Gambling with Humans

Jae Woo Jang, Philippines, International School Manila, 10th Grade, 3rd Place Winner

They called her Sharon. She was forced to assume that name apart from the new identity they gave her and the barcode they tattooed and etched on her forehead. She, along with fifteen other sweaty and stinking bodies inside that four-by-four room, endured twenty three days inside a cargo ship’s compartment under the floorboards – even during storms and heavy turbulence, even when they turned sick to the stomach and the room was shrouded with the stench of vomit. All of them were children – she, thirteen. There was a man they called Savior – a blob of a body wrapped in white suit. He was in his fifties. He promised them high paying jobs in the city. A day’s pay is enough to feed their families back home for a month. That’s why their parents agreed for them to be taken.

After the ship docked at the port of Sumatra, Sharon was brought to the city’s red light district, sold as a slave, raped countless times, threatened that she was not going to see her family ever again if she did not do what the Savior told her to. She stayed. She’d get killed if she turned back.

Sharon’s story is shared by million others – victims of human trafficking, a multi-million dollar business which thrived on the exploitation of women and children. As all countries confront the problem, the issue affects more adversely developing countries whose laws or the lack thereof failed to protect women and children from being sold as slaves or forced into prostitution. Although many other solutions were implemented to mitigate the activity level of human trafficking through transportation interception and other means, the number of people getting involved as slaves is growing exponentially every year. Hence, we must pinpoint the potential rural communities in which victims are most vulnerable and engender reforms that center on quality education and poverty alleviation.

Human trafficking, the act of illegally recruiting, transporting and harboring human beings for forced labor, sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation, has become a virtual black market whose global scale amounts to $32 billion annually (UNODC, 2011), ensnaring 2.5 million women and children to slavery, forced labor, and prostitution (Soroptimist, 2008). The issue is not merely confined to one specific area, as human trafficking is ubiquitous and transcends boundaries, economic status, and age. Although the world, with UN and NGOs in the forefront of this cause, is urging countries and governments to enforce laws and policies that can bring a hiatus to this notorious network of trafficking by intercepting traffickers or other accomplices involved during the clandestine trade, the number of trafficked victims is growing exponentially every year.

The country in which I reside, the Philippines, is listed as the fifth country in the world that contributes to the alarming number of trafficked victims (GMA, 2008). According to the law enforcement statistics of the Philippines, up to 400,000 women and 100,000 children are currently smuggled out of the country and given fraudulent, illegal documents and visas to enter countries such as Saudi Arabi, Kuwait, Hong Kong and other countries (Leones & Capares, 2011). The victims are ready for sale by a network of headhunters who are always thirsty to scout for vulnerable individuals to exploit. These headhunters earn $10 to $20 per head for every deal, often rendering their recruits indebted to them. As the victims are expected to give services to their customers through labor or sexual means, recruiters can rake in a much as $4000 profit from each victim’s entire career as slaves (Uy, 2008).

But how do individuals fall prey to trafficking and exploitation? Generally, victims fall into the scouters’ carefully planned baits. Filipino girls, ranging from age 10- 20, for instance, are often promised a ‘better’ life in the cities by getting employed as a housemaid or a waitress. Especially in often impoverished rural communities due to the lack of economic stability and in education equality (Christian Century, 2009), minorities become increasingly prone to vacuous promises selling victims into the idea that going abroad such as the U.S, Italy and U.K will change their lives for the better (The Future Group, 2007).

As human trafficking, like what Sharon and other young minorities have gone through, comes in many forms ranging from forced manual labor work to prostitution, some victims such as children are forced into the ‘business’ through abduction or parental neglect. Various cases of acquiring humans for trafficking, especially older women, involve volunteerism into unknown risks, as traffickers deceive individuals. Working conditions for these victims are usually very degrading and depraved; trafficked victims become increasingly prone to trauma and abused women and children who have experienced this nightmare, often regress into depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder that resulted from this psychological and emotional impact (American Journal of Health, 2010). These stunning figures lead us to deduce that the human trafficking market that exists in the Philippines alone has a potential to profit millions of dollars. These harsh treatments which traffickers inflict upon women and children severely damage the core merit of the country.

Fortunately, Cecilia Flores- Oebanda, renowned as the leading proponent of the anti-human trafficking, purports that the Philippines has begun to initiate notable progress in engendering a solution to human trafficking. For example, the definitive law passed in 2003, labeled the Republic Act 9208, explicitly categorizes any form of human trafficking as an illegal act (Lontayao, 2010). This tackles the problem by primarily intercepting illegal human transportations.

The Republic Act 9208, the main solution set forth, has begun implementations of rules to bring these traffickers to justice. The law argues that plausible strategies to enforce this law should be under the government’s responsibility. Many NGOs, such as the Visayan Forum Foundation, try to aid the process by imposing strict monitoring system for any accomplice of recruitment agencies and illegal recruiters throughout urban areas (Visayan Forum, 2011). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime allows governments to utilize Article 3 of Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons to set fundamental basis to punish people that have directed, assisted and even attempted human trafficking (UNODC, 2011). By clearly categorizing who to incarcerate or fine, the Philippines has enacted the establishments of committees and commission to meticulously monitor the potential culprits behind human transport within and outside of country. Some examples, among 10 commissions, such as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Local Government Units (LGUs) are initially formed to regulate transports (Arellano Law Foundation, 2003) in airports and shipping ports.

Although the government had enforced laws that can limit these active exchanges of victims, the core roots that result in human trafficking are not completely solved. Oebanda asserts that poverty and unemployment are two vital factors that expose vulnerable minorities to getting involved in human trafficking. As mentioned earlier, living under an inescapable umbrella of poverty, it is often natural for parents, the communities, intimate relatives, or the trafficked themselves to volunteer to be involved in these miserable conditions (Oebanda, 2006). In fact, Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission (IJM) (Cavalieri, 2010) defends that the substantial constituents that allow the victims to ‘voluntarily’ engage into these situations include the following: extreme poverty, unemployment and lack of education which renders the impoverished in rural communities to ‘sell’ themselves out of necessity with regards human slavery. Hence, this solution does not encompass the full key to nip this problem in the bud.

Therefore, in solving the issue on human trafficking, the focus should not only be on creating immediate solution by dismantling the notorious network but also on formulating a sustainable rural development plan to educate women and children and provide opportunities for employment in appropriate conditions. One element that catalyzes women to inadvertently get locked in the human trafficking market is the lack of education and development in the rural areas which confines young women from making conscious decisions. This tends to be a positive correlation as the vulnerability to exploit and deceive women depends on the women’s level of education. And due to inequitable distribution of money between the rural and urban developments, the girls in the provinces are more prone to getting trafficked (Barnidge K & Baker Elizabeth & Motton & Fitzgerald & Frank, 2011).

Hence, every country including the Philippines must adopt rural development projects which focus on educating women to become self- sufficient. Governments need to compel families to send their children to school. Although some families are too pressed by their economic status and need their children to work at home, it is the government’s responsibility to provide free education for these students. The Philippines, with seven million people who have not completed their primary education, is still progressing towards free universal education with the help of the Asia-Pacific Programme of Education since its 1987 inception (UN educational, 1991). The purpose of this education is to steer young girls away from getting involved in forced prostitution. Thus, Philippine government as well as the other officials must carefully develop a curriculum that can captivate students to learn and to restore value into their own lives, utilizing a variety of teaching methods ranging from social to kinesthetic learning. For instance, Uganda, which has a girl’s primary school dropout rate of 13.1%, provided quality education to women to give them economic alternatives by allocating at least one quarter of its public expenditures on universal education (Kasente, 2003). The Uganda Rural Development Training Programme (URDT) not only teaches young students but also effectively trains women living under $1 or less income to become businesswomen and independent skilled worker in farms and other industries. Uganda has focused on educating and developing women’s skills so that they are less liable to seek hopes from unacquainted human traffickers disguised as job scouters. Research indicated that investing on financial and education advancement of girls generated many social benefits in Uganda as beneficiaries’ involvement in the market boosted the economy and as women’s progress gave way to further improvements in their children’s growth (Educated Choice, 2009).

This is the more efficient strategy, which spurs young girls to learn and trains women to find alternative jobs in society. Governments must also apply this strategy in the rural areas as education is less effective in those localities. Hence, what we need to do is not to merely cut the immediate human transportation in the country but to really sever the roots of it. By training, inspiring and educating women, human traffickers won’t be able to easily lure them into exploitation, which will adversely affect the human trafficking business. Therefore, the Philippines must primarily identify which rural communities are included among the bottom half percentile of growth and economic standing. In establishing social stability, the government must also consider women’s empowerment and education accessibility within the indigenous tribes such as the Maranao Muslims as they tend to comprise only 3% of the total primary school enrollment and easily fall prey to human trafficking (Nakate, 2011).

Hence, using the improvement on the quality education in Uganda as corollary, the Philippine government and other governments that confront the problem of human trafficking must rigorously train women, girls and children and those who occupy the lower rung of society and provide quality education so that they become self-sufficient citizen in their respective society. Most importantly, education, which many countries seem to neglect, is supposed to be intriguing and enjoyable. Learning is long term and it empowers individuals to attain skills and in a many instances, a way out of poverty and protection from human trafficking (Lim, 2009).


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