The 1833 slavery abolition Act that gave all slaves in British Empire their freedom and the 1865 US 13th Amendment to the constitution at the conclusion of the civil war were gallant efforts by people of conscience the world over on the total abolishment of slavery- the institutionalization of humankind as a property. Little did the humanity know that the phenomenon of slavery will not disappear totally but will rear its ugly head in different shades and colors. The legislative mile stone and success of that time supported the notion that humanity has left slavery in the past and has moved out of the dark ages to a morally superior plane of consciousness. However, it is not un-usual to read in the Newspapers the account of slave-like circumstances or conditions in the entire globe. In some parts of Africa for example, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Guinea to mention but a few and South America like Bolivia and central Europe like Lithuanian Albania and Asia like Thailand etc, where humans are abducted , forced to work without pay and prohibited from where they do their forced labour. Contrastingly, In Nigeria, Benin and Ghana, the process of dehumanizing may not necessary involve abduction but a situation where parents willingly give out their children to slavery and servitude for mainly pecuniary motive; and in other instances adults give themselves out commercially and sexually to exploitative agents. The rationale behind this degrading act and crime against individual and humanity stems from the victims themselves perhaps they are in debt bondage or their parents as in the case of children. Many a victim has been lured into human trafficking or abducted or deceived in to making a journey that usually ends in exploitation. Human trafficking today which I will refer to as ‘commoditization’ is a virus and public health issue as seen in some quarters affecting children, women and men. Human trafficking as a growing phenomenon contravenes fundamental human rights, it denies people from enjoying their basic freedoms, and it is a sacrilege on human dignity. Sadly, victims are hidden from public views in private homes performing different kinds of house chores in which they are treated as property and dehumanized. Quoting Benn Hillary “Then, as now greed and disregard for the rights and dignity of fellow human beings drove this inhuman trade”
Yes! That said and that applies to the criminals of conscience at both the demand and supply side of the inhuman trade. In Nigeria for example, children as young as six years of age are used as farm laborers in plantations and quarry sites, baby sitters/house maids thus making the country to be listed as a major source, transit and destination country for trafficking persons. The Nigerian government for example through her institution (National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons) on the fight against human trafficking have been able to create awareness and apprehended and intercepted a lot of victims being taken across Nigeria borders and at the same time repatriating many of the children to their families. Similarly, a young Burmese woman who was searching for job opportunities outside her country together with other migrants of which many were children found themselves in a shrimp farming and processing factory that eventually turned to a prison to her and others. In an attempt to escape the camp, she was caught and refused food and water, had her head shaved and was beaten and humiliated. There are countless conditions like the Burmese migrant that are not seen in the remote areas of the world over. Human trafficking today has reached a level that has bearing on local and international policies of many nations across the globe. However at the same time, one cannot deny the fact that human trafficking is deeply rooted in human rights and humanitarian issues a major topical concern among human rights scholars, practitioners and activist and international organizations world over. This indeed has made concerned institutions to reappraise the concept of trafficking in contemporary times. Perhaps I should clarify the notion of human trafficking and human smuggling for better policy and practical understanding. While trafficking is defined by exploitation and force labour, smuggling refers to the illegal but voluntary transportation across borders. At any rate, whichever way one understands this two concepts, they are both crimes against individual and humanity. In effect, International agencies’ efforts in this regards prompted for example the U.N Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children- the Palermo Protocol that was adopted in 2000. This protocol identified core areas in which human trafficking can be understood, such as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of threats or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power or of position of vulnerability of giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. It must be noted that the Palermo protocol emphatically stressed ‘exploitation’ to include at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery or the removal of organs. In the same vein, the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 eloquently provided highlights on the forms of trafficking in the order of degrading or their severity which includes one: sex trafficking in which commercial sex acts are induced to by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained the age of 18years.Two: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection into involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. By these notions, trafficking involves both sexual and labour exploitation. The above legal instruments though may not yet be in the hard laws of some countries especially in sub Saharan Africa, but starts the battle for the respect of human dignity and its restoration by litigation. Perhaps one may ask, to what extent the justice system can be effective in countries listed as major source, transit and destination countries where there is no rule of law and corruption, where the crime against humanity is perpetrated by powerful syndicate with international connections. Perhaps, Nirmala Bonat’s case may reassure us of justice in this regard. She was an Indonesian maid who has relentlessly pursued justice in Malayan courts for nearly four years since brutally beaten and exploited by her Malayan employer, for which the employer faced criminal charges. She was humiliated in the court on many occasions but she stood her ground refusing to go home and give up her case until she claimed her rights with the support of Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
However, in conflict/ war and post conflict/ post war situations for example, as in Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi ,Somalia, Central African republic to mention but a few, the link between international peace keeping personnel and the pimp (contractors) has accelerated the pace of children and women trafficking for sexual and domestic exploitation. Men, women and children are held in domestic servitude, exploited for commercial sex, forcibly recruited as child soldiers or abused in factories or plantations. Human traffickers prey on people who are poor, isolated and weak. In addition, social exclusion, powerlessness and economic vulnerability are products of policies and practices that marginalize groups that are vulnerable to traffickers, more so are conflict and political crises. For example, in west Ghana, poor families sell their sons to local fishermen of Lake Volta for a life time of servitude on their boats.
Again quoting Kevin Bales, a pioneer in the fight of modern slavery “Slaves in Pakistan may have made the shoes you are wearing and the carpet you stand on. Slaves in the Caribbean may have put sugar in your kitchen and toys in the hands of your children and in India they may have sewn the shirt on your back and polish the ring on your finger”
Trafficking in person and its attendant human rights violations and its political, economic and social impacts are crystal clear evidences of threats to humanity such as his security and the stability of the global world that demand moral and ethical reconfiguration and repositioning. The questions are: where is the dignity in our humanity? Where is our moral sense as humanity? Where is the moral character as moral agents? What are our moral obligations as humanity? I guess! A pragmatic approach is necessary that will encompass both the legal and the normative in which the normative starts with each and everyone called humanity in our various stations of life as leaders in thought and action to demonstrate and resonate the virtue of love and respect for human person and socialize generation behind on human rights cum justice a moral value as sine-qua-none for a peaceful planet