Human trafficking was on the agenda today at the United Nations in New York as a UN General Assembly interactive dialogue meeting, “Fighting Human Trafficking: Partnership and Innovation to End Violence Against Women,” revealed that international funding efforts are falling short, in spite of ongoing organizational efforts to decrease the number of people forced to be world labourers. Criminal activities in forced labour includes the merchandising of human beings inside the forced sex-industry in what has been globally assessed by the UNODC – UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as an “illegal industry involving 2.4 million people” kept by human traffickers worldwide as slaves.
Every year, thousands of people fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad, with women comprising two thirds of global trafficking victims, outlined the UNODC.
Those in the most danger are those who live at the very bottom of society said advocates who came to be part of the General Assembly discussions. Two women who were personal victims of human trafficking, Rani Hong and Somaly Mam, added their personal experiences and voices to the discussions.
Hong grew up in a poor large South Indian family suffering with a father who had become very sick. When one of the leaders of her village offered her family a way to ‘take care’ of Rani with an opportunity for her to get also get an education she was allowed to leave. But the family had been tricked as they unknowingly allowed their child to be sold into slavery at the age of 7-years-old. Once with her trafficker, Rani was beaten daily, kept from eating and traumatized severely. At the age of eight she was sold again she was sold again to an international adoption agency and was adopted by American (U.S.) parents who were unaware at the time she had been trafficked, she told Oprah Winfrey in a December 2010 TV interview.
21 years later Rani went back to India and found her birth mother, providing a pivotal and insightful moment in her life.
Her story and the searing story of Somaly Mam, who was kidnapped into human trafficking as a young eleven year old child living on the streets who was later sold to a brothel in Cambodia, brought an immediacy to the issues of global human trafficking at the General Assembly dialogue during the UN’s Tuesday meeting.
The stories of human trafficking show large with human suffering say international advocates. “The first time I was raped I felt dead inside,” said Mam outlining her rape as a child during a 2008 TV interview with Tyra Banks.
“We have all heard stories of parents selling their daughters. What we haven’t heard so much are the stories of illegal recruiters and traffickers that cash in on gender-based vulnerabilities,” outlined UN Women Director Michelle Bachelet during the event. “Studies from South Asia point to traffickers scouring villages looking for widowed, divorced women, women or girls who had been sexually abused or censured by communities who were seeking refuge from alienation and wanting economic security, or economically excluded women wanting to migrate for better work. ‘Fly now, pay later schemes,’ were deployed, trapping women and girls in debt bondage from the outset,” continued Bachelet.
“I am especially honoured that we are joined today by Rani Hong and Somaly Mam,” said Secretary Ban during the UN dialogues event. “Ms. Hong founded the Tronie Foundation with her husband. Both were victims of trafficking. Both have used their experience to stop this crime and help others heal. They are truly inspiring” he continued.
The global crime of human trafficking and sex-trafficking generates $32 billion annually, outlined the UNODC, with crimes “rival the profits reaped by the illicit trade in arms and drugs.”
“Ms. Mam also endured terrible atrocities,” added Secretary Ban. “Not only was she the victim of human trafficking, but after she escaped, her daughter was kidnapped as well. It is quite possible that the kidnappers were targeting Somaly’s family because she is fighting against them,” he outlined.
“Women are lured out of their homes and countries with false promises. They are stripped of their passports, their dignity and their personal security,” said Secretary Ban urging the Assembly Member States to increase their collaborative efforts. “Where traffickers use threats and weapons, we must respond with laws and prosecutions.”
Each year, thousands of people fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Women comprise two thirds of trafficking victims outlined the UN dialogue.
Organized by the President of the UN General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, in conjunction with UNODC and the Group of Friends Against Human Trafficking, the event goal has been to discuss solutions by designing coordinated policy to strengthen international measures to combat the issues.
In his remarks, Mr. Ban emphasized that countries need to tackle the broad factors that lead to human trafficking, such as extreme poverty which forces families to sell their children to traffickers. He also noted that migration is also closely linked to this issue, requiring States to take action on relevant policies.
“I welcome this dialogue’s focus on closing the gap between commitments and actions. Far too many women and girls fall through the cracks and land in the unscrupulous arms of traffickers,” Mr. Ban said. “But I have to be clear. It will take resources to build a bridge from words to deeds.”
Encouraging all those in attendance to contribute to the UN Trust Fund on Human Trafficking, which provides humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims of trafficking, Secretary Ban focused on funding as a base to marking solutions. Financing is a critical component for progress and success, emphasised Secretary Ban.
Echoing Mr. Ban’s remarks, the General Assembly’s President Al-Nasser said the money received by the Fund so far was not enough.
“The Fund needs strong and continued support of Member States, and civil society, especially the private sector and the media, if it is to success as an engine for the delivery of assistance to victims,” Mr. Al-Nasser said in his remarks to the meeting. “Whether an individual, an organization, a State, I urge everyone to speak out against this terrible crime that does unspeakable damage,” he added.
Referring to the UN Trust Fund on Human Trafficking, UNODC’s Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, reported that since it was created, around $1 million has been pledged, with around $470,000 contributed.
Funds received so far at part of the UN Trust Fund on Human Trafficking have supported the provision of educational, medical and psychosocial assistance to child victims of trafficking in Cambodia. The program has also assisted victims in Albania through a reintegration program as well as giving support to a Nepalese NGO almost entirely staffed by the survivors of human trafficking.
Other UN officials attending the UN dialogue included Michele Bachelet as well as the Chair of the UN
Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking, Aleya Hammad.
“Children born today, particularly girls, should not have to face the possibility of being forced into this modern form of slavery tomorrow,” stressed attending Academy Award winning celebrity actress, Ms. Mira Sorvino, who worked as an advocate with Amnesty International joined efforts in 2010 as the UN Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking.