International day against human trafficking

Scritto da in data Luglio 30, 2023

                                                                                            Italian text

Modern slavery, as defined by the Anti-slavery International, occurs when others exploit an individual for personal or commercial gain. It’s an umbrella term that includes but is not limited to human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage. Whether tricked, coerced, or forced, individuals lose their freedom. Being deprived of liberty can occur to everyone at all times and anywhere.  It’s a global phenomenon sustained by an economic model that nourishes a monopolistic, competitive, and highly remunerative business. This model, which in 2021 enslaved an estimated 50 million people worldwide, functions based on social inequalities, human vulnerabilities, material poverty, violence, conflicts, and technology. Walk Free, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been measuring the scale of modern slavery in 160 countries since 2016. According to its latest investigation -the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery Report (2022)– out of 50 million, 27.6 million are in forced labour, and 22 million are in forced marriages. More than 12 million people are children; women and girls account for over half of them. Migrant workers are three times more likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant workers. As businesses worldwide seek the lowest-cost labour possible, modern slavery generates phenomenal profit keeping the economic model that sells human beings as products alive and efficient.  ILO reported that forced labour generates annual earnings of US$ 150 billion, of which US$ 99 billion came from sexual exploitation, and US$ 51 billion resulted from forced economic exploitation, including domestic work, agriculture and other economic activities.

Aided by technology that makes it easier to launder the proceeds of crime, impressive revenues move within the global market through financial systems largely unrestricted. Financial systems are still not equipped to address the risks of modern slavery and all its ramifications. The widespread application of financial sector obligations and guidance related to anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism compliance requires a change of paradigm. We need one in which money does not dictate all the rules.

Some countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden are increasing legislation, preventative measures and strengthening law enforcement to identify, track and counter the phenomenon. Still, even in these countries, thousands of people continue to be forced to work or marry, despite their high levels of economic development, gender equality, and social and political stability. The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report unveiled a worsening situation. Increasing conflicts, environmental degradation, the constant erosion of democratic values paired with a rollback of women’s rights and the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 have led to significant disruption of the social order.  Some consequences are a lack of employment and right to education in many areas worldwide, increased extreme poverty, and forced and unsafe migration, which exacerbate the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Migration, modern slavery and business

The Outlaw Ocean Project, an award-winning journalist initiative that reports on modern slavery at sea, describes how young men are bought and sold like animals, obliged to work day and night onboard crumbling and insalubrious fish boats. These people, who often don’t know how to swim and have never seen the sea before, are held captive and live for years on unregistered vessels (or ghost ships) that governments struggle to track. They are beaten and severely punished for minor transgressions, fed poorly, and threatened with their lives to reduce the likelihood of mutiny. They are all trapped in the “travel now, pay later” labour system that requires working to pay off the money they had to borrow to sneak illegally into a new country. The shipping industry handles 80% of the goods we consume on land. However, what happens in open waters is rarely documented and reported, but it almost always entails a breach of human rights.

The intersection between business and human rights is as neglected as intricate. Around the world, business operations must take responsibility for their actions to ensure they are socially and environmentally responsible and that goods ‘at-risk’ produced by forced labour are identified and banned. Corporations can positively or negatively impact the human rights of workers, communities and consumers. In recent years some progress was registered on measures to hold businesses more accountable in tackling modern slavery. Several European countries such as Norway, France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands implemented mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence (mHRDD) legislation. This holds transnational companies responsible for failing to identify and act upon risks for workers in their operations and supply chains, including the risk of forced labour.  In 2022, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a corporate sustainability due diligence Directive to foster sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour throughout global value chains.  The final law is expected before the European Parliamentary elections in early 2024.

Import controls in the US,  such as the Tariff Act and the 2021 Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, prevent the entry of goods produced by forced labour, specifically by Uyghurs held by China in state-imposed forced labour.

According to the IOM, more people are migrating now than ever in the last five decades, fleeing from conflicts like in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Iraq. They think they are living behind terror and persecution. Migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees face discrimination, including limited access to services and protection, increasing the risk of being trafficked, especially for girls and women.

Human trafficking in Afghanistan

In the disgraceful top 10 of the countries with the highest prevalence of people in modern slavery, Afghanistan is 9th on the list, preceded by Russia. Afghanistan has always been a country of origin, destination and transit for trafficking in persons, including a high level of internal trafficking. The definition of human trafficking was internationally recognised in the United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons in 2000. This represents the world’s primary legally binding instrument to combat human trafficking.

Art 3. of the Protocol defines trafficking in persons as:

[…] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

In Afghanistan, which ratified the UN Protocol, victims of trafficking are mainly women and girls for sexual exploitation, prostitution (including minors), forced labour, abductions for forced marriage, marriage for debt release, exchange of women for dispute settlement, sexual and domestic servitude and removal of organs. There is a pattern of recruiting child soldiers by all the authorities and factions that followed one another and overlapped during the past decades. Low rates of birth registration and the falsification of identity documents contributed to the prevalence of child soldiers by making it difficult to determine a recruit’s age. Evidence shows that some officials accepted bribes to produce false identity documents.

