The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Human Trafficking: The Threat of Numbers

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on October 3, 2012
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According to US government statistics, there are 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world today, with 1.5 million more victims added every year. Despite the extent of the problem, people tend to turn a blind eye on the issue because it does not directly affect their lives. Civil society organizations have recognized how a transnational organized crime such as human trafficking is invisible to much of society. Organisations like Free the Slaves based in Washington and Emancipasia, a newly established organization based in Singapore, argue that human trafficking has become the crux of ‘modern slavery’ that extends from the sex and entertainment industry, agriculture, fishery, domestic service to construction and factory work.

Sylvia Lee, founder of Emancipasia, pointed out in a Brown Bag Seminar at the National Institute of Education on 19 September 2012, that on the supply side, the high incidence of poverty in many countries in Southeast Asia contributes to the main factor for the increase in the victims of human trafficking- men, women and children who are thrown into prostitution, forced labor and exploitation through deception and threats on their lives. On the demand side, Lee highlighted that the high consumer demand for commercial sex pushes the demand for human trafficked prostitutes while the demand for cheap products pushes the demand for cheap and even unpaid labor in the worst working conditions. Profits from exploitation of trafficked persons generated in Asia and the Pacific alone is estimated at USD 9.7 billion.

Lee highlighted that human trafficking has become an industry that maximizes profits with almost no risks involved. She noted that the lack of risk stems from the pitfalls of socio-cultural and legal frameworks that defy a consistent legal definition for human trafficking which has focused more on the movement rather than the exploitation. The lack of cooperation between countries to address human trafficking (whether origin, transit or destination country) adds to this lack of risk for the USD 32 billion industry. The corruption endemic in many societies also provides a loophole for the industry to stretch its web of influence over persons of authority including law enforcement personnel who are in many cases the perpetrators of human trafficking.

There is still lack of effective international cooperation and consensus on collecting reliable data or even a common legal definition of human trafficked persons. Difficulties in criminalizing or persecuting human traffickers and protecting and reintegrating the victims back in society confront policymakers and policy implementers in different countries (origin, transit, and destination). In a February 2012 report, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that it has globally provided assistance to individual trafficked persons on 5,498 occasions in 2011, 860 were in East Asia and the Pacific. Compare this statistic to the number of people being trafficked annually and it paints a dismal picture. There is always an opportunity for governments to cooperate more to act on human trafficking through encouraging transparency and accountability in the law enforcement sector; promoting awareness and vigilance in society about the modus operandi of traffickers and; sharing best practices in protecting and reintegrating trafficked victims.

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