Nightmare in the Golden Age: Slavery Still Exists!
Deng Mawein Mawein (17 years old) – Enslaved as an infant. Regularly beaten. Stabbed. Scalp burned. Racially and religiously insulted. Witnessed the execution of four other slaves.
Akec Akec Wol (18 years old) – Captured in childhood. Circumcised. Raped. Witnessed the execution of slaves. Threatened with death. Separated from her baby.
Aguer Garang Deng(13 years old) – Born into slavery. Separated from his mother… Beaten daily. Tortured with boiling water. Repeatedly raped. Witnessed the execution of slaves.
~ excerpt from Christian Solidarity International, copyright 2015 URL http://csi-usa.org/kercongress.html
Wait a minute – there must be some mistake. The date says 2015. Shouldn’t it be 1850 instead?
Actually, 2015 is correct. In 1850, this was called slavery, a fact of life for those unfortunate enough to fall victim to it. Today, it is referred to as HUMAN TRAFFICKING.
What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is, basically, the buying and selling of people for commercially exploitative purposes. The “owner” gets rich from the labor of his or her captives. Typically it involves coercing victims to work dangerous or physically tedious jobs either without pay or, more commonly, with pay far below what was originally promised. Sexual exploitation such as prostitution, forced marriage, organ harvesting, even involuntary surrogate parenting, are often means of using and abusing those who are ensnared. It can occur in one place, or involve the prisoners being moved about to several locations.
Human trafficking is nothing new. Throughout history, it has been practiced around the world. In the days when most people farmed or owned their own businesses, those who were too poor to support themselves, or were deeply in debt, voluntarily indentured themselves. If a family had more children than they could feed, the parents might sell some of them into servitude so the master would be responsible for them, while lightening their own burden in the process. In some countries, a wealthy woman who was infertile would use her female serf to bear a child for her to raise. Arranged marriages were common, including those where the bride, while still a child, was married off to a man several years, even decades, older. Warring tribes would use their prisoners of war as thralls, forcing them to do the backbreaking work of planting and harvesting crops.
In the days of limited knowledge and technology, when the world did not produce enough goods for everyone, human trafficking was a necessary evil. Even then, some countries enacted laws to make it less brutal. The Bubonic Plague that ravaged Europe in the Medieval days killed so many peasant farmers, there weren’t enough people to tend the crops, so the ruling class learned to value them and treated them more kindly by offering them greater freedom and higher wages. Eventually, feudalism was done away with altogether. The first case of international human trafficking was the transportation of Africans to the Americas by Europeans for slavery. As early as 1739, laws were passed restricting this activity, mainly because of fear that the African population would exceed the Europeans, and an ensuing revolt due to the extreme cruelty of the practice would put an end to European colonization. In 1820, importing Africans was outlawed altogether. The slaves would not be freed for another 43 years; when they were, it was an act of conscience as well as the fact that new inventions now rendered this type of slavery unnecessary.
Today, technology takes care of most grueling jobs. Sophisticated farming equipment does most of the planting and harvesting; forklifts and bulldozers take care of the digging and heavy lifting involved in construction of buildings and roads; causes and cures for infertility have been discovered; birth control methods have increased in both quality and quantity, enabling people to choose the size of their families; and since cures and prevention for most diseases have been discovered, the vast majority of babies born in First World countries live to adulthood, so there is no longer a need for a large number of births to ensure the family line. Clearly, human trafficking is no longer a requirement; in fact, it is outlawed in all the countries of the world. It is seen for the human rights violation that it is; people should be paid for the work they do, rather than being exploited to make others rich.
So why is it one of the fastest growing crimes today? How did an estimated 2.5 million people from 127 countries fall victim to it? Since it is illegal everywhere, what is trapping them into that prison? There are multiple answers to these questions, but one reason it still goes on is the fact that it generates at least $9.5 billion dollars annually in the US alone, most of which goes into the pockets of a few criminals tax free.
Types of human trafficking
Human trafficking falls into two major categories. In bonded labor, the serf incurs debt and is compelled to work it off under appalling conditions; an example is someone who is smuggled into a First World country illegally, then forced to do farm, construction, or sweatshop labor for a set term to cover the costs. Often the debt far exceeds the value of the services, and exorbitant interest rates are applied, trapping the worker eternally. This is the most common type of human trafficking. In forced labor, the person is usually lured into a vulnerable position; an example is someone coming from a region where there is very little work, who is told they can find a good paying job elsewhere. Once taken to that place, they are forced to work for free, and are trapped so they cannot escape. In some situations, the victim may be outright kidnapped; in this case, he or she is taken to a location far away, and is often kept locked up when not working. Prostitution is most commonly used in such circumstances.
