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In the modern world, human trafficking has emerged as one of the serious transnational crimes that are growing rapidly. Human trafficking has been defined by the United Nations as the recruiting, transporting and receiving or harboring humans either by fraud and deception or coercion or issuing threats for the purpose of exploiting them (US Department of State, 2011). In the US, this has been described as a social problem that emerged during the slave trade era and statistics show it is on the increase despite the numerous policies and strategies set up against it. However, studies have also shown that human trafficking is a global problem and although it does not happen in isolation, women, children and the marginalized minorities are increasingly being targeted in the 21st century (Trafficking in Persons Report June 2009). Although developing countries are usually the countries of origin and the developed world such as Europe and the US the countries of destination, the trend has also been reported to change directions under certain circumstances. Studies have also shown that although there are numerous factors contributing to human trafficking, economic and cultural factors, government policies and civil unrest are the ones contributing the most towards the problem in the 21st century (US Department of State, 2011). This research paper will discuss human trafficking specifically in the US with focus on its history and show that the problem is increasing despite the contemporary policies and strategies put in place against it.
The Social Problem
According to studies conducted on the victims, economic factors are the most common ones contributing to the increasing social problem. This can be attributed to the rapidly increasing global population especially after WWII that was witnessed in the developing countries (Andreas, 2006). This population growth is still going on and the already poor infrastructure and weak economy is being stretched to levels that citizens can longer bear. The resulting social and economic conditions made many people vulnerable to human trafficking. This understanding explains the prevalence of the problem in developing countries and Eastern and Central Europe. The victims usually end up in Western Europe and the US. The 2008 financial crisis was of a global scale but some countries were affected more than others. As the Western world recovered, people from developing countries sought ways of migrating with the hope of better social and economic conditions. Traffickers took advantage of their desperate situation and gave them as much hope as they could promise of better lives abroad. In Eastern and Central Europe, as the region underwent economic transitions, the situation was particularly worse for women and forced them to seek better opportunities in Western Europe and the US (Zimmerman, 2005).
Economic factors can also be linked to the rapid process of globalization. According to the US Attorney General’s Office, it is not only poverty on its own contributing to vulnerability but also the rapid economic declines, the increasing economic disparity and the lack of employment opportunities. For example, the US government pays it farmers subsidies of up to $19 billion annually (US Department of State, 2011). A specific example is the $4 billion paid to cotton farmers for a crop valued at$3 billion. On the other hand, cotton farmers in countries with high slavery levels such as Togo, India, Burkina Faso, Mali and Benin are not able to compete with this subsidy even though they raise cotton at lower costs than their American counterparts. However, they are easily beaten in the marketplace by the American farmers who receive money not only from selling cotton but also from the government. Although a country like the US promotes free trade, it has not allowed free movement of labor. This imbalance of conditions makes farmers from other cotton-producing countries end up in the US under forced labor, essentially promoting human trafficking (Andreas, 2006). This is further complicated by the fact that victims are always hidden from the authorities because human trafficking in itself is a crime. Then, even the victims themselves are usually unwilling to cooperate with the authorities or report their victimization. Some are even not aware of the existing protection the laws of the land offer them.
Studies have also shown that government policies play a key role in the increasing rate of modern-day human trafficking (Zimmerman, 2005). Rather than monitoring and preventing activities that support human trafficking, government policies imposed on developing countries by the Western world actually facilitate it. For example, developing countries are compelled to minimize social spending by the government in order to qualify for loans and other forms of monetary support from international organizations. This has significantly contributed to vulnerability especially in Africa and East and Central Europe and particularly amongst women, children and the marginalized minorities. When governments are not able to spend adequately on social initiatives and improve the living conditions of their subjects, it results in the need to seek better lives elsewhere. Through such happenings, the US often acts as the country of destination for victims of human trafficking (US Department of State, 2011). Further, reports by the United Nations have suggested that the US is one of the countries that set standards for social spending for the developing world and therefore contribute to the problem. That is one of the reasons as to why about 100,000 victims of human trafficking in the industrialized world in the 21st century are in forced labor in the US. According to studies, the government fails to pay attention and/or corrupt officials accept bribes to either allow or actually participate in the process. Although the US has put in place legislation in the 21st century to curb human trafficking, such contributory factors largely work against the laws.
