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Archive for the ‘human trafficking’ Category

By Dr Tina Maddison, CCDC PHE West Midlands Team

Human trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them (1). Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (2), with women and girls disproportionately affected (3). This is a problem that is not diminishing.

Indian brothel

Inside an Indian brothel

My husband and I are currently volunteering in South East Asia for an NGO that rescues and rehabilitates children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. My husband has recently returned from India where he witnessed first-hand the prolific nature of this trade. Many of the women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation either by the families into which they are sold or in the public brothels that line the backstreets of countless cities.

 

In New Delhi, home to a myriad of brothels and massage parlours, children as young as 12 are sold to men up to 40 times a day. This abuse is beyond comprehension. The damage to the individual, both physically and emotionally, is catastrophic. Babies born to these girls are also used for the gratification of perverted minds.

Abha was just 12 when she was trafficked into a brothel in Delhi (4). “I was kept day and night in that place. They made me go with men all day and all through the night. If I resisted the owners would cut my arms, burn my face with cigarettes and scald my body. They would open up my wounds the next day to remind me not to disobey. They would inject me with drugs and force me to drink alcohol to make sure I did what I was told.
Whilst I was there I caught TB from the other girls. Seven men escorted me to hospital; they did not let me out of their sight. I was a prisoner, and I lost all hope of ever escaping. Eventually I tried to kill myself by cutting my wrists. They stitched me up so I could carry on making money for them.”

Across South East Asia, in the poorest of towns and villages, families are forced to make agonising decisions just to survive. Fathers will sell their oldest daughters to feed their younger siblings. The fundamental human rights of a child have no meaning in a world of extreme poverty.

Cultural issues in some countries contribute to the problem. Women and girls are viewed, by many, to be of little significance or worth. This diminished social standing is exploited by organised criminal gangs who view young girls as objects to be bought, auctioned and sold. To them women have a high value but for all the wrong reasons.
The crisis in India, where woman and girls routinely face sexual exploitation, harassment and lack of human worth has, in recent years, been amplified by the availability of pornography on the internet. One exasperated Indian social worker put it like this: “Pornography has intensified the lack of respect for women here. The problem has become much worse in a short space of time.”

Where does our public health duty lie in response to the appalling reality faced daily by girls such as Abha? Poverty, disregard of a woman’s worth and the prevalence of pornography are all underlying factors in this human tragedy. Should our response be to attempt to deal with these fundamental problems?

If these root causes are just too enormous a challenge, then should our public health response be to deal with the aftercare of individuals directly affected? Children rescued from the brothels have been broken mentally, physically and spiritually. Many suffer with rejection, they cannot reconcile the fact that their own families could have sold them. For others, the shame they burden for the abuse they have suffered is a barrier to ever being reunited with loved ones. They become outcasts.

Those still trapped within this insidious industry suffer with even greater self-degrading effects. A sense of hopelessness inevitably leads to depression. Many try to take their own lives as their only means of escape. Others develop a dependency upon the drugs and alcohol they are plied with in an attempt to block out the fear and pain they have been sentenced to.

Our public health response could be to identify and develop services to deal with these devastating emotional effects on young lives. Or as public health practitioners we could respond to their physical needs; screening and treating TB, HIV and other STIs, improving their poor nutrition and working to ameliorate their squalid living environments.

However, within India and neighbouring countries, for many there is still an unwillingness to admit that such problems exist. On the flight into Delhi one Indian passenger was adamant there were no issues with prostitution in India. “You will not be able to show me even one woman or child in prostitution. There is no problem here, this does not happen!”

Perhaps, therefore, our public health duty first and foremost should be to continue to raise awareness about this atrocity so that no one can honestly deny that the problem exists. Unless the issue and scale of human trafficking is recognised and acknowledged by all countries, and political pressure applied at the highest levels to invoke change, then those on the ground who fight daily against such evils will continue to fight alone.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke

References:

1. UNODC. UNODC on human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Available at URL: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/human-trafficking/ (Accessed 8 May 2017)

2. UNODC. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. Executive Summary. February 2009.

3. International Labour Organization. Summary of the ILO 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour. June 2012

4. Abha – not her real name. Notes from a personal conversation with a girl rescued from a brothel in Delhi, May 2017.

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