SOUTHEAST Asian governments are still trying to get to grips with the problem of human trafficking to which tens of thousands are falling victim every year.
Over 10,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific between 2007-2010 but the actual situation today remains unclear, according the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The difficulty in measuring the scale of the problem makes finding solutions for it all the more difficult. For after all these years, debates still rage as to the real nature of the problem – and to compound the situation, the effectiveness of counter measures is frequently hamstrung by lack of tangible results.
The 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”
Although the 10-member Asean regional grouping have signed MoUs, facilitating inter-government swapping of information and evidence to curb the problem, the drawback is that these MoUs have never been followed through with any telling effect.
Experts point out that in many cases, there’s no resolution because there’s no cooperation despite the signing of agreements. Some of the countries in the region where human trafficking is believed to be rampant do not trust each other for historical reasons.
This has hampered remedial measures even within their own borders, let alone across national boundaries, despite the accords reached by them to contain to the scourge.
So left to its own devices, the trafficking cancer continues to fester and feed off the apathy of those countries which are traditionally distrustful of each other.
It is also to be noted that law enforcement agencies across the region are just starting to emerge from the nascent stage, and as such, getting a conviction for a trafficking offence can be a labourious process at best.
One reason for the apparent absence of political will among Asean nations to stamp out human trafficking is that the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime – of which all governments from the regional grouping are a part – is a non-binding, voluntary forum.
Many member countries have shown interests in the Process (started in 2002) but, according to the UNODC, they are not forthcoming with funding not only because the issue is given scant attention by some countries but also because the Process does not bind them by law.
It would appear to be more a case of to each his own and every country for itself.
Studies have shown that in some countries, there are economic benefits for those staying close to areas such as brothels and seedy establishments where children are often trafficked to and exploited as free or lowly paid under-aged workers.
There’s a local economy thriving around such places and for the hardcore poor (often the target of traffickers), working there is paradise compared to the squalor they have been living in all their lives. This is one of reasons why trafficking is so hard to wipe out.
Moreover, even when trafficking victims are identified and rescued, they remain vulnerable to being re-trafficked.
Trafficked adults and children usually end up as grossly under-paid indentured servants while female victims, including young girls, are frequently forced into white slavery.
Human trafficking is the second biggest income source for organised crime after drugs trafficking.
According to UNICEF, 1.2 million children are trafficked every year and at least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide.
Of these, 2.4 million are a direct result of human trafficking.
In a recent estimate, the International Labour Organisation put the figures of people trafficked across international borders annually at between 600,000 and 800,000, of whom about 80 per cent were women and girls and up to 50 per cent were minors.
These statistics may be an underestimation as it’s difficult to ascertain the actual scale of human trafficking worldwide due to its clandestine nature and illegal status. But the figures are the most credible and frequently quoted.
In Malaysia, human trafficking has not reached epidemic proportion.
The authorities are keeping a close watch on the situation and will continue to address issues of illegal human transborder movements by engaging regional governments in the common endeavour to root out human trafficking and the related problems.
Law enforcement agencies in the country need to work together to prevent this social evil from being imported into Malaysia.
At the same time, trafficking rings that may be operating within the country must be taken out to prevent them from exporting “human cargoes” from our shore.