History of the Problem
Historically, slavery emerged simultaneously with civilization and was present in the earliest societies in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. For instance, in the Roman Empire, persons who were unable to pay their debts and prisoners of war were sold to traffickers and forced work on farms and in homes, factories and mines. In the colonial America, trading in slaves became legal in Massachusetts as early as 1641 (Moser, 2012). Before the Revolutionary War, slavery existed alongside indentured servitude in which European migrants surrendered their freedom for up to seven years. That was either part of a labor contract or in order to gain passage to the New World. As cotton plantations expanded in the early 19th century in the south of America, so did the demand for labor which, in turn, boosted slave trade from African countries. This saw the number of laves in the nation grow to over four million before slavery was abolished by the passing of the 13th Amendment by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. However, slavery still lives on in the 21st century in numerous forms as shown by modern-day human trafficking. Human rights activists have argued that putting aside all the rationalization offered for enslavement, slavery remains the same concept whether set in 2000 B.C. or the 21st century. The key change is the false promise of a better life that characterizes modern slavery. The US Department of State (2011) acknowledges that although the nation is mostly a country of destination, it has also served as a country of origin in the 21st century. It also reported that there are over 27 million persons living in modern slavery and close to 100,000 are in the US. The report indicated that the modern slaves are not captured, chained and stocked on slave ships like used to be the case during the slave trade era. Rather, they are people lured into the trap by the promise of better life made possible by better opportunities either in education or professionally (Moser, 2012). The victims are then forced into labor with little or no pay or even forced to sell their bodies.
Human trafficking within the US is made possible by the prospect of earning more income. This does not necessarily imply immigrants since US citizens are also lured into careers such as modeling but once they sign contracts, they are forced into other activities that range from dancing in strip clubs to prostitution (Andreas, 2006). Such persons are kept from escaping mostly through threats to their families. Immigrants are also lured from Latin American and Asian countries with jobs such as domestic worker but once they grant consent to be moved to the US, they end up being abused in forced and sometimes unpaid labor. However, the 21st century human trafficking in the US differs in various ways from ancient slavery first because it is much cheaper to acquire a slave today and ethnic differences are not considered important. Then, in the 21st century human trafficking slaves are only owned for short time rather than for life as it were in the slave trade era (US Department of State, 2011). However, this is also a contributory factor to the growth of the problem since the slave owners do not have incentive to take care of their slaves or keep them productive for long. Since slaves are highly affordable in the 21st century, the owners will simply get rid of and replace those causing undue expenses. Unlike old slavery, legal ownership is avoided in the modern human trafficking. However, from the United Nation’s definition of human trafficking, the victim’s consent becomes irrelevant once the traffickers have become involved themselves in the recruitment, transporting or harboring persons with the intention of exploitation.
78% of the number of slaves in the world is concentrated in only10 countries and they include Russia, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China. The rapidly growing populations of these and other developing countries have caused the number of citizens desperate to improve their lives to increase too. The net effect of such population growth is that people become more vulnerable and boost the supply of potential victims, essentially making them cheaper according to the law of supply and demand (Logan, Hunt & Walker, 2012). In the mentioned countries, government policies, crime, poverty, civil unrest, discrimination against some ethnicities and corruption have increased the vulnerability of potential victims of human trafficking. Studies have shown that in the 21st century, human trafficking is partly fueled by the high demand for cheap labor. An analysis of the situation shows that the US might not directly be involved in the demand of cheap labor in the 21st century but is directly linked to countries that demand cheap labor. For example, it is the cheap labor that is sustaining the flourishing economies of India and China in the 21st century by producing inexpensive goods for the US and other developed countries (Moser, 2012). A report by the United Nations specifically pointed at the demand for electronics, clothes, make-up, chocolate and fish in the US as the ones promoting human trafficking because of the demand for labor. For example, tin and tungsten are used in the manufacture of all high-tech electronics. However, in the Democratic Republic of Congo where these minerals are mined, over 90% of the miners are in slavery and up to 50 percent are minors. Then, over 50% of the clothes imported by the US are made in Bangladesh and China, which are the largest cotton importers from Uzbekistan. The problem is that during harvest the Uzbekistani government uses forced labor on the farms and many are aged as young as seven. The US also imports most of its fish, especially shrimp, from Southeast Asia including Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia and Philippines. That region is known for its use of slavery in the fishing industry where slaves work seven days a week and an average of 20 hours a day. These factors have resulted in the increasing rate of human trafficking in the 21st century, linking the US to the trade, albeit indirectly (US Department of State, 2011).
