What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that violates basic human rights and human dignity, including the right to life, liberty, and security; freedom from torture or cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment; the right to a home and family, education, and proper employment, and the right to health. It is a crime that has shocked the global conscience and has been made the subject of national acts and international human rights covenants.
The United States Department of State defines human trafficking as “all acts involved in the transport, harboring, or sale of persons within national or across international borders through coercion, force, kidnapping, deception or fraud, for purposes of placing persons in situations of forced labor or services, such as forced prostitution, domestic servitude, debt bondage, or other slavery-like practice.” Approximately 700,000 people (the majority of whom are women and children) are trafficked across nations and international borders each year.
Sex Trafficking as a Form of Human Trafficking
Sex trafficking, a sector of the human trafficking industry, is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” Interpol estimates show that the global human trafficking trade is a $32 billion-a-year business, with revenues from sex trafficking alone accounting for $19 billion. Interpol’s approximation of sex trafficking revenue is a conservative one. In 2005, the International Labor Organization put the total for sex trafficking at $217.9 billion. Because international human trafficking operates within a largely clandestine, underground market, it is difficult to measure accurately the industry’s scope or pinpoint any exact financial statistics. Although estimates vary, experts agree that the human trafficking industry is still growing, despite efforts to combat it.
Young Victims of Sex Trafficking
The stories of the girls who were interviewed for this report all have a very similar plot. Every girl was sold into a brothel. Husbands, boyfriends, relatives, family friends, and human trafficking brokers have all been the suppliers who have sold the girls into brothels. These girls can be as young as eight years of age. Most of them come from poor families. Traffickers approach their family and offer help to get out of debt. The parents are told by the abductors that their daughters are going to a rich family as housemaids or to the city to work in a factory. For many parents, it is a relief and a good opportunity to escape generational poverty. Both the parents and the girls have dreams for the future. However, once they arrive at the brothel, the girls become slaves.
Regardless of their age or health, once trafficking victims are inside, they are forced to see customers on a regular basis and earn a profit for the brothel owner. Only a small portion of the money actually goes to the girls. They are generally forced to see many customers in one day. Girls who refuse to comply are often beaten or tortured in the brothel. Many do not know when it is day or night, as they are locked inside without windows or access to the outside world. As part of their punishment for disobedience, they will not be given food or water for days, until they submit to the degrading “work” of the brothel. Other methods of torture include beating, the pouring of hot water, physical burning and scarring with hot pans and cigarette lighters, and forced group rape by use of straps to tie them down. The torture these girls and women undergo is horrific. It causes severe physical and emotional scarring.
Many of these girls had never heard of a brothel until they found themselves imprisoned in one. At a young age, instead of playing with their peers, they are forced into slavery and experience severe brutality. They can expect no kindness or sympathy from the brothel owners or supervisors. To keep them submissive, the girls are subjected to physical and emotional torture. They are blackmailed. The brothel owners threaten to tell their parents about their profession. The girls fear this the most, because they know that if their village discovers where they are and what they are doing, it will affect their family’s status and dignity, and the family may face possible expulsion from the village. These girls love their parents and siblings and thus often endure the suffering in silence. In India, community is all-important. Without a community, there is no existence.
Girls who are in the brothels feel guilty and embarrassed. They want to keep their existence and involuntary lifestyle a secret. Once a girl is in slavery, she can be there for the rest of her life. For many, perhaps most, there is no escape apart from becoming too ill, old, or unattractive to be exploited any longer by the brothel owners. Even if girls receive their freedom through many years of service, they do not want to return to their village. Any girls coming out of the
brothel are almost certainly sick in body, mind, and spirit. No one can escape sexual slavery as a healthy person. The health challenges can be life-threatening.