The pattern of sexual slavery that focused on the practice of bacha bazi (dancing boys) is well-known and consolidated. This centuries-old custom in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment is still hard to eradicate, with many government officials and police officers complicit despite the National Child Protection Committee (NCPC) being created in 2019 to respond to this widespread form of child abuse.

Before the Taliban took over in August 2021, the government maintained a National Referral Mechanism (NRM), but it was unclear if it was ever utilised. Due to cultural barriers and a victim-blaming attitude, such crimes have gone unreported. Recent data by the 2022 US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) show that among victims, it was more challenging for girls to reintegrate after trafficking compared to boys due to societal shame. Girls were presumed to be complicit and “tarnished” after exploitation and were often charged with “moral crimes” such as sex outside of marriage. Afghan authorities frequently placed bacha bazi victims in juvenile “rehabilitation centres”, subjecting them to torture and other ill-treatment. It also punished child soldiers by placing them in detention facilities. According to the report, the Government never reported if it had referred any former child soldiers to appropriate care.

Most of the victims’ protection and rehabilitation work was carried out by NGOs which assisted the trafficked persons through almost 30 women’s shelters in 20 provinces, guaranteeing protection and care for female victims.  Two shelters were dedicated to male victims under the age of 18.

When the Taliban returned to power, they stopped reporting on trafficking victims, but their representatives indicated the group’s readiness to reduce child labour and trafficking. The current humanitarian crisis, deemed the worst in the world, which results in food insecurity, displacement, and sheer poverty, increased the occurrence of the worst forms of child labour. According to the 2021 findings of the US Department of Labour’s International Child Labor & Forced Labor Report, children are subjected to the worst form of forced labour in producing bricks and carpets. They are used for coal, gold, salt mining, weapons, and drug trafficking. The country lacks a mechanism to impose penalties for child labour violations, and the law does not sufficiently criminalise forced labour, debt bondage, or the commercial sexual exploitation of girls and boys.

Moreover, the Taliban closed all the shelters and NGO staff were harassed and threatened. The TIP reports that some civil society actors faced killings, enforced disappearances, and detention by the Taliban. Due to a lack of formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims, the Taliban likely detained or arrested some victims.

The only way forward is forward

The NGO NOVE-Caring Humans (NOVE), active in Afghanistan since 2013, strives to contribute to building a world where respect for human rights prevails.  NOVE supports girls and women to overcome barriers that hinder their full participation in economic, political and social life. We are committed to protecting the rights of children and adolescents, people with disabilities and everyone whose freedom is threatened and could become a victim of trafficking.  NOVE works towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1. No Poverty;  2. Zero Hunger;   4. Quality Education;  5. Gender Equality;  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth. Human trafficking represents a significant obstacle to the SDGs’ realisation and opposes the principle of ‘Leaving No One Behind’ – intrinsically part of the SDGs ethos.

NOVE’s multipronged approach intends to contribute directly or indirectly to support the most vulnerable strata of the population, which could be reduced into slavery and become a victim of trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour, child marriage, sexual and domestic servitude and removal of organs.

The project “Dignity”, supported by the trust In the Name of Woman, provides extremely vulnerable families with targeted support geared to their individual needs, abilities, health conditions, age, and other factors. Priority is given to women heads of households to reduce the risk of selling children into marriage to feed the rest of the family. Similarly, the “Caring for Women in Emergency” project aims at stopping the descent into a vortex of poverty and human rights violations. It distributes food, stoves and firewood, which has helped thousands of people survive the freezing winter.

According to UNICEF, 13.1 million Afghan children need humanitarian assistance. Among children under five, one in two suffers from severe malnutrition. An estimated 212 children died daily in 2022. NOVE helps Afghan children and their parents with emergency and development activities. It runs a dedicated project called “Invisible Children” to directly care for those living in orphanages and foster homes. The vulnerabilities of the children living in orphanages expose them to the risk of being recruited as child soldiers or for sexual servitude.  The mismanagement of orphanages may create a marketplace that increases trafficking into orphanages. NOVE commits together with global community to ending modern slavery among children by 2025, and universally by 2030 (SDG Target 8.7).

We at NOVE know that modern slavery and human trafficking erode foundational values that everyone is created equal and has the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and dignity. These crimes disenfranchise our communities worldwide, weaken the rule of law, and undermine global security. NOVE remains committed to combatting human trafficking, forced labour and any other violation of human rights that enslaves people.

By Arianna Briganti Cofounder & Vice president NOVE Onlus, Specialist in gender justice,  anti-corruption and modern slavery.






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