Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Survivors have their voices heard at the UN

Equally worthy news sources Time Magazine and FMF blogger Kat have been getting buzz going: the recession has brought with it an increase in human trafficking, particularly in cases of child sex trafficking.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 12.3 million people are being trafficked at any given time, with that number mostly being compiled of women and girls.

In response to this dangerous snowballing threat to safety, the UN responded with a series of recently-held hearings specifically on the issue. Truth be told, this is not the first time human trafficking has been brought up in the halls of the UN; its an issue they've been grappling with for quite some time. It is, however, the first time the UN has approached the topic by putting the specialists to the side and the spotlight on survivors. The results were fascinating.

Heart-wrenching stories were shared from all walks of life from Rachel Lloyd (who founded the non-profit GEMS after escaping her own forced sexual exploitation horror story) to Charlotte Awino of Uganda (who was imprisoned 8 years by Ugandan rebels at the age of 14,) Buddhi Gurung of Nepal (who, unlike many, survived being duped by a false work ad, having his passport confiscated and forced to work in a war-zone) and Kikka Cerpa of Venezuela (who was taken to NYC by her boyfriend, under the guise of being a nanny, only to get sold into his family's brothel.)

While the stories came from different corners of the globe, they oozed of the same plea: these people are victims and the official world needs to start seeing them as victims.

In all cases, there was an opportunity for action that was not taken. Awino explained when found by authorities, people in her situation are often mistaken as compliant terrorists, and treated as such. Cerpa reported the multiple times the police raided her brothel, either to demand sex or to arrest the workers. Each time, she was denied the aid she needed because it was never assumed that she was there against her will. Gurung is currently suing the US government (specifically the federal contractors KRB) for human trafficking and is still shocked that in his many encounters with officials, it was always assumed he was a voluntary immigrant worker, even though his papers did not match.

UN Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo emphasized penalizing the guilty, not the victims, pushing for stronger law enforcement in each country and financial compensation for the victims.

Reminding those in the hearing of shared humanity, Ezeilo closed by saying "it will be irresponsible if we fail to act. We are humans and we should not support inhuman action...The slave trade has been abolished and we can't accept that in our world today.""

photo credit: mvcorks on flickr.com

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