Human Trafficking Reports at the Commission on the Status of Women Forum at the United Nations, March 8-20, 2015
During the NGO meetings at the UN Commission on the Status of Women Forum in New York City, March 8-20, 2015, there were more than 25 panels that addressed the issue of human trafficking. The global slave trade has grown substantially in the last ten years due to the political, technological and economic forces of globalization. In the post-Cold War era more porous borders have enabled female migrant labourers to travel across the world in search of work. Slavers promise impoverished women good jobs, and they give them generous loans to travel to their new jobs in distant places. When they arrive no job materializes, large debts are incurred and the women are then forced to pay off their debts by working as sex workers. Women are being bought and sold as sex slaves not only in and around conflict and refugee zones, but in major cities throughout the world.
During the UN meetings there were five major concerns cited by NGOs. The first was that the profits from the sexual slavery market which were estimated to be over $10 billion annually in 2010 have now increased to approximately $20 billion in 2015.
Second: clusters of criminal activity which include for example arms and drug trafficking, and the illegal smuggling of goods, now according to reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, also include the lucrative practice of human and organ trafficking.
Third: most of the NGOs that were reporting on human trafficking and violence against women have concluded that the implementation of current laws, the prosecution of offenders and their sentences, are not severe enough to deter slavers from continuing this practice.
Fourth: it has been proposed that the Swedish model which criminally charges men who buy the services of sex slaves, should be followed in more countries in the world and this will subsequently reduce the demand for sex slaves.
Fifth: gender mainstreaming practices should be introduced into educational programs challenging images of hyper-masculinity and encouraging men to treat women and girls in a manner that is based on respect and kindness. One NGO summarized this idea by suggesting that “Real Men Do Not Hurt Others”.
Reports have also indicated that in North America human trafficking has proliferated and the recruitment of especially girls, has grown due to a commercialized demand for girls to act as sex workers. According to a 50-page report released by the Alliance Against Modern Slavery (AAMS), there were 551 human trafficking cases reported between 2011 and 2013 in Ontario. Karlee Sapoznik the president of AAMS and one of the co-authors of the report, stated that “most of these cases were reported in Toronto and generally the ages of the victims are 15-24 years old, 68.5% are sexually exploited, and 24.5% of the women are forced to perform other types of labour.”1 According to numerous reports at the UN, the pattern of human trafficking that has been found in Ontario is similar to other countries in the world.
In the UN’s Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality campaign, UN Women, which is a sub-committee of the UN, has focused on making gender equality a global reality by the year 2030. This can be done, they propose, by addressing and contesting social norms and stereotypes that perpetuate gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women and girls. They call upon the nations of the world to invest in gender equality.2
Human trafficking can only be eradicated through prosecuting slavers, raising social awareness about this crime against humanity and increasing women’s social status through more extensive social, economic and political opportunities. Slavery is not an historical social institution, it is a post-modern social phenomenon. If we wish to live in a just society then we need to reduce global poverty, gender discrimination, and violence against women. Only then will women who have become victims of human trafficking networks be freed. If as a global society we can assure freedom to the slave, then we can, as Abraham Lincoln once said: “assure freedom to the free.”
Valerie Zawilski is a sociology professor at Kings College, University of Western Ontario.
1 CBC.ca on-line, June, 15, 2014
2 UN Women, www.unwomen.org/stepitup/en