An estimated 25 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor and forced sexual exploitation.
By Nazarul Islam
Human trafficking is not only an injustice to the victim, but it is an injustice unto the families and friends of that victim. There is one absolute commonality amongst the victims of human trafficking; the loss of personal freedom.
In the year 2000, countries around the world, welcomed the new millennium, by signing on to the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, a landmark agreement that defined the crime of human trafficking and required states to criminalize it.
That same year, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a groundbreaking law that provided the U.S. government with a new arsenal of tools to tackle human trafficking; governments all over the world soon followed suit and adopted similar laws.
However, two decades later, the scourge of human trafficking persists. An estimated 25 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. The majority of victims are women and girls. Human trafficking is a truly global phenomenon; it occurs in almost every country, including the United States, fueled by poverty, social marginalization, and weak criminal justice systems.
The scale of the problem is only growing, exacerbated by the upheavals of migration and conflict and by the economic desperation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Policymakers often overlook human trafficking as ancillary to major challenges. But trafficking is more than a mere crime. Moreover, it is not just an effect of significant global problems but also a cause: it bolsters abusive regimes and criminal, terrorist, and armed groups; weakens global supply chains; fuels corruption; and undermines good governance.
The United States needs to see trafficking for the systemic threat that it is and act accordingly.
Human trafficking threatens U.S. national security in myriad ways. Trafficking helps bankroll the operations of transnational syndicates and extremist groups. (The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and Boko Haram in West Africa, for example, used human trafficking not just to make money and seize forced labor but also as a strategic tool to subjugate civilians and even coerce them into perpetrating suicide attacks)
The practice earns its perpetrators an estimated $150 billion annually, making it one of the world’s most lucrative crimes. Traffickers consider their trade to be a low-risk and high-profit enterprise, with cheap labor and sex work constantly in demand and law enforcement efforts in many countries, including the United States, insufficient.
Some repressive governments use human trafficking to circumvent sanctions; in 2019, for example, the United States estimated that the North Korean government was generating more than $500 million each year by sending almost 100,000 forced laborers to work abroad, primarily in China and Russia—and thereby undermining the effects of economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.
Human trafficking also hurts global economic growth by undervaluing labor and erodes financial systems by buttressing illegal and unregulated markets. In 2009, the International Labor Organization estimated that the global economy lost as much as $21 billion through the coercion of workers, including more than $19 billion in lost income due to unpaid wages—figures that do not include sex-trafficking victims, who are routinely robbed of their earnings.
States suffer, too, since they can’t collect taxes on unpaid work. The challenge is immense: as of 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor listed 155 goods from 77 countries that it suspected were produced with the use of child or forced labor.
The profits of human trafficking are privatized, but the costs are spread across society: one study has shown that every human-trafficking case in the United Kingdom costs around 330,000 pounds ($467,000) in health-care, law enforcement, and other expenses. The pervasiveness of human trafficking disincentives enterprises from combating it when so many of their rivals gain a competitive advantage by ignoring labor standards.
In middle- and low-income countries, trafficking impedes sustainable development by destabilizing communities and vitiating human potential. Trafficking can impoverish the families of its victims, compounding illiteracy and poor health and nutrition and perpetuating poverty across generations.
Fear of trafficking fuels displacement; migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle region, for instance, have frequently reported that gang violence—including violence related to human trafficking—contributed to their decisions to leave. In addition, human traffickers encourage the erosion of democratic institutions, notably by buying the assistance of corrupt police officers, customs officials, and prosecutors.
Policymakers must start seeing human trafficking as more than a crime against a particular individual. In truth, it is a systemic challenge to U.S. national security, economic, and development interests. Washington should place this issue higher on its international agenda—and pursue necessary reforms to curb this scourge once and for all.
What freedom are we to find
When our restless minds
Are enslaved under the chains
Of human trafficking?
What freedom do we preach?
When our females breathe
Through enraged wounds
They are used and abused,
Left in caves alienated and bruised.
What is this language we speak of?
When we talk about the law,
Since the human right clause
Is ignored and flawed?
Whom is it protecting?
Because here we are protesting!
Isn’t this law ought to save
The bodies of young females
Isn’t this law ought to be brave
And remove females from sex frames?
Instead, it chooses for women and children to die
Leaving their loved ones with no goodbyes!
Human trafficking, I say,
Has made enough money for the day
(End of Part One)