People traffickers profiting from pain
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By Sarah Miloudi
March 22, 2009 / Wales Online
SUNDAY FOCUS: Pembrokeshire couple Thomas John Carroll and Shamiela Clark will tomorrow attend court accused of trafficking humans. SARAH MILOUDI takes an in-depth look at an industry worth around £16bn
A STUDY published on Wednesday by Children’s Commissioner Keith Towler shone a spotlight upon 32 horrific trafficking cases in Wales. But experts warn there could be more.
How many others are likely?
Amnesty International suggests this figure should be quadrupled.
A 2006/07 report by the human rights organisation found 150 women had been trafficked into Wales. It focused solely on the sex trade, so the true figure could be higher still.
And these victims go unnoticed?
Yes. Often, children who are trafficked into Britain don’t immediately present themselves to social services – some are in their late teens by the time they receive help. Before that point, they are absorbed into secret communities and used to work in takeaways, kebab shops and prostitution.
It sounds like the modern-day equivalent of the slave trade.
In several ways it is. Just like the African-Atlantic trade, which existed until 1865, the effects of trafficking on a victim’s life can be devastating. At the end of a long stint of forced labour, women brought to Britain can enter arranged marriages.
Others may turn to begging to survive.
It all sounds desperately sad, but how do victims become enslaved in the first place?
Human trafficking – or people smuggling – tends to take place in countries with unstable governments, high rates of unemployment and few opportunities to secure a better quality of life.
Organised gangs will have their services requested by families or individuals who feel they have no other option but to travel abroad illegally.
On their arrival in a foreign land, they should be free.
But in reality, most will be exploited, despite having paid their smugglers a fee.
But don’t the countries the smugglers work in notice their crimes?
The lack of accurate data about trafficking makes it difficult to identify victims and as a result, authorities don’t hold a clear picture of the problem.
In addition, victims can be unwilling to come forward, allowing the crime to go undetected.
And what about the parents of trafficked children? Do they never step in to help?
For traffickers to maintain their trade, mums and dads – often those living in the world’s poorest regions – are duped into handing over their children.
Parents who face the daily challenge of extreme poverty may sell their children to pay off debts, or because of the promise of gaining a better life for their offspring.
In other cases, in West Africa for example, vulnerable children can simply be lifted off the streets.
If their parents have become casualties of the AIDS epidemic – which in 2007 claimed more than two million lives – young orphans have no-one who will ask questions about why they haven’t returned home at night, or to raise the alarm if they go missing.
These children can be taken, trafficked, and go on to become one of the world’s 27m slaves.
Does this happen around the world?
It’s fair to say it does, and estimates suggest the trade is currently worth $32bn (£16bn). The US State Department thinks that up to 820,000 men, women and children could be trafficked across international borders each year.
Can a solution be found to a problem with such epidemic proportions?
Lobbyists believe the situation can be improved.
They want to see more resources channelled towards the problem and for a coherent, UK-wide trafficking strategy to be introduced.
What else could help?
Ultimately, eradicating the conditions that lead to trafficking could see it outlawed, but employment inequalities – just one of trafficking’s triggers – exists around the world, with no country offering an adequate solution.
Isn’t the industry driven by an element of demand? Would minimising this help?
To an extent, yes. Prostitutes are used around the world and unscrupulous business people will always seek to employ cheap labour.
But a crackdown on users of trafficked workers alone is not enough. Anecdotal evidence tells us that some prostitutes are beaten so they will not confess to clients they are working in the sex industry against their will.
Could anything else help, then?
Mr Towler believes that the Bordering on Concern study represents the first step towards addressing the problem of people smuggling in Wales.
Following its release he said: “For child trafficking to be tackled effectively there first has to be an acceptance it exists.”
Greater awareness and acknowledgement of trafficking could lead to increased action by Governments to eradicate it.
And should we be challenging our preconceptions of trafficking?
That could help too. Women are often thought to be most vulnerable to trafficking, but for the first time in Wales, the Bordering on Concern survey of local authorities, volunteer groups and social services found more boys were smuggled than girls.
Why does this matter?
It is the first time any study has found more male than female victims of the crime, and identification of those at risk means efforts can be targeted effectively.
Couldn’t these findings be an anomaly?
The findings might need to be replicated by another source before they can be generalised. But in Wales they show that over the past two years an increasing number of young boys are being targeted by traffickers.
The majority of victims were aged around 12 or 13, with a significant number falling into the 16-18 age range.
There was also once case of a victim aged three-and-a-half. It shows that more than a handful of boys are affected.
Girls aged between 12 and 16, however, are still thought to account for the largest proportion of kids internally trafficked. These are children moved from one region of the UK to another.
But Britain isn’t a country where trafficking thrives, is it?
Britain does have vulnerable youngsters at risk of entering the trade.
Some girls identified in the report had dropped out of school, while others were struggling to cope with problems at home. Both would be regarded as easy prey by traffickers, experts believe.
These youngsters could be taken, especially at weekends, then forced to travel to a new area where they could be used for sex.
Do any of them receive help?
A small proportion do. Some children in the study came to the attention of local government agencies.
Other victims have been spotted and taken to safe havens in London and Glasgow. They receive counselling and treatment on the NHS.
But authorities who rescue trafficked adults and children face the added difficulty of ensuring victims are never targeted again by criminals.
Trafficking is a tough and unrelenting trade, which campaigners fear could take decades to stamp out.