Trafficking: Why prevention?

Trafficking is a systemic problem in Thailand. The country has a Tier 3 ranking in the Trafficking in Persons report, a fact which horrifies a government that’s seemingly powerless to make change. Despite their efforts, a booming sex trade and industries built on slavery pay witness to the sheer number of humans working in abusive and exploitative conditions. Being trafficked could happen to anyone, but vast numbers of refugees from Burma, economic migrants from Cambodia and Laos, and ethnic minority hill tribes are particularly vulnerable.

 

There is no question that something has to be done.

But trafficking prevention is sometimes seen as a second priority, less important than 'rescuing' trafficked people. It’s understandable because our hearts go out to those trapped in horrible situations, and we want to help get them out. There’s also something of a heroic aura around those working to help trafficked people: they go undercover, they organise raids, they ‘rescue.’ Prevention may not have quite the same glow. But we believe that it is even more vital.

That’s not to say that organisations taking people out of trafficking aren’t necessary. Many of these groups battle tirelessly for justice and help individuals restore their freedom, dignity and strength. We admire and appreciate them immensely. But wouldn’t it be great if those organisations weren’t needed? If young men and women were no longer vulnerable, traffickers would be out of a job and so would the organisations trying to take them down. That’s exactly the outcome we want to see. So we fight trafficking where it makes the most difference: before it's even happened.

The more we learn about how trafficking works, the more we realise how urgent prevention is. Young people are pushed into exploitative work for a host of - often heartbreakingly understandable - reasons. A mother sends her oldest child to work in the city so that she can send money home to pay for schooling for her siblings. She doesn’t know that the job her daughter was offered wasn’t what it seemed. A single mother is forced into sex work because she hasn’t the education or skills to provide for her child in other ways. A refugee, desperate to support his parents, goes to work in a plantation, but he’s never paid. These are situations with which we are all too familiar.

We want to take away the apparent helplessness that drive these decisions. We want to encourage dignity, ambition and independence in at-risk communities, providing young people and families with the skills and knowledge they need to defend themselves against traffickers. And that is slow work. It may not be glamorous, but it’s invaluable, because it saves people from facing the trauma of exploitation and abuse in the first place. You see, even if someone’s ‘rescued’ from being trafficked, the trauma resulting from their experiences is often so deep and so complex, it is impossible to undo. A person suffering from psychological, emotional and perhaps even physical wounds is just as vulnerable as before, if not more so.

It works, too. A stable and educated community is a safe one. That’s why we pour resources into education, both supporting local schools and running our own outreach workshops on sex ed, human rights and health. Our training scheme is another way we equip girls to protect themselves, by giving them key skills that will be transferable in the careers market. Investing in mothers with our artisan project also empowers the community, as study after study has shown that mothers pour their wealth back into their families. And our mobile clinic helps to stave off the kind of emergencies that breed desperate choices. Always we put the focus on the individual’s agency, their independence and self-determination: we can’t save them, but they can save themselves.

And these young women, these mothers, these families, are doing just that.

Migration: What you need to know

 (Ronn Aldaman/Flickr)

(Ronn Aldaman/Flickr)

By Francesca Fletcher

You can’t turn on the news these days without seeing another headline about refugees, migrants or asylum seekers. Especially in post-truth America, these words are bandied about freely. But how many of us really understand what these terms mean? And how do the stories relate to the reality?

 

This is a vital issue for us because the many of the women in our programs are migrants, whether internal or international. Understanding their motives for moving is key to serving them well. We thought we’d briefly outline the three most common types of migration for you, so you can sound smart at dinner parties and be an ally to the migrants around you.

 

Economic Migration

When people choose to leave their home country for financial reasons, this is called economic migration. It is perhaps the most demonised type of migration. We have all heard people say, “Why can’t they just stay in their home country? They are just greedy for more money - they are taking all our jobs!”

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In fact, most economic migrants are leaving untenable situations at home: it is only because of dire need that most migrants feel forced to leave their families behind and move into an unstable and unknown environment. Others are highly trained in a specific career, but are unable to find any work in that avenue in their home country.