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Contemporary Policies and Strategies to Combat Human Trafficking
The US Congress found that the degrading and dehumanizing institution of slavery is rampant in the 21st century all over the world. It described human trafficking as the present-day form of slavery with significant activities going on in the US. The policies put in place include the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, 2005, 2008, 2013 and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (McGough, 2013). All these documents were enacted to address the global concern that slavery and modern-day human trafficking still exists and flourishes in heinous forms throughout the world despite being thought to be a thing of the past by many. They were also driven by the acknowledgement that the Palermo Protocol is not given the seriousness it was designed for (the Palermo Protocol contains the United Nations’ definition of human trafficking and its contribution to organized crime). Through the enactment of the policies, aspects such as the creation of criminal laws regarding human trafficking were addressed. In particular, the TVPA created new types of immigration relief immigrant victims of human trafficking discovered in the US. These laws address different forms of human trafficking reported in all the 50 states and they include bonded labor and chattel slavery. The Palermo Protocol addresses prostitution and forced labor and these are emphasized in the contemporary polices in the US. However, the problem still prevails because governments of the countries of origin do not put particular emphasis on these aspects and do not properly define the coercion or persuasion that leads to the consequential transportation into the trafficking system. This practice by some governments works against what the US is focusing on and actually contribute towards the vulnerability of certain population who eventually end up in the US (Andreas, 2006).
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 may have been enacted with positive intentions but critics have pointed out the negative aspects too (CdeBaca & Sigmon, 2014). For example, the military has been deployed to restore order in instances of civil unrest. However, their presence in such circumstances creates conditions of vulnerability as traffickers take advantage and put up brothels in the neighborhoods of military bases. Further, during times of civil unrest, men are often recruited into the ensuing conflicts and at times even killed. For women and children, this means losing male family members and heading towards disoriented social support and economic networks. Given that resettlement and reintegration into the society is usually a lengthy and cumbersome process, women and children end up becoming more vulnerable to traffickers (Moser, 2012). However, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 prescribes effective punishment for the traffickers as well as protection for their victims.
The contemporary policies recognize that a considerable proportion of the victims of human trafficking end up in the worldwide sex trade by coercion, fraud or force, an aspect that has expanded the sex industry rapidly in the 21st century (McGough, 2013). Therefore, they address sexual exploitation that involves commercial sexual services, prostitution, sex tourism and pornography especially among women and children since they were also designed to address women’s low status in most of the countries of origin. However, the US Congress also recognizes that human trafficking is not only confined to the sex industry (Zimmerman, 2005). As an ever-increasing transnational crime, it also entails forced labor and particularly violates human rights, labor and public health standards throughout the world. Therefore, the policies aim at reducing vulnerabilities that disproportionately affect women and children often occasioned by discrimination, poverty, chronic unemployment and the denial of access to education or economic opportunities. From this perspective, the policies were designed with recognition that women and girls are lured into the traffickers’ networks via false promises good pay as models, maids, sales clerks or restaurant workers in decent conditions.
These policies have significantly increased the efforts of the US government towards protecting victims of foreign nationalities who did not previously qualify for government assistance (US Department of State, 2011). The victims of foreign nationalities are also granted non-immigrant status if they willingly cooperate in the investigation and consequent prosecution of the traffickers. In 2003, the TVPA was re-authorized by the US Congress amidst evident corruption in several foreign law enforcement agencies that undermined initiatives against the crime. Therefore, the new law (TVPRA 2003) expanded the reach of the previous one to include the dissemination of materials alerting travelers of the illegality of sex tourism (McGough, 2013). It also introduce the new civil action permitting victims to sue traffickers required the Attorney General to present annual reports on the findings of human trafficking. In 2005, the US recognized that human trafficking was affecting its citizens as well as legal permanent residents as much as it did victims of foreign nationalities. This led the yet another re-authorization of the TVPA and hence the emergence of the TVPRA 2005 that particularly protected victims of US citizenship. It created grant programs that assisted local and state law enforcement initiatives in combating the social problem and expanded existing assistance programs for US citizens and aliens. A significant addition to this policy was the extraterritorial jurisdiction on offenses involving trafficking and committed abroad by employees of the federal government (McGough, 2013).
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It may be concluded that in spite of these efforts, the social problem still persists and is growing at a high rate. Historically, slavery emerged at the same time as civilization and was present in the earliest societies in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The problem has been defined by the United Nations as the recruiting, transporting and receiving or harboring humans either by fraud and deception or coercion or issuing threats for the purpose of exploiting them. In the modern world, it has emerged as one of the serious transnational crimes that are growing rapidly. The victims are often exposed to severe trauma that will eventually require restorative services such as intensive therapy, rehabilitation and recovery. Additionally, cases of modern slavery and human trafficking are often complicated by the lengthy legal proceedings that usually demand additional resources for both victims and prosecutors. Most of the victims are in dire need of comprehensive management of their cases that are usually only provided by service organizations designed for them in the navigation of the legal system. Government policy, civil unrest and economic factors have also been shown to be the key contributors to the problem. The contemporary policies put in place include the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, 2005, 2008, 2013 and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013.
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