“There’s drugs … and arms… but what’s the next most deadly
illegal trade?” asks the non-profit Boulder-based organization Free
A Child on its Web site.
As examined last week’s in “Children In Chains,” it would appear
that human trafficking and slavery could be counted in this deadly
category. With estimates of those trafficked into slavery ranging
from 800,000 (as estimated by the U.S. State Department) to a
staggering 4 million (mostly women and children), the problem,
while already horrific in its magnitude, is growing annually. While
people are globally trafficked into a variety of situations,
including domestic and factory work, perhaps one of the most
heinous places many of the young women and children smuggled around
the world end up is in a brothel or a back room, forced into a life
of prostitution and sexual exploitation.
A complex phenomenon, human trafficking is a multi-billion
dollar industry (with the United Nations estimating that $7 billion
per year is generated by the trafficking of “human cargo”), where
economic factors often have a lot to do with how the majority of
children end up in such terrible situations.
“Trafficking is generally described according to the ‘push’
factors that lead a child or adult to leaving one place, and ‘pull’
factors that decide the place to which the trafficking victims move
or are moved,” the World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation
of Children stated in a 2001 paper.
“People generally put themselves or their children in the hands
of traffickers to escape poverty and/or discrimination or war. They
are promised fantastic opportunities such as well-paid jobs,
education or marriage. Many imagine that they will be able to send
money home to help their families,” the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services asserts, although kidnappings are also known to
contribute to the number of victims. For these victims, many are
often “pushed” into border areas, tourist destinations, or other
places where prostitution is established and highly profitable for
the pimps and traffickers.
For the volunteers and organizers with Free A Child, these pulls
into slavery and pushes into brothel-filled area are all too
disturbingly visible in places such as Nepal.
“Each year between 7,000 and 10,000 Nepalese children between
the ages of 8 and 16 are tricked, bought or kidnapped from their
families to work as sex slaves in brothels in India,” Free A Child
“India is rapidly taking over from Southeast Asia as the centre
of the world sex industry, and the incidence of HIV and Aids there
is growing with frightening speed,” said Lesley Downer in an
article in the Sunday Times.
In nearby Nepal, there are many socioeconomic factors that pull
particularly young girls into such trafficking schemes:
“Sixty-three percent of Nepalese children suffer from malnutrition
and 33 percent of boys are illiterate; the figure is much higher on
both counts for girls. The annual average per capita income is
$210,” Downer says.
Such factors make the children of Nepal prime targets for
trafficking into India. Families of young girls from this area may
sell their daughters to traffickers, sometimes unaware of the
horrible situation into which the girls are being pushed, or else
young women fall prey to trafficker’s promises of a better economic
future in Mumbai. Either way, the young girls who are trafficked
into the brothels of Mumbai face a sad future.
For Free A Child, programs of prevention and reintroduction of
those already effected by this horrible lifestyle are the key to,
if not solving the problem of slavery, at least ameliorating some
of the damage. Through street dramas and prevention programs
designed to truly inform parents and young women of the horrors of
being sold to traffickers.
“Right now, we are working with micro-economic programs to get
at the root of the problem,” said Kenlyn Kollen, Boulder attorney
and president of Free A Child.
In places such as Nepal, it would seem, promoting recognition of
this terrible crime and its realities, as well as establishing ways
in which young women and their families can become more
economically sustainable without resorting to trafficking, are
essential. If such programs take root around the world, perhaps the
numbers of children trafficked into prostitution and exploitation
can be lowered.
Meg Burd is a graduate student studying anthropology.