 

Many of the women we serve send money back home to their families, whether they are in a different part of Thailand or in Burma. Without them, their younger siblings would be unable to go to school and their parents would struggle to make ends meet.

 

Plus, contrary to popular belief, economic migrants usually benefit the economy of their new country.

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Political Migration

People can become political migrants for a number of reasons. Their home town may have become part of a warzone. They may be the targets of ethnically- or religiously-driven persecution. They may be part of a political party that is objectionable to the current government.

 

A political migrant will often become an IDP (internally displaced person) as he or she seeks to move within the home country to a safer area. In the most extreme circumstances, those that are able will try to migrate internationally, and seek asylum in a safe country. Political migrants are most likely to be referred to as ‘refugees’.

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Environmental Migration

Not all migrants move because of systemic injustice or poverty. Many struggle to adapt to changing environments (often due to climate change but sometimes due to man-made situations, like dams) and when adaptation finally becomes impossible, their survival depends on the abandonment of their home. Others are forced to move by a natural disaster.

 

The UNHCR prefers not to describe environmental migrants as refugees for a number of reasons, but that does not mean that they don’t need just as much understanding and support as refugees.

 

Social Migration

Family reunification accounts for the majority of social migrations. Social migration also covers people who move for a better quality of life - like expats who move from the UK to Spain for their retirement, or westerners who choose to work abroad to enjoy a different pace of life and find some sunshine!


 

Internet safety and human trafficking

By Francesca Fletcher

As globalisation powers on and our world becomes more and more digitised, human traffickers are increasingly turning to the internet to find potential victims.

This frightening fact comes as no real surprise. Where else can such a bountiful supply of information be found with such ease? Millions of young people spend several hours of their day sharing information and pictures of themselves on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and with many users prioritising popularity over privacy, traffickers can peruse them at their leisure.

It is an uncomfortable thought to consider how exposed we might be to those want to exploit us. Particularly unsettling, though, is the fact that traffickers can use information that they find to seek out vulnerabilities to exploit.

Facebook isn’t always your friend

Many millennials know about the potential dangers of social media sites and there are plenty of educational programs to raise awareness in schools, colleges and workplaces in the west. Most of us know how to control our privacy settings and limit the audiences who can see our posts; we know not to accept friend requests from strangers.

For more vulnerable Facebook users, this isn’t the case. Many of the women in our programs haven’t had access to electricity or internet before. They come from small, tight-knit communities and now find themselves in an unfamiliar country where their language isn’t widely spoken. The opportunity to widen their circle of friends and acquaintances is difficult to resist. We often have to warn the women against investing too much in friendships with people online, especially when they seem to be particularly interested or overly flattering.

But it’s not just social media

A common ploy of traffickers round the world is to use employment websites to offer false advertisements of jobs in other cities or abroad. These jobs seem absolutely believable: often they are jobs that don’t necessarily need qualifications, like nannying, waitressing or modelling. Unsuspecting people keen for new experiences or desperately needing money are lured into a false sense of security with well-polished assurances of good pay and benefits. Once the target has accepted the job and travelled away from safety to the new destination, the trafficker can begin their work.

Again, young people and anyone facing job insecurity are particularly at risk here.

Turning the tables

Thankfully, the internet is a powerful tool not only for traffickers, but for those fighting trafficking. Governmental and non-governmental agencies are creating programs which use the internet to seek out traffickers. Activists have also used crowdsourcing to stop trafficking before it happens.

Anti-trafficking NGOs can also use the internet to raise awareness and funding for their programs. As populations become informed and equipped, they can start to practise internet safety more effectively and look out for people with vulnerabilities.

What we can do

Make sure those around you are being careful on the internet. Remind them to check their privacy settings. Find out if there are any internet safety initiatives in your area and ask if you can help them. Donate to anti-trafficking groups in your area and elsewhere.

Enjoy the internet and the infinite possibilities it can offer. At the same time, please be vigilant.