Global Recession – Brothels Edition

Unsurprisingly, the articles mentions that high-class brothels are still doing pretty well. It is below on the social ladder that economic conditions are felt more harshly. The article also mentions that there may be an increase in supply: more women turning to prostitution as economic conditions worsen. And, higher supply means lower prices in a more competitive market.

What the article does not mention is that beside the "nice" legal German prostitution, there is a darker side to this trade: it is that of sexual slavery and trafficking which is flourishing in general but as more women get desperate in already poorer countries in Eastern Europe, the chances of trafficking increasing are great. It is already dreadful economic conditions that have pushed a lot of women from Moldova and other former communist countries into sex trafficking. And anyone who has read Kevin Bales’s books on slavery knows that any category of people that becomes destitute becomes a prime target for slavery.

So, I guess the point of the article was more "it’s tough for everyone" kind but it ignores a significant aspect of economic recession that is germane to its topic.

Human Trafficking in Failing States

There is no doubt that criminal organizations thrive in an environment where the state is unable to maintain security and provide basic services as is the case in Iraq.

This seems to be a perfect illustration the intersection of different forms of global guerrillas (I am borrowing John Robb’s concept, book review to follow… soon, with more details on the concept): on the one hand, guerrilla groups undermine the state’s capacities, and on the other, criminal organizations and gangs take advantage of the political and social chaos to profit from illegal activities.

Additionally, of course, a corrupt state is also one in which criminal organizations will have an easier time functioning as they will gain access to state resources such as information and will be able to actually make state processes work for them.

And as sectarian groups, through undermining the state, damage the economy, more people will be vulnerable to certain practices, such as giving up their children to people they think are aid workers for adoption. After all, thanks to their access to state resources, traffickers are the right papers to reassure the parents of their "legitimate" activities.

And adoption is actually a better fate than what awaits some of these children:

ASA Meeting – Day 3 and Going Home

Things that suck

Another session, another !@#$ baby.

The universe turning against you:

  • Being delayed at Logan Airport long enough to see O-Force One (Change you can believe in!!) for the big birthday bash, apparently.
  • Sitting on the plane next to a woman (with young child!) wearing a pink "Obama Mama" shirt (that’ll teach me to upgrade to Economy +)
  • Driving home in the biggest !@#$ thunderstorm with lighting that makes you think you’re in a rave party.

The Thing that Really Sucked

Kevin Bales did not show up for the session on human trafficking and slavery. Damn, I really wanted to see him, he’s my hero!

Putting a session on such an important topic as human trafficking (which definitely fits with the general topic of labor) on the last day, where most people have already gone home.

Things that don’t suck

The session on human trafficking and slavery, which had two very interesting contributions.

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Why Hillary Should Be President – Human Trafficking and Global Criminal Networks

On September, 23, 2003, Senator Hillary Clinton was interviewed for the great PBS program Wide Angle on the topic of human trafficking (2003, folks, that was 5 years ago, ok… and yes, that was the year of the beginning of the war in Iraq but that was not the only thing going on in the world. I, for one, am glad somebody was paying attention to these other crucial issues even though I disagree with her – heck, ANYONE’s vote for the war). Let me excerpt a few chosen quote (full transcript at the link above, so YES, I’m picking and choosing).

Hillary Clinton: Well. Jamie, the fact that this is a modern-day form of slavery was shocking to me. When I realized, because of my travels and exposure as First Lady, how prevalent it was, I determined that we should do something about it. I went to Beijing to the UN Conference on Women in September of 1995, and spoke out against a long series of abuses that were human rights violations of women’s rights and among those, of course, was trafficking. And then, in the time after the conference, when it did become an item that was of higher interest on the national and international agenda, we followed up. In 1996, I went with my husband to Thailand for a state visit. I went to the north where I met with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], trying to help young girls who had been sold by their families into prostitution, trafficked into the brothels, mostly in Bangkok.

Jamie Rubin: So they were sex slaves, these girls.

Hillary Clinton: They were. They were 10, 11, 12 years old. I remember going to a hospice and meeting a 12-year-old girl who had become very sick because of AIDS, had been thrown out of the brothel, had found her way back to her family, who didn’t want her, and ended up in this hospice for dying teenagers and adolescents. And both I and my staff, led by Melanne Verveer, who was responsible for the work on issues like this, began talking about it with everyone we could find in the White House and the State Department. In 1997, we began something called Vital Voices, and we brought together women from the former Soviet Union in Vienna. And what I found was that it was a huge problem, not just in a country in Asia, like Thailand, but also in Ukraine, Belarus, the former Soviet Union. And then the administration, under my husband’s leadership and under Secretary Albright’s leadership, really made this a high priority, which led to our involvement in international conferences with the Secretary of State, the President, and other high officials, raising this with governments around the world.”

But but but… as First Lady, all she did was organize tea parties!! You know what? That’s what I call leadership, damn it (Disclaimer: I know such an interview will be full of self-serving statements but the very fact that she knows what she is talking about is evident… below, you’ll find my own writing on the subject… she hits all the crucial points in this!).

