To many of those in industrialized, Western economies it may seem like slavery has been long abolished. In reality it is a thriving multibillion dollar industry. While it is difficult to compile accurate data, the UN estimates that there are 27 to 30 million men, women and children enslaved–more than the population of Texas.
It is an industry with high profits and low risks. There is minimal “capital” investment with a commodity that can be used over and over again. Modern slavery, both in terms of the sex trade and labor, is growing. Almost no nation is untouched. However, some countries are worse than others. And one of the largest suppliers of people in the modern slave trade is Southeast Asia.
According to the Philippine’s justice undersecretary Jose Salazar, the recent proliferation of technology has allowed human traffickers to become better organized and more connected. In fact, Salazar asserts that human trafficking has overtaken illegal arms trade as the second largest criminal industry in the world.
Oftentimes one relates human trafficking to women and prostitution. However modern slavery is complex; the UNODC estimated that 24% of the global slave population in 2009 were male. Beyond sex slavery can also include indentured servitude, other exploitation in the workforce or even the organ trade.
It is also commonly held that most people in the slave trade were kidnapped. On the contrary, many times people’s own families sell them at a young age. Or some even go willingly, thinking it could be a way out of economic deprivation. Nevertheless today many people mistakenly get involved in the industry. As Philippine justice Salazar points out, many Filipino citizens leave the country every year to find work in wealthier, nearby nations. Sometimes traffickers trick unknowing people looking for legitimate employment.
Governments in both the Eastern and Western world are addressing this issue by passing legislation to combat human trafficking. Government initiatives aside, NGOs are also taking action.
Consider Destiny Rescue, an international non-profit organization charged with rescuing children from trafficking and sexual exploitation. US correspondent Rachel Neff explained that the organization has operations across six nations: Thailand, Cambodia, India, Burma, Laos, and Mozambique.
The organization provides prevention programs as well as safe houses for saved victims. Beyond that, Destiny Rescue actually organizes teams to rescue enslaved children; Ms. Neff herself sponsors a Cambodian girl that was rescued at the age of 5.
Nearby in Thailand, the city of Pattaya is the sex capital of the world. Ms. Neff explained that the small beach town houses around 20,000 brothels. The population of Pattaya ranges from 100,000 to 300,000 depending on the season. With such statistics in mind, it is no surprise that the sex trade in the small city reigns supreme.
In the end, it is going to take more than just government and NGO action to stop this growing industry. There must be change on the local as well as individual level; a change in mindset that gives equal value to all human life.
Photo Credit – By Shayan Sanyal (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons