In case you missed it, Human Trafficking Awareness Day was on the 11th of January in America. So, what is human trafficking? It is the illegal trade of humans, usually for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour. Human trafficking impacts people of all backgrounds, and people are trafficked for a variety of purposes. Men are often trafficked into hard labor jobs, while children are trafficked into labor positions in textile, agriculture and fishing industries. Women and girls are typically trafficked into the commercial sex industry, i.e. prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. Human trafficking constitutes 3 different elements: the act, the means and the purpose, each of which include (but are not limited to) the examples in the image below.
At any given moment, 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking, and most of them are between the ages of 18 and 24. Most of them experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse on a daily basis and more than 40% are forced to work as prostitutes. Human trafficking has been estimated to make annual profits of about USD 10 billion in Asia, which intensifies the need for us to address this problem and work towards reducing its prevalence in society.
It may come as a shock to many people, but human trafficking does exist in Singapore, especially due to its economic stature and strategic location. Singapore is a destination country for people from other Asian countries subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour, and is also a transit country for Cambodian and Filipino men subjected to forced labor on fishing vessels that stop at ports in Singapore. Many of the country’s 1.35 million foreign workers (one-third of Singapore’s total labor force) are vulnerable to trafficking.
Despite it being an inherent problem in society, Singapore only implemented its first anti-trafficking law and criminalized all forms of human trafficking in 2015. Since then, however, a number of people have been prosecuted after being found guilty of human trafficking, with their crimes ranging from child abuse to sexual exploitation.
In spite of the many cases of human trafficking that have surfaced after the implementation of this act, people continue to underestimate the gravity of this issue and remain unaware of its significance in Singapore. To help eliminate human trafficking in Singapore, it is essential for us to educate ourselves on the signs of human trafficking and contact the authorities if we suspect a case of human trafficking. Some signs of human trafficking include: poor or abnormal mental health, poor physical health, lack of control (not in control of one’s own possessions, not being allowed to speak for oneself, etc.), etc. Here’s a more detailed list of signs: https://polarisproject.org/recognize-signs
Let’s zoom into some types of human trafficking:
Sex trafficking is the exploitation of people, within national or across international borders, for the purposes of forced sex work. Each year, an estimated 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders—though additional numbers of women and girls are trafficked within countries. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary dramatically. Many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, such as modeling or dancing. Some are forced to sell sex by their parents or other family members. Sex trafficking occurs in a range of venues including fake massage businesses, via online ads or escort services, in residential brothels, on the street or at truck stops, or at hotels and motels.
Typically, once in the custody of traffickers, a victim’s passport and official papers are confiscated and held. Victims are told they are in the destination country illegally, which increases victims’ dependence on their traffickers. Victims are often deprived of food and sleep, are unable to move about freely, and are physically tortured. In order to keep women captive, victims are told their families and their children will be harmed or murdered if they (the women) try to escape or tell anyone about their situation. Because victims rarely understand the culture and language of the country into which they have been trafficked, they experience another layer of psychological stress and frustration. Often, before servicing clients, women are forcibly raped by the traffickers themselves, in order to initiate the cycle of abuse and degradation. Many women are drugged in order to prevent them from escaping and are forced to stay naked in order to rob them of their self-respect. Once “broken in,” sex trafficked victims can service up to 30 men a day, and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy.
So, who is responsible for sex trafficking? Organized crime is largely responsible for the spread of international human trafficking. Though national and international institutions may attempt to regulate and enforce anti-trafficking legislation, corrupt local governments and police forces may in fact be participating in sex trafficking rings. Why do traffickers traffic? Because sex trafficking can be extremely lucrative, especially in areas where opportunities for education and legitimate employment may be limited. In societies where women and girls are undervalued or not valued at all, women are at greater risk for being abused, trafficked, and coerced into sex slavery. If women experienced improved economic and social status, trafficking would in large part be eradicated.
Labor trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor traffickers often make false promises of a high-paying job or exciting education or travel opportunities to lure people into horrendous working conditions. Yet, victims find that the reality of their jobs proves to be far different than promised and must frequently work long hours for little to no pay. Their employers exert such physical or psychological control – including physical abuse, debt bondage, confiscation of passports or money – that the victim believes they have no other choice but to continue working for that employer.
Vulnerable populations are frequently targeted by traffickers. Immigration status, recruitment debt, isolation, poverty, and a lack of strong labor protections are just some of the vulnerabilities that can lead to labor trafficking.
One all-too-real example of labour trafficking is slavery in the Thai fishing industry. Migrant workers from Cambodia are one of the easy targets for traffickers in this industry. Workers are promised a lucrative salary, only to find themselves working incessantly under atrocious conditions on Thai fishing boats – often surviving on as little as an hour of sleep per day and being drugged constantly so that they would have the ‘energy’ to continue. Read Seuy San’s (a Cambodian trafficking victim) shocking personal account of the cruelty within the Thai fishing industry here at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/dec/16/enslaved-on-thai-fishing-boat-thought-i-would-die-there
All in all, it is also integral for us to understand that consent of the victim is NOT an excuse for human trafficking; human trafficking is a heinous crime, regardless of whether the victim agrees to it.
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics: 18007977077
Transient Workers Count Too: 18008881515