IT’S BEEN ABOUT 150 YEARS since most countries banned slavery, but millions of men, women and children are still enslaved today. They are the victims of human traffickers who “acquire and trade” in individuals through coercion, abduction, deception, and abuse of power to provide forced labour or service.
In 2009, the International Labour Organisation estimated that close to 21 million people are victims of forced labour. But the number of victims of forced labour as a result of human trafficking, now more commonly referred to as “Trafficking
in Persons” (TIP), remains unknown. Other credible sources estimate up to 27 million people living in slavery today.
TIP is a very lucrative business, and ranks on par with drug smuggling and illegal gambling. While persecutions against and convictions of those in the TIP trade have increased, globally the enforcement of criminal justice has been weak overall. Often only the front men and women are caught, and the real “ring-leaders” are left untouched.
Women account for 55 to 60 per cent of trafficked victims globally. 27 per cent of all victims are children. According to the 2012 Global Report on TIP, by the United Nations, 58 per cent of all cases detected globally are for sexual exploitation. Trafficking for forced labour in areas like construction, domestic homes, factory work and farms, accounts for 36 per cent.
Five men were recently convicted in a European Union court for a widespread TIP ring, illegally harvesting human organs
in Kosovo to benefit wealthy patients and to line the pockets of doctors who do the transplants. Ironically, the criminals in this case might not have been caught if not for a Turkish man collapsing at an airport in Pristina after his kidney had been removed.
On the same day, I also came across an article in our local paper The Straits Times about human traffickers in cyberspace. The opinion piece reported the growing menace of young women being tricked into prostitution in some countries in South
and East Asia. A Nepali girl chatted about her ambitions and confided in her new Facebook friend. She was invited to go to Dhaka to take on a job – but instead she was detained by a gang, “locked in a room for days, beaten and sprayed with cannabis derivatives”. Like some 10,000 young girls and women from Nepal who were are trafficked annually to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, she was forcefully initiated into prostitution.
TIP thrives on the poor and vulnerable. They are deceived into the promise of regular pay, and end up being treated as commodities traded for profit. There are those who arrive to find that the promised job is not available – and by then, they would often without permits, documentation or insurance cover.
The United States issues an annual TIP report that ranks different countries in how they tackle this world-wide problem. In 2010, the Singapore government set up an Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP to look into human trafficking as Singapore is recognised for its allure as a potential destination for TIP syndicates. The taskforce is spearheaded by the Manpower and Home Affairs ministries in collaboration with other government agencies, and their key response to TIP is prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership.
What can we do as Christians to address this problem? At the very least, we should be aware of this heinous business. TIP gangs exploit the poor and uneducated, and those in vulnerable situations.
I believe that we are well-positioned to pay particular attention to those who are at risk and vulnerable. In the many mission fields that our Church serves in, and through our social concerns arms, we can work to improve the social well-being of persons at risk, through education, training, and imparting of skill-sets that they might become more self-reliant. This will help to break the poverty cycle that they may be in, which will then better protect them against exploitation.
In the Bible, James has made it clear that if we take our faith seriously, we need to care for those who are most vulnerable in our society, because persons are to be loved and cared for. They are not things to be used and exploited.
In the time of James, the vulnerable were the orphans and widows – people who could not fend for themselves and who were easily taken advantage of by others. (James 1:27)
The vulnerable people of our time, as in ancient times, are the poor and powerless – they are the ones whom society tends to ignore. They easily fall prey to human traffickers if they are left to struggle on their own. Care for them. Speak up for them. Be interested in their welfare if we desire to live a life informed and motivated by a pure and true faith.
The Rev Dr Daniel Koh Kah Soon, a Methodist minister, is a full-time lecturer at Trinity Theological College. He is also an active member of Methodist Welfare Services.