Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Official Complicity with Human Trafficking

Although actions must be taken at all levels, it is crucial to any anti-human trafficking movement to have strong governmental support and action. However, according to the U.S. State Department's report on trafficking around the world, there are many governments whose officials who comply with, or even aid, traffickers. For example, NGOs in Malaysia have reported that the police often will not investigate complaints that employers are confiscating passports, travel documents, or withholding wages as possible trafficking offenses. Furthermore, in 2010 the government did not report any prosecutions of employers who subjected workers to conditions of forced labor, nor were any government officials convicted of trafficking related complicity, despite numerous reports of collusion between police and trafficking offenders. Police collaboration is a common thread throughout many countries; local law enforcement officials are willing to take bribes to look the other way when presented with cases of human trafficking, or, at the most extreme, are the ones perpetrating human trafficking themselves.

One such example is India. The report stated "Official complicity in trafficking was a serious problem that remained largely addressed by the government. Corrupt politicians, police, and border security forces on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border reportedly recognized a token used by human traffickers to evade arrest if caught at the border." Some corrupt law enforcement officers facilitated the movement of sex trafficking victims, protected suspected traffickers and brothel keepers from enforcement of the law, took bribes from sex trafficking establishments and sexual services from victims, and tipped off sex and labor traffickers to impede rescue efforts. Many owners of brothels, rice mills, brick kilns, and stone quarries who engaged in human trafficking were politically connected and therefore immune from prosecution.Further, of the Anti-Human Trafficking Units established by the government, many were criticized as being ineffective or only existing on paper and not in practice. Furthermore, there was significant complicity of some governmental officials in human trafficking. Many sources noted that the Indian central government approached anti-trafficking measures in an uncoordinated and piecemeal manner, therefore allowing for greater instances of corruption.
One highly publicized case of sexual and physical abuse, including both sex and labor trafficking, of women and children in Apna Ghar shelter for mistreated victims in the state of Haryana, demonstrates the pervasiveness of official compliance with human trafficking. Not only was the shelter run by the state, but police officers reportedly raped some of the inhabitants and destroyed evidence once an investigation into the home commenced.

Burma is one of the highest offenders in regards to official complicity in human trafficking. The Military is the main perpetrators. Internally, there are several different ways in which the military implements human trafficking. The military engages in the unlawful conscription of child soldiers. Boys as young as 10 years are forcibly recruited to serve in the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence. Children of the urban poor are at particular risk of involuntary conscription; UN reports indicates that the army has targeted orphans and children on the streets and in railway stations, as well as young novice monks from monasteries for recruitment. It also continues to be the main perpetrator of forced or compulsory labor inside Burma. Military and civilian officials target minors of ethnic minority groups, and use men, women, and children for forced labor for the development of infrastructure and state-run agricultural and commercial ventures, as well as forced portering for the military. 
An NGO study published in 2010 found an acute problem in Chin State, where a survey of over 600 households indicated that over 600 households indicated that over 92% experienced at least one instance of a household member subject to forced labor; the Burmese military reportedly imposed two-thirds of these forced labor demands. Children are often subjected to forced labor in tea shops, home industries, and agricultural plantations. Exploiters traffic girls for the purpose of prostitution, particularly in urban areas. There are also reports that Burmese officials kidnapped Rohingya women from Sittwe and subjected them to sexual slavery on military installations. There were also reports that victims deported from Thailand into Democratic Karen Buddhist Army controlled areas of Burma continue to be extorted and retrafficked by DKBA elements, in collusion with Thai officials.
How can the military do this? There are many causes of human trafficking in Burma. The military regime's climate of impunity, gross economic mismanagement, and the acceptance of child soldiers as a method of recruitment remain top causal factors. Further, the authorities refuse to recognize members of certain ethnic minority groups, such as the Rohingyas, as citizens and provide them with identification documentation, which make them a prime target.

The Vietnamese government is complicit in human trafficking as it has certain programs in place that human traffickers can easily utilize to gain access to their victims. For example, Vietnam is a source country for men and women who migrate abroad for work opportunities. Many of the migrants are process through state-affiliated export companies which coerce migrants to sign contracts in languages they cannot read, and charged exorbitant fees, sometimes as much as $10,000. This has forced Vietnamese migrants to incur some of the highest debts among Asian expatriate workers, making them highly vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labor. Also, there has been a significant lack of prosecution of perpetrators of human trafficking; many NGOs claim that government officials are often willing to turn a blind eye towards trafficking in return for bribes.

Thailand's greatest issue is corrupt law enforcement. The majorities of networks that traffic foreigners into Thailand tend to be small and not high organized, those who traffic Thai victims abroad tend to be more organized and work in more formal networks and will collaborate with law enforcement officials. Also, as the Thai government has no official laws that address sex tourism, there remains greater leeway for sex trafficking. Broader issues in regards to the Thai government and trafficking are local police corruption, including direct involvement in and facilitation of human trafficking, biases against migrant laborers, lack of understanding among local officials and courts in regards to human trafficking, particularly labor abuse cases, and finally systematic disincentives for trafficking victims to be identified. Corruption is one of the largest issues as it is widespread among Thai law enforcement personnel, creating an enabling environment for human trafficking to prosper. There are reports that officials protect brothels, other commercial sex venues, and seafood and sweatshop facilities form raids and inspections. Furthermore, there are also reports that Thai police and immigration officials extort money or sex from Burmese citizens detained in Thailand for immigration violations, and sell Burmese people who are unable to pay labor brokers and sex traffickers.
Further, due to the refusal of the Thai government to grant legal status to Ethnic minorities from the northern Hill Tribes, these populations are at an extremely high risk for trafficking.

Cambodia has a significant history of human trafficking, due to the longtime civil unrest that created an unstable environment rendering many homeless; refugees are particular targets for human traffickers. Furthermore, there are reports that some law enforcement and government officials are believed to have accepted bribes to facilitate the trafficking and sex trade. There are other reports of government officials who are complicit in the trafficking by accepting bribes. Corrupt officials facilitate the transportation of victims across the border, or route migrants deported from Thailand to human traffickers. However, there have been several large-scale prosecutions of police officials for trafficking corruption charges. The former Deputy Director of the Police Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department was convicted for complicity in trafficking and sentenced to five years' imprisonment; two officials under his supervision were also convicted and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Another example was when police arrested two military officers and one member of the military police for running brothels and trafficking.

Jasmine Prokscha

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