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Stabroek News

Human trafficking: modern-day slavery
published: Sunday | May 11, 2008

Glenda Simms, Contributor

The ongoing saga of trafficking in persons in Jamaica has again been highlighted in a recent report covered by one of the local media houses.

According to this latest account of human trafficking, poverty-stricken Haitians are being exploited as cheap labour in the eastern sector of the island, and these desperate human beings are being paid starvation wages of J$250 daily by heartless individuals.

These are individuals, otherwise called employers, who obviously cannot even imagine that poor people have rights which must be protected in line with both national and international human rights standards.

Unable to deal with issue

The tragedy of the different categories of trafficked persons, including the Haitian girls who get submerged in the morass of evil in the society, is the inability of our nation state to deal effectively and decisively with the plight of men, women and girls who are constantly being trafficked internally and through cross-border routes.

The issue of trafficking is usually highlighted when the American State Department is ready to issue their evaluation of the effectiveness of the anti-trafficking initiatives that Jamaica has pledged to implement. It can be argued that in this process we appear to return to our nine-day wonder slumber, especially when we are put on an acceptable 'tier watch' for trafficking.

While we slumber, the global movement of human beings for sexual exploitation and forced labour continues unabated, and many of our citizens and the poor of Eastern Europe, the Philippines, the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean region are being exploited by individuals and groups who make big money by this form of slavery.

This modern phenomenon of trafficking in human beings is an extension of practices rooted in the history of many societies (western and non-western).

In 1899, the International Conference on the White Slave Trade was convened in England. At that time a decision was taken "to do everything possible to protect the vulnerable against the practice of trafficking."

In spite of these early good intentions, many developing societies, such as Jamaica, are forced to acknowledge that their world is now faced with a modern form of slavery - a form that is protected by the monied class and the global tentacles of organised crime.

Amiha Abueva, the coordinator of a 2002 project entitled Asia's Children In Peril: A Regional Study of Child Trafficking noted in the introduction to this study that: "If we view human civilisation as a history of conquest and slavery, then it is easy to see that trading in humans is as old as civilisation itself."

Furthermore, the coordinator reminds us that modern-day trafficking is usually equated with women and girls trafficked into prostitution, but the reality is much more widespread and complex; and many children of both sexes and women are trafficked "for the purposes of begging and for cheap labour".

Inadequate database

In Jamaica, the latest story of Haitians being trafficked for the purpose of cheap labour expands the arena of trafficking activities in the country.

To date, the trafficking database, which is largely inadequate, points to the fact that human trafficking is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls, who make up the majority of the persons who fit within the definition of trafficked persons.

These are the women and girls who come in from the streets of Moscow and other Eastern European cities, Havana, and Santo Domingo as exotic dancers and uptown call girls; the 'brownings' of St Elizabeth and Westmoreland and other rural areas who have little or no educational foundation, but are enticed by the seductive advertisements for work in exotic and erotic massage parlours, go-go clubs and other disguised institutions of prostitution.

These advertisements appear on a regular basis in the classified advertisement sections of both morning and evening editions of the local media houses. These categories of women are likely to include the dozens of teenagers between the ages of 11-19, who are currently reported as missing in Jamaica.

It is quite likely that many of them are victims of internal trafficking into the underbelly of the sex trade.

By now, we know that the root causes of trafficking in persons are poverty, lack of skills and education, low self-esteem and all the social ills linked to patriarchal values that commodify the female body and result in far too many young women who have no choice but to depend on the male of the species for economic security and the validation of womanhood.

So, while the Jamaican Government has put in place guidelines for action by the security forces and a select small grouping of non-governmental organisations have been trying their best to sensitise a few communities on these issues, there is no concerted effort within a holistic approach to tackle the monster of human trafficking in our society.

Implementing measures

The time has come for all nation states which are prepared to deal effectively with human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and women to revisit the following common-sense strategies:

  • The promotion of de facto equality between women and men.

  • The speeding up of legal reform to remove all the barriers that prevent societies from achieving just justice systems for all victims of violence.

  • The provision of state funding to sustain legal clinics, shelters and therapeutic centres for victims of rape, incest, carnal abuse, trafficking and spousal abuse.

  • The refocusing of poverty eradication and related social programmes in order to reach the most marginalised and the underclass in both rural and urban centres.

  • The strengthening of partnerships with private sector entities in order to ensure a reasonable economic base for single parents, poor women and the working poor of both sexes.

  • The establishment of a framework that will ensure that men and boys are consciously targeted in all efforts to peacefully resolve conflict at the levels of the home and the community.

    Waged daily

    While these measures must be seen as essential building blocks to deconstruct the modern plantation in which another generation of human beings are being trafficked, the fight against modern forms of slavery must be waged on a daily basis by every citizen in the society.

    In Jamaica, we do need emancipation from both mental and modern-day slavery.

    Glenda P. Simms is a gender expert and consultant.

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