by Doris Abdullah
While we rightly call attention to the awful atrocities of Boko Haram in Nigeria, we often overlook the other great tragedy of trafficking in girls and women from Nigeria. The Central Mediterranean Route report show that nearly 80 percent of Nigerian girls and women, between the ages of 13-24, arriving in Europe are victims of sex trafficking.
Trafficking in persons is a transnational crime that devastates lives and causes untold suffering around the globe. All too many of the trafficked are children. The United Nations on June 23 held a hearing titled “The Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons,” addressing trafficking from the perspectives of human rights, armed conflicts, and prosecutions in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (STG).
The informal and interactive multi-stakeholders hearing was opened by the president of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, followed by statements from the co-facilitators--representatives from Qatar, Alya Al-Thani, and Belgium, Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, of the intergovernmental negotiation of the Global Plan of Action. The introductory statements came from trafficking survivor Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, and UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov and UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
United Nations office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data on human trafficking, which is also known as modern-day slavery, lists four main forms of trafficking:
1. Forced servitude or forced labor of young men and women. Usually these persons come from rural areas to work in urban manufacturing jobs. Many work on mega farms in India, Malaysia, and Bangladesh as well as the Americas and Europe. We use words like work or jobs, but these persons are usually coerced with the promise of a better life, sold outright by poor families, or stolen from their villages or neighborhoods.
2. Organ transplants usage. Persons from poor countries are either forcibly or volunteer to have taken from them their body parts. These parts are usually sold to the highest bidders in rich countries like the US.
3. Child soldiers usually young boys. Raids are conducted by terrorists in the war-ravished areas of the Middle East and in large swaths of Africa, and by gangs in Central and South America.
4. Trafficking in girls and women. Seventy-two percent of all trafficking is for sex. It is the most profitable of the slave trades.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #5 calls for “Gender Equality and Empowerment of all Girls and Women.” Goal 5.2 calls for eliminating all forms of violence against girls and women in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. SDG #8 calls on states to “Promote Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth, Employment and Decent Work for All.” Goal #8.7 calls for immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, modern-day slavery, and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers by 2025 and end child labor in all its forms. The 193 nations of the United Nations signed onto these goals on the behalf of their citizens. It is up to all of us to carry them forward--or let them just be beautifully written words.
“T” as she is known, hails from Oakland, Calif. She was trafficked from the age of 10-17. It was the shock of her story that raised my awareness of the horrors of trafficking across America. This is a topic of moral imperative. It is far easier to speak about trafficking “over there,” in another land, than it is to own up to it in our own back yards. It is a fact that large numbers of missing children are trafficked children, and thousands of men in the US buy children for sex. I ask us in the church to see the girl child called “T” from California as our child, and not as a stranger. See her as our daughter, sister, niece, or mother.
“T” was trafficked throughout the western states of America for seven years. Through her voice, and with the aid of pictures, I became an eye witness to her story, to girls younger than 10 put out naked in the street to attract men. Some were using their crayons to draw clothing on themselves. These girls wanted to cover their nakedness with crayons. I wanted to divert my eyes from the shame of not being able to protect them from such horror.
The kidnapping of Brethren girls in Nigeria has made all Brethren more aware of what happens to young women caught by terrorists in armed conflict zones. A panel member also called attention to the findings of raped girls and women in 40 mass graves left by ISIL (Da’esh) and alarm about girls being sold for $10 in some refugee camps. Some girls in the refugee camps even commit suicide, rather than risk being raped.
One panel spoke on the legal matters of criminal investigations, convictions, and sentences. We are all aware that some societies punish the victims and let the perpetrators go free. The legal becomes wrapped up in social norms, culturally acceptable behavior, and so forth .
Ruchira Gupta, founder and president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, was on one of the panels. She reminded the meeting that the trafficked girl child is used until she is deemed useless. Useless trafficked girls are thrown out with the trash to die, as “T” was. She has no worker’s rights, because forced prostitution is not a job. “T” was abused as a child, denied an education, and never negotiated for any wages. One could say that she was worse off than a prisoner, because she could be denied food, shelter, and clothing by her owners.
Trafficking is a moral issue for the church, and deviant behavior for those who take part in it. What will we do about it? That is work for us to face up to.
-- Doris Abdullah is the Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations.