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Stolen Lives: Slavery in the 21st Century

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Stolen Lives: Slavery in the 21st Century

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When the police showed up to her hotel room, Karla Jacinto thought they were her salvation. She and a handful of underage girls had been taken somewhere in Mexico and forced into a prostitution ring “servicing clients.”

Thirty officers cleared the room and kicked everyone out of the entire hotel. They then proceeded to force the girls into compromising positions in front of a video camera, threatening to send the footage to their families if they did not comply. Then the officers bribed the hotel owners for money and left.

Eventually, after four years of forced prostitution and, by her estimate, 43,200 rapes, Karla was freed, she recounted to CNN. She now serves as an advocate for human-trafficking victims.

Across the globe, the slave trade is alive and well—and with a staggering number of victims. The organization Freedom United estimates that 40.3 million people are enslaved worldwide. In addition, the International Labor Organization “estimates that 20.9 million people are subjected to forced labor, 14.2 million (68%) of whom are exploited in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing, and 4.5 million (22%) of whom are exploited for sex.”

Of trafficking victims, 79 percent are women and children.

Over recent years, children and men have become swept up into these crime rings in greater numbers. The most common forms are sexual exploitation and forced labor. Other purposes include organ removal, as child soldiers, forced begging, to help sell children, and forced marriage.

And business is booming. Forbes magazine offered a summary of the growing problem.

“Human trafficking, essentially modern slavery, is a large and growing practice, although most people are unaware of its existence and extent. Pope Francis has called it a plague on humanity. The NGO Human Rights First notes that human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise, earning exploiters an estimated $150 billion annually. Elaborating on this, Amy Sobel, Vice President, Anti-Human Trafficking Campaign, says that modern slavery is occurring in the vast supply chains that fuel our global economy, causing human tragedy and damaging some of the world’s most trusted brands. An article, Inside the Scarily Lucrative Business Model of Human Trafficking, in Time shows that it is a very profitable business. An estimated 21 million victims are entrapped by this practice and the number is growing at about 800,000 per year.”

The most recent United Nations report on the subject—“Global Report on Trafficking in Persons”—provided eye-opening statistics about the prevalent nature of these crimes. It is so widespread that “countries in Western and Southern Europe detected victims of 137 different citizenships. These figures recount a worrying story of human trafficking occurring almost everywhere.”

Vile Methods

The lust for money and power turns people into monsters, preying on the young, poor and vulnerable. Traffickers often use the same methods to lure helpless victims. They first gain their trust by pretending to be interested in helping them. They offer them jobs in other cities or countries so they can provide for their impoverished families. They make false promises, sometimes with the ruse lasting months. Eventually the traffickers’ true motives are exposed—but only after it is too late for their victims.

The UN report put it this way: “Traffickers and their victims often come from the same place, speak the same language or have the same ethnic background. Such commonalities help traffickers generate trust to carry out the trafficking crime.”

Increasingly, women are being used to ensnare other women and girls.

“Data from court cases indicate that women are commonly involved in the trafficking of women and girls, in particular…While traffickers are overwhelmingly male, women comprise a relatively large share of convicted offenders, compared to most other crimes. This share is even higher among traffickers convicted in the victims’ home country.”

Many traffickers are able to get away with what they do since clients of those in forced prostitution are often judges, priests, pastors and police officers. When authority figures are in on the crimes, as occurred with Karla, there is truly no place for victims to turn.

Violent conflicts and wars are also big factors for the increase in human trafficking.

“Perhaps the most worrying development is that the movement of refugees and migrants, the largest seen since World War II, has arguably intensified since 2014,” the UN report stated. “As this crisis has unfolded, and climbed up the global agenda, there has been a corresponding recognition that, within these massive migratory movements, are vulnerable children, women and men who can be easily exploited by smugglers and traffickers.”

The report later added more detail to this factor.

“The rapid increase in the number of Syrian victims of trafficking in persons following the start of the conflict there, for instance, seems to be one example of how these vulnerabilities play out…Refugees escaping wars and persecution are easily targeted by traffickers who leverage their desperation to deceive them into exploitation…The presence of large numbers of troops creates demand for labour and sexual services. In connection with degraded rule of law and weak institutions, this demand generates trafficking flows into the conflict or post-conflict zones.”

In addition, migrants can fall prey to organ traffickers, who willingly pay desperate Syrian migrants crossing into Europe illegally who are unable to find work, for organs such as kidneys and even in one case, an eye.

One trafficker told BBC “he drives blindfolded people who agreed to sell their organs to a hidden location on a designated day, where prior to surgery they undergo basic blood tests.

“Sometimes the doctors operate in rented houses that are transformed into temporary clinic.”

“Once the operation is done I bring them back,” the trafficker told the outlet. “I keep looking after them for almost a week until they remove the stitches. The moment they lose the stitches we don’t care what happens to them any longer.

“I don’t really care if the client dies as long as I got what I wanted. It’s not my problem what happens next as long as the client gets paid.”

Legislating Trafficking

The UN report warned that, while a growing number of nations are adopting new laws to tackle human trafficking, conviction rates are still very low.

“Although most countries now have the appropriate legal framework for tackling trafficking crimes, the large discrepancy between the number of detected victims and convicted offenders indicates that many trafficking crimes still go unpunished.”

The report stated that the average number of convictions in 2014 within countries that had adopted legislation in 2009-2012 was only three. And among countries that had put into place legislation after 2012, the average number of convictions was zero.

These numbers show that, despite new laws being enacted, almost none of them are being enforced. And while the wheels of justice turn slowly, millions of helpless men, women and children remain captive in forced prostitution or other forms of slavery, hoping and praying for freedom.

The U.S. Department of State recorded several stories from victims of trafficking, including one of a woman who was trafficked for work.

“Nicole left her impoverished family to work as a maid in Kuwait with the intention of sending her earnings back home,” its website stated. “For nine months she worked constantly, suffered physical and verbal abuse, and received no pay. When her work visa expired, her employer took Nicole to the police and falsely accused her of a petty crime. Nicole tried to explain her innocence and reported that she had not been paid and had been abused over the past nine months. The police did not listen and instead jailed Nicole for six months. After her time in jail, Nicole was deported and returned home without any compensation.”

No End in Sight?

In light of this widespread problem, mankind should ask itself hard questions. Why have governments been so powerless to stop this scourge? Why, in 2017, is there still a lack of political will in some nations to address the problem? Why, despite global leaders’ best efforts, is modern slavery only growing worse?

It is clear that something is missing in the fight against human trafficking—and it speaks to why mankind as a whole has struggled for centuries to rid itself of the many evils that plague it.

To understand what it is, read Why Man Cannot Solve His Problems. It paints a clear picture of why human steam and ingenuity coupled with people’s best efforts have not yet been able to overcome the many obstacles that mankind faces and put a permanent end to problems such as the slave trade.


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