Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Kavita N. Ramdas: No Fair Trade for Trafficked Women

No Fair Trade for Trafficked Women
By Kavita N. Ramdas

The new film TRADE shows the dark world of human trafficking, a crime that exists in our own backyards.

This week marks the premiere of “TRADE” in local theaters, a powerful new film about the underworld of sex trafficking. (See trailer to the right.) The movie is inspired by a 2004 New York Times Magazine cover story by journalist Peter Landesman and shares with it the revelation that human trafficking exists right here in our own backyards. The release of the film also testifies to the success that the women’s movement has had in its sustained efforts over 10 years to bring an end to the traffic in human beings, partly by drawing much needed media attention to this hidden human rights violation.

In the film, a 13-year-old girl from Mexico City is kidnapped by sex traffickers, smuggled across the Rio Grande border and held prisoner in a “stash house” in New Jersey on a street that looks just like thousands of other streets in suburban USA. The girl represents one of an estimated 18,000 -- 20,000 people who are brought to the United States and used for forced labor or sex, according to State Department figures.

Many of them end up in my home state, California; in fact, San Francisco is one of the biggest receiving ports for human cargo shipped in from Asia. Earlier this month, six people were indicted for running a trafficking ring in Los Angeles that lured young women from Guatemala with the promise of good jobs. Once they crossed the border, the women were forced into prostitution to pay off smuggling debts.

Today, human trafficking is approximately a $31.6 billion global industry, making it the third most lucrative criminal activity in the world after illegal drugs and black-market guns. Worldwide, the United Nations estimates that one to four million people are trafficked each year, the majority from Thailand, Mexico and Russia.

Here in the U.S., 34 states have laws that specifically address human trafficking, which President Bush called “a special evil.” California led the way a few years ago by passing a comprehensive bill that makes human trafficking a felony and assists victims with social services to help rebuild their lives. Last May, New York State followed suit with similar legislation that cracks down on perpetrators.

Unfortunately, at the federal level, enforcement remains, at best, a work in progress. Federal laws aimed at prosecuting and punishing traffickers have few teeth because the Bush Administration has not committed the funds necessary to see them through. The number of trafficking investigations is also low: Between 2001 and 2006, the Department of Justice opened just 639 cases, resulting in 238 convictions. The resources allocated to address the crisis are simply not keeping pace with the rhetoric of the administration.

More importantly, as women’s rights groups know from experience, a purely punitive approach to human trafficking is unlikely to achieve long-term results. The growth of the industry in recent times is closely linked to the economic inequalities caused by globalization. The extreme poverty that persists in developing countries often forces families and young women themselves to sell their bodies to survive. War and the presence of armed militias can exacerbate the problem as women’s groups have documented in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Africa where HIV/AIDS has orphaned thousands, it is not uncommon for girls to be sold by relatives in order to pay for the care of their siblings.

To Read the Rest of the Article and to Watch the Trailer

More on this:

The online feminist journal Agenda has a special issue on Sex/Human Trafficking (#70)

Ms. Magazine also has a special report: The Invisible Ones

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