Imagine that you get a call from your sister’s employer, who is working in another country. She tells you that your sister is very sick and needs your help. What would you do? Would you help her?
This is how one young woman in Burma was tricked into leaving her home. Her sister needed help, her employer said, so at age 17 she and a friend immediately left for Thailand. An illegal broker supplied them with fake passports, and they packed just enough clothes for a few days. They made the long trek from Kengtung, Burma, to Bangkok by using the broker’s connections. But instead of arriving to help, the two girls arrived to horror.
When they found the sister, her face became white with fear. “What are you doing here?” the sister gasped. In that moment, the two girls realized that they had been tricked. The employer called with the intention of recruiting her into the same bondage as her sister fell into. The young woman was not sick, and instead she was working in a brothel, after having been trafficked for work. Instead of coming to help, the two girls quickly became helpless and were forced into serving customers every night for over a year.
Whether or not you know someone who has been trafficked, it is possible to relate to this story. Imagine the enormous pressure this girl would have felt to help her family. The trafficker knew exactly how to pull on her heartstrings and manipulate the young woman. If traffickers can be this creative in their ways of recruiting people for work, it is imperative that we find ways to creatively respond and prevent trafficking.
The Asia-Pacific region has taken strides toward improving the protection of children, particularly related to trafficking in persons and the prevention of abuse and exploitation, but there is still more to be done. This region alone owns the sad global record of having the most trafficking victims—involved in commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor and other worst forms of child labor. According to the International Labor Organization’s Global Estimate of Forced Labor, there are 20.9 million people engaged in forced labor globally, and more than half of those are found in this region.
Globally, there are multiple strategies to involve all countries in ending modern slavery and trafficking, ending sexual exploitation of children and preventing all forms of violence and torture against children by 2025. One of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals is to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and other types of exploitation. They also aim to protect labor rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers.
Regionally, the issue of trafficking and unsafe migration requires a coordinated approach because human trafficking is a problem that crosses borders. Many of the migrants in the Asia-Pacific region are migrating without legal documents, causing instability and making human trafficking and unsafe migration an even bigger reality.
The mass exodus of more than 200,000 Cambodian migrants from Thailand in June 2014 when rumors spread that the Thai military government would deport all illegal migrants demonstrates the precarious situation many migrants find themselves in. With the establishment of the Asean Economic Community in the coming years, the migration rate is expected to spike.
From our work in anti-trafficking, we know that people respond when they feel connected to a story; when they can put themselves in the shoes of someone else and imagine it. That is why World Vision puts such a huge emphasis on local-level work where we can reach the most vulnerable and the most affected by the problem. The World Vision ETIP program has been able to achieve considerable progress in putting into place mechanisms and services for the prevention of trafficking and protection of trafficking victims at the village level. Across the six countries, more than 150 youth clubs have been set up and more than 5,000 youth are participating regularly. Not only that, but more than 150,000 individuals have been reached through trafficking prevention events.
For more than five years, we have been helping youth to perform dramas, plays and dances and conduct debates and song competitions as a creative way to inform their peers about the issue. Instead of just billboards or flyers, storytelling and drama is used to convey the prevention message. Simple instructions about where to find out more about safe migration are provided, and real-life case examples are aired on the radio to warn others of illegal means of migrating. By exposing the wounds and the stories of those who have experienced that kind of vulnerability, more people are compelled to act.
Today is International Migrant’s Day. We want to recognize the importance of effective communication as a key step to preventing trafficking and urge the region’s leaders to take action.
Governments should increase their efforts to make the process of obtaining legal documentation for migration easier and accessible, especially in areas with high rates of migration. There should be intra-government coordination to promote legal migration, particularly to address trafficking threats.
Civil society and media should also work creatively together to form a safer community that promotes safe and legal migration through communication methods. By involving local community members who have migration or trafficking experience as peer educators, youth who are planning to migrate for work can be provided with practical protection information.
Families and communities can also put protective practices in place that lead to the prevention of trafficking. They can challenge the social norms and attitudes toward education by promoting its importance for sustainable work.
People at any level have the power to alleviate the suffering of millions of children. What will you do?
Amy Collins is the regional prevention project manager for World Vision’s human trafficking project in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Burma and Laos