Where Does Human Trafficking Occur?
Human trafficking occurs worldwide, in virtually every country. In the cases where it crosses borders, usually the victims come from poverty - stricken regions like India, South East Asia, and Africa, and are transported to wealthy countries in Europe. People from war – torn areas are especially vulnerable. In the US, it occurs in all states; most have strong laws prohibiting it, but North Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, and South Dakota have the weakest legislature; therefore, they have the greatest problems with it. In Hawaii, it is less prevalent because of the difficulty of getting here. However, some farmers use slave labor, and prostitution occurs on Oahu. Kids are lured into the sex trade by getting hooked on hard drugs, then being offered “easy money” to pay for their habits by prostitution. Once those from the outer island are stranded on Oahu, they can’t escape.
U.S. Issues with Human Trafficking
In the United States, most human trafficking takes the form of farm work and sexual exploitation. Smugglers with absolutely no conscience lure starving people from Central and South America across the border, who then work on farms under the scorching sun while they are exposed to chemicals that cause diseases such as acromegaly. They are paid, then coerced into turning over their paychecks to a local store for minimal food and substandard housing. Whenever authorities come to investigate, the workers are forced to hide in the woods or other places. Anyone who tries to escape is shot.
The slavery does not always take place on American soil; large corporations often buy food and clothing from other countries that produce the goods through human trafficking, because they can purchase it at a very cheap price and sell it here for a huge profit.
Streetwalking, which is the lowest form of prostitution, is just like flat – out slavery since the streetwalker is forced to turn over all the revenue to the pimp, and is brutally beaten if he believes she is holding out. Streetwalkers are often lured into the trap because they are runaways from abusive homes, and being underage with no job skills, they have no other way to earn a living. Often someone addicted to hard drugs such as heroin or meth will be compelled to work as a streetwalker to support his or her habit. (The reason I say “his or her” is because someone told me of a case where a college football / basketball player who was 6’9” dabbled in crack for years, and was eventually reduced to disguising himself as a woman and supporting his habit as a streetwalker!) American public opinion obviously frowns greatly on this, especially since much guilt remains over the African slave trade.
Some people may think modern day slavery is not their problem, but they need to realize it affects those who are not caught up in it as well. Places where it occurs have poor economic conditions because so much cheap / free labor is there, taking away the incentive for employers to pay decent wages, and crime rates tend to be much higher in those areas. Phoenix, AZ is an example; on a scale of 1 – 100 in terms of safe cities (100 being the safest), it ranks 10. That no doubt is so close to Mexico’s border and Arizona’s human trafficking laws are lax.
National Standards that Govern Human Trafficking
Federal laws condemning human trafficking have been in place for over a century. In 1910, the Mann Act criminalized coerced transportation of minors and adults across state lines or national borders for commercial sex purposes. The Tariff Act of 1930 prohibited importing of goods made with slave labor. Numerous other laws were passed, culminating in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 which is an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act, strengthened laws already passed against purchasing goods produced by slave labor, child marriage, and in addition, it provides for emergency response provisions for areas struck by war or natural disaster where people are more vulnerable to become victims of human trafficking. Those who engage in such practices may face as much as 20 years in prison, and they also have to pay restitution to their victims.
Conflicts between Hawaii and Federal Legislation on Human Trafficking
POLARIS is a national organization that keeps track of statistics on human trafficking, provides hotlines for reporting, and works to end it wherever it occurs. It ranks states in the US according to a 4 tier system, with Tier 1 having the strongest defenses against human trafficking and Tier 4 having the weakest. Hawaii ranks on Tier 1. Its laws against exploitive use of labor are as strong as the federal laws, requiring offenders to pay restitution to victims, and paying a fine ranging from $250 for a petty misdemeanor up to $5,000 for a Class A felony. It also has a hotline operated by the organization 808 Halt & Pacific Gateway Center for anonymously reporting suspected cases: (808) 851-7010. Unfortunately, its laws banning sex trafficking are very weak. Honolulu is known internationally for its sex trade, and much of the workers there arrived through coercion and other illegal means. As I stated earlier, a common tactic is to lure teens from the outer islands by getting them hooked on drugs (usually meth), so they have to resort to prostitution to support their habits. They make a little money in their home town, and are told they can make even more on Oahu. Once there, they are trapped because they have no way back home; since the only way between islands is by airplane, they can’t even hitchhike. Then they are subject to abuse of all kinds.
The lack of sex trafficking laws in Hawaii are in direct conflict with the rest of the country. The age of consent laws allows a child as young as 14 to have sex if his or her partner is less than 5 years older; if they are married to each other, the age gap can be even larger. Such a low age of consent makes it easier to lure high school students into being exploited, especially if the child had a say in the matter by indulging in illegal drugs in the first place. There are no state laws protecting prostitutes, even if the person was coerced into it. So far, state laws (or lack thereof) have superseded federal ones. However, people are beginning to speak out against this; the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS) and IMU Alliance are promoting a bill to end Hawaii’s sex trafficking. They have been working on it since 2005; when passed, it will protect those who have been victimized against their abusers, and also prevent them from being charged with a crime in which they had no say.
What I Believe Should Be Done to End Human Trafficking
What laws would I pass to end human trafficking? Forced labor is the most difficult, especially since we all love shopping bargains. International laws regarding buying from sweatshops and slave labor must be strictly enforced. The article “Twenty-First Century Slaves” in the September 2003 issue of National Geographic states that raising the price of tomatoes one cent per pound would double the wages of migrant workers. Taco Bell has since offered to pay that much, without passing on the cost to their customers. So people can shop for deals without exploiting the labor of others. In Hawaii, the greatest need is to put an end to the exploitative side of the sex trade. Towards that end, I would: 1) Legalize prostitution. Everyone participating in it must freely make the choice, and be tested / treated regularly for diseases. They must be paid a fair wage, and they should all be 21 years old and over, since that’s how old people need to be to legally consume alcohol. 2) Greatly increase education about drug use, working hard to do away with the glamorized rebellious image surrounding it. Enact harsh penalties to anyone who distributes illegal drugs, especially if it’s an adult giving it to a minor. 3) Make the Age of Consent for having sex 16 across the board. Since marriage with parental consent is illegal for children under age 15, it makes no sense for 14 year olds to legally be able to have sex under any circumstances. (I would raise the age for marriage to 16, as well.) I would include comprehensive sex education in all high schools; it would be mandatory. This would be offered in the 9th grade, since children cannot legally drop out of school until age 16, and most kids are under that age when they’re in the 9th grade. (This would curb teen pregnancy as well.) Schools would need to play an active role in making sure these laws are followed, and they would be enforced by the State.
I understand plans for “Pono Choices” sex education are underway with the Department of Education, but they are being met with many protests. Some parents don’t want their children being taught sex ed by anyone but themselves, fearing it will make their children promiscuous. Others see nothing wrong with their young children having sex and getting pregnant; they believe promoting a “Victorian” morality will bring on emotional problems through harsh judgment, and eventually decimate the local population. Currently, the DOE is in a deadlock about this situation, and will continue to be for years to come. There is also the issue of two underage children consenting to have sex; how would one go about punishing them??? Much discussion needs to occur regarding these issues. Among other things, people need to realize that quality of babies and parenthood must take precedence over quantity, or the population will eventually decimate itself anyway.
How Other States Have Addressed Human Trafficking
Though Hawaii ranks on Tier I in the POLARIS report, a few other states do a better job controlling human trafficking. Washington State has the best policies. They have established an organization called WARN (Washington Anti-trafficking Response Network). It is a statewide organization that educates the public about human trafficking, telling them signs to look for, and how they can help victims. It offers services such as access to safe housing, education, physical and mental health treatment, education, and job readiness training. They also supply food, clothing, and interpretation services. They provide a 24 hour hotline for anonymous reporting, and work with law enforcement to find and assist anyone who may be a victim of human trafficking. Delaware and New Jersey have similar programs, such as End Delaware Trafficking and New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. POLARIS ranked all three states with a 10, meaning they have laws fulfilling all 10 categories covering human trafficking.
The good news is, the problem of human trafficking is not as bad as it used to be. Societies the world over no longer legalize it; it is tolerated mostly in developing countries where dire circumstances make it tough to completely stamp it out. To eradicate it altogether, attention needs to be drawn to the issue, since keeping it hidden enables it to thrive. Poor countries need assistance so they can sustain themselves, food needs to be evenly distributed the world over, clean water and sanitation be made available to all, and the global economy needs to treat all countries with equal favor. Everyone needs to be educated regarding good health practices, mental as well as physical, and have access to birth control. Laws against human trafficking are already in place in most areas; to strengthen them, we need to make exploitation unnecessary.
The sooner we view the whole world as one family and neighborhood, valuing the rights of all human beings, the sooner we can eradicate human trafficking altogether.
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© 2016 Yoleen Lucas