Note to trolls: yes, 1996 was also the year she traveled to Bosnia… no it’s not inconsistent… a year has 365 days, so you can actually go to different places in one year (I know, ain’t that incredible??).

And here is one for the skeptic feminists:

“When Madeline Albright became Secretary of State — after the announcement and when she was confirmed — I went over to the State Department. And we had a joint meeting where we talked about women’s rights as being really important to American foreign policy — and not as some kind of marginal luxury that maybe when we didn’t have something better to think about we could worry about. Because where women have rights, as we have found in Afghanistan, and in many other parts of the world, the countries are more likely to be stable, they are more likely to be pro-democracy.”

YES, I want a President who understands the gendered nature of social issues such as trafficking. Human trafficking sounds gender neutral but the reality is that criminal networks are masculine organization. The victims of human trafficking are largely women. It is absurd to design policies that are gender neutral when the targeted population “just happens” to belong to one gender: women. So what did Hillary do exactly? In the interview, she emphasizes that during WJC’s administration she did NOT work on the law enforcement side of things. Instead, she started the Vital Voices initiative after Beijing (you can read about their accomplishments – and recognition of HRC’s leadership) at their website, but the general goal is to raise awareness.

And here again, Hillary shows, to someone like me who constantly writes and works on globalization, that she’s got the more detailed, nuanced and consistent view of the phenomenon:

“It’s the dark underbelly of globalization. Now that we can move goods and people with such ease all over the world, it is very hard to know what it is that we are transporting, where it’s supposed to end up. This is true for human beings, it’s true for drugs, it’s true for weapons, it’s true for terrorism, it is something we have to come to grips with. I think we should be looking at trafficking, not only as an evil, in and of itself, that the world has to combat, but as part of some of the problems that we face because of globalization. Who would have thought, before September 11th, that hijackers could use credit cards, modern commercial airplanes, and box cutters to wreak such havoc? I really think it’s time for the world community to come together internationally and start setting out rules for the 21st century.”

Here again, this is a horribly long post, so, most of it is below the fold but I am trying to convey here that here is someone who, again, displays leadership where, in my view, it matters: on problems that have global ramifications. She does so with passion and intelligence (huh? Who knew you could have both?), approaches the issue of trafficking with compassion without losing sight of the national / global policy implications.

To paraphrase the song, the world needs Hillary.

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Human Trafficking – A Global Tour

IRIN has done a tremendous job reporting on the global nature of child trafficking… in general media indifference. First stop, Mozambique:

Mozambique“A truck packed with 40 children was intercepted in the central Mozambican province of Manica this week, sparking concern over increased child trafficking and the urgent need for effective legislation to address the problem.”

These children were not kidnapped. Their parents had given them voluntarily to the truck driver to drive them to schools in the cities. Mozambique has no law against human trafficking (even though the practice is illegal according to international law), so no trafficker has ever been prosecuted there. The only way to get traffickers prosecuted is to get them charged with kidnapping, corruption of minors or hijacking, but those carry only light sentences. The parliament there is considering a law specifically to protect against trafficking, and it is about time:

“Although there are no recent figures on human trafficking in Mozambique the practice is believed to be growing. A 2003 study on trafficking in the region by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) estimated that 1,000 Mozambican woman and children were being trafficked to South Africa every year, mainly for sexual exploitation. (…) Amnesty International stated in a 2005 report that trafficking in the former Portuguese colony was also thought to be linked to the extraction of human organs for ritual and witchcraft purposes, with allegations that the practice was taking place in the northern provinces of Nampula and Niassa.”

Next stop: Nepal.
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European Convention against Human Trafficking

This is entirely good news: it took 10 years to get it done but the European Convention against Human Trafficking is finally in place as of Friday, February 1st for the first 10 member-states of the European Council (the highest institution of the European Union): Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Georgia, Moldavia, Romania and Slovakia. On May 1st, it will apply to France, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Norway and Malta.

This Convention contains some interesting provisions that reveal a good understanding of the characteristics of human trafficking. First, it is fairly broad in coverage as it defines as legal infractions forced labor, prostitution, slavery and trafficking in organs. The signatories will all implement legal sanctions for these and they also commit to prosecuting individuals, groups and companies that have knowingly benefited from them.

The greatest originality of the Convention is that it truly treats the victims of human trafficking as victims regardless of their status: prostitutes, illegal immigrants, or black market workers. The Convention mandates a one-month “recovery period” during which victims will receive assistance and protection so that will not be pursued by the people or groups who exploited them. After that, they might benefit from renewable visas depending on their circumstances or whether they cooperate with the authorities.

This provision is central, especially in the case of trafficked prostitutes. These women are often illegally brought into the countries in which they’ll work. If the police dismantles a prostitution network, the women are traditionally treated as criminals themselves, as illegal immigrants. They are quickly deported and therefore cannot testify in court against their traffickers. As a result, prosecution of trafficking cases often return only mild sentences, if not not guilty verdict against known traffickers.

The Convention also mandates the creation of an expert group on human trafficking to oversee the implementation of the Convention and made recommendations if necessary.

The estimated number of victims of human trafficking in Europe is between 120,000 and 600,000, mostly women and children, mostly from the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe as well as the Southern Mediterranean region.