bringing attention to the evil of human trafficking; others in the news world need do the same and help put the kibosh on the hopes of traffickers. Nations must pull together to eradicate the scourge at the national level by ending prostitution and making it harder for the traffickers to engage in commercial sex trafficking. There should be a proper regulation on the use of human organs for transplant and medical purpose or else, it won’t be long before we begin to see a widespread trade in human parts.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E.JD] is a writer and published author. An expert in general law, foreign relations, and the United Nations.