Children and organs shouldn't be up for sale

Children and organs shouldn't be up for sale
© Getty Images

It’s that picture of them walking away hand-in-hand, emblazoned in my mind, that I cannot erase. There she was, maybe five-years-old, being led away by a man probably her father’s age. But it wasn’t her father. I wanted so much to run after her but I knew I could not. Not here. Not in the streets of Bangkok where this man had paid someone to engage in unspeakable acts. I found myself nauseated as I bore witness to the worst kind of evil I could imagine — and I felt paralyzed by the scale of the problem.

I was in Thailand for a meeting of activists, religious leaders, consultants and NGOs to talk about the major social issues facing communities around the world. We gathered in Thailand because that is the one country in the world with almost no visa restrictions. I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea why, until I arrived.

ADVERTISEMENT

Along “Walking Street” I saw hundreds of young girls dressed in seductive, tight dresses waiting to be purchased for sex. They were girls with the terrible luck of being born into families and communities with few economic opportunities, in a world unwilling to confront this assault on their health, dignity and human rights. Bangkok stands out but is hardly alone. Travel to virtually any city, including in the U.S., and you see young girls and boys similarly victimized.

 

There are three crucial things to understand about human trafficking.

  • The Global Refugee Crisis feeds human trafficking. Human trafficking is a broader issue than sexual exploitation. Trafficking includes labor exploitation, domestic servitude, forced marriage, child soldiers, and organ harvesting. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery that prays on the most vulnerable and most desperate. Crime, legal status, poverty, gender inequality, lack of education, lack of basics like food and water — these are the dangers that make people vulnerable to exploitation.

The economies of conflict and human trafficking don’t just intersect, they reinforce each other. Conflict zones, lacking basic human security and the rule of law, are places where people are especially vulnerable. It’s the perfect storm — violence, no legal protections, disrupted livelihoods, hunger and poverty, the breakdown of social systems. Irregular armies also use forced labor, child soldiers and sex slaves in many of today’s conflicts.

Refugees are understandably at tremendous risk to those who claim promise of a better life. But with the risks of return so great for so many refugees — gang violence, rape, torture, murder — refugees may be willing to put up with high levels of labor and sexual exploitation to avoid being returned to dangerous countries of origin.

  • Trafficking is a lucrative global crime spree. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that trafficking and forced labor is a $150 billion industry worldwide. This business operates 365 days a year because demand and desperation co-exist.

Global refugee and immigration crises feed this lucrative industry which means there are likely more victims of human trafficking than ever before. This should surprise no one considering the world is facing concurrent famines, record-breaking refugee crises, and unwelcoming borders.

Human trafficking affects every country in the world, including the U.S. The ILO estimates there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally; 5.4 victims for every 1,000 people in the world. Seventy-five percent of those exploited are women and girls. Children separated from parents are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.

  • You and I are not innocent bystanders. Our world buys and sells human beings in a massive global trade that uses our banking systems, our international corporations and our transportation systems. Every one of us is involved with, and benefits from, the global slave trade. It’s in the fish we consume, the chocolate we eat, the shoes we wear and the t-shirts we buy.

This week we acknowledge World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, but on behalf of that little five-year-old girl, we must do so every day. To combat trafficking, tangible actions need to tackle both supply and demand.

There are three steps our country can take right now.

  • Understand that U.S. foreign assistance is the frontline defense against desperation. Though the U.S. foreign assistance budget is small— just one half of one percent of the federal budget — it faces annual threat and cuts. Through U.S. foreign assistance, more and more communities learn to grow better crops to feed their families; find sustainable water sources so people are healthier and more productive; reduction of poverty increases stability; girls stay in school so they aren’t forced into marriage. Members of Congress must support the Foreign Assistance budget and at only one half of one percent of the federal budget, it needs protected from cuts and strategically increased.
  • Increase anti-human Trafficking partnerships. Ethical organizations are on the front lines, doing effective anti-trafficking research and mitigation, partnering with governments, law enforcement, businesses, consumers and other nongovernmental and faith-based organizations.
  • Spend money responsibly. Some countries and industries are benefiting from human trafficking and forced labor more than others; the U.S. Department of Labor has identified 139 goods from 75 countries made by forced and child labor; consumers can measure their personal “slavery footprint”. From tea to fashionchocolate to the fishing industry (notorious for slave labor) we can’t claim ignorance. So from individual consumers to large government contracts, we need to stop funding the slave trade with our wallets.

Rev. Cameron Trimble is the CEO of the Center for Progressive Renewal and Convergence Network and chairs the U.S. board of Stop the Traffik.