TRAFFICKING - EDUCATION IS A KEY STEP IN CHANGING
THE SUPPLY & DEMAND OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
28 June 2010 / Amy Larsen
A young Cambodian girl practices reading in school. Education is
key to reducing the vulnerability of girls and women to human sex trafficking
in countries such as
"Book on Pol Pot? Bracelet?” In the ruins of Angkor
Wat, two young Cambodian girls hawked their wares with entrepreneurialism
beyond their years.
Their questions were calibrated to win over American tourists: “What if we can tell you the name of the American President and the population of
They were smart, but it was a Tuesday morning and these young girls weren’t in school. I asked them why not.
“Our families need the money so we must sell things,” said the elder of the two. But couldn’t they make more money later on with an education?
“Well, I can just find a rich husband instead,” giggled the smaller girl. “Then I will be rich too!”
These girls exhibit some of the most common vulnerabilities to human trafficking: poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, and the desire for a better life. In
Human trafficking is one of the most egregious, widespread, and concealed violations of human rights in the modern world. In 2000, the Palermo Protocol broke new ground by developing the first widely accepted definition of human trafficking: the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt” of a person by means of threats, coercion, deception, or fraud for exploitative purposes such as sexual slavery, forced labor, or child soldiering.
A hallmark of human trafficking is the movement of people either within or across national borders, with Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia representing the largest origin regions of trafficked people and Western Europe, the
Bringing this tragedy to an end will require broad social
changes. Young women and children in
One way that traffickers recruit women and girls is by offering them a job as a waitress or singer in a distant city, and with it the prospect of a better life. If they accept the deal, girls are told to hand over their identification documents for the purposes of organizing the journey and in so doing begin to lose access to their freedom and safety. Once they arrive at their destination, the girls abruptly realize they have been trafficked for sex as they are thrown into a brothel or locked in an apartment and forced to sexually serve clients for the financial benefit of pimps who control them. Because trafficked girls often end up in a foreign country where they don’t necessarily speak the language and are under surveillance at virtually all times, it is extremely difficult for them to get help even if they try to seek it out. The physical, social, and psychological consequences of human trafficking make it one of the most heinous human rights abuses. As New York Times columnists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn describe in their book Half the Sky, “An essential part of the brothel business model is to break the spirit of girls, through humiliation, rape, threats, and violence.” UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.2 million of those trafficked each year are children.
Because of the transnational nature of human trafficking, and
the fact that it involves areas as disparate as education, labor, gender,
poverty, law enforcement, health, and migration, cooperation between
governments is essential. The United Nations Interagency Project on Trafficking
(UNIAP), headquartered in
Educating to Empower
On the national level, antitrafficking efforts rely on
organizations like World Vision, a key UNIAP partner in
Local and international human trafficking experts agree on the central importance of education in reducing the vulnerability of women and children to trafficking. Preparing young girls to stand up for themselves before they ever encounter risky situations is a crucial way to diminish risk. AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire), an anti-trafficking organization and one of the largest NGOs in Vietnam, runs a sexual education and empowerment course for children aged 13 and older with exactly this goal in mind. AFESIP’s curriculum includes topics such as the dangers and pleasuresassociated with sexual activity as well as models of safe and healthy relationships. In order to empower girls to resist unwelcome sexual advances, the children play games, some of which are as simple as girls practicing saying “No!” to boys during role plays. Girls are also taught self-defense. The whole class is later quizzed to reinforce information, and parents are engaged in discussions about the material so it can be reiterated at home. While teaching this curriculum in schools has reached many students and served as a model for anti-trafficking education in Vietnam, low school attendance and completion still represent significant obstacles, especially when parents deem it more useful for their daughters to help at home or work than attend school. Such cultural norms and expectations must change as well if the fight against child sex trafficking is to be won.
Economics 101: Demand Drives Supply
U.N. and NGO programs such as these do a great deal to combat
human trafficking and meet the needs of victims in
Needed then are not only programs that educate and protect women and children in Southeast Asia, but also the realization by citizens of all nations — and particularly Westerners whose countries are prime destinations for trafficked people — that their own behavior, choices, and knowledge affect the status of human rights around the world. On January 4, 2010, President Obama designated January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month. While this is a small step in the right direction, the United States continues to spend more in one day to fight drug trafficking than it does in an entire year to combat human trafficking, reflecting the substantial gap that remains between speech and action.
The Illusion of Choice
Lina Nealon manages the Hunt Alternatives Fund initiative Demand Abolition, an activism project which aims to combat human trafficking from the demand side. Essentially, it is the “market for prostitution that drives sex trafficking,” Nealon explained. In light of this fact, the most effective strategy for reducing human trafficking is to decrease demand for prostitution and for the purchasing of sex more broadly. To start with, men who buy sex must understand the impact of their choices. According to human trafficking expert and author Benjamin Skinner, most men who purchase sex are under the illusion that the majority of women selling sex do so willingly. The reality is that women trafficked for sex rarely keep money they make from “clients” and are instead forced to turn it over to pimps, who keep them under lock and key. Meanwhile, prostitutes who have not been trafficked seldom choose to sell sex because they actually want to. Of a sample of prostitutes interviewed by researcher Melissa Farley, 96 percent reported that they would rather be doing something other than selling sex and would leave the trade if they could.
Although the average age of entry into the business of selling
sex in the
The Swedish Model
In elementary school, Swedish children are taught about gender equality, dignity, and healthy relationships and learn to regard the purchase of another human being as unacceptable. The Sex Purchase Law works in tandem with Swedish welfare institutions that have increased the social services and job training available to prostitutes searching for other jobs. The impact of educating Swedes about equality and respect for women at an early age has translated into overwhelming popular support for the Sex Purchase Law, a 40 percent decrease in prostitution over the past five years, and a fundamental cultural shift in the way Swedish men regard the purchase of sex.
Additionally, an unanticipated but exceptional consequence of the Sex Purchase Law is that sex trafficking in
Not Such a Party in the U.S.A.
Until American laws change to reflect the progressive and effective antitrafficking approaches found in many of the Nordic countries, short-run efforts to reduce demand for sex should begin with a more equitable enforcement of
Nealon also suggested that educating children about gender equality as early as kindergarten would help change the pervasive culture of impunity surrounding the purchase of sex in the United States and ultimately decrease the demand for sex that drives human sex trafficking. Constant references to exploitative sex in well-liked songs such as “P.I.M.P.” and the popularity of “Pimp and Ho”-themed parties at many colleges are subtle indicators of how American popular culture normalizes and even glorifies the purchase of sex. A cultural shift in the way that people, especially men who buy sex, think about purchasing sex from women, whether trafficked or not, is necessary to combat human sex trafficking.
Globally, education is one key to bringing the tragedy of sex trafficking to a halt on both the supply and demand sides of the industry. Ending human trafficking is not a lofty dream but rather an achievable goal that can be realized within our lifetimes through international cooperation, the proper legal framework, and education. If the culture surrounding the sale of sex can be changed on both ends of the sex trafficking equation, human sex slavery, along with the vulnerability of the Cambodian girls I met in Angkor Wat to this trade in human flesh, will become a relic of history.
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