Monday, July 8, 2013

The Economics of Trafficking: The Kachin and Burma

Human Trafficking is a lucrative business. The United States estimates that per year, 600,000-800,000 persons are trafficked across international borders. It is though that 2.5 million people are being trafficked around the world at any given time. This generates an estimated annual global profit of $32 billion dollars. It is the third largest illegal industry in the world after drugs and armed sales. In this post, we examine the economic and social factors motivating the human trafficking of one particular population: the Kachin.

The Kachin

Kachin women in traditional garb

The Kachin is a population that has been a target of human trafficking, due to the nature of their situation. The Kachin people are a group of ethnic peoples who inhabit the Kachin Hills, from which the population derives its name, in northern Burma and neighboring areas of China and India. This population has been greatly effected by the conflict between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Army. The Burmese government has attempted to expel this population group, therefore rendering them extremely vulnerable. actors that have proved dangerous to the Kachin. Since June 2011, when the Burmese military ended a 17 year ceasefire and launched an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army, there have been 24 documented instances of trafficked individuals; however, those are only the documented cases. The Kachin Women's Association-Thailand (KWAT) published a report stating that Kachin women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, and it is an extremely lucrative business for the traffickers.

Fast Facts

  • Between 2004-2007, there were 133 verified trafficking cases, involving 163 women and girls
  • A quarter of those trafficked were under 18, with girls as young as 14 forced to be brides
  • The continuing high incidence of trafficking indicates that the regime's new anti-trafficking legislation is failing to have any impact
  • The Kachin population are vulnerable due to
    • forced migration
    • lack of recognition from government
    • lack of governmental power

Why Are the Kachin So Vulnerable?

Part of the problem is the way they are treated in Burma. As the government has attempted to expel them from the country, they have no official governmental recognition, therefore rendering them extremely vulnerable as there are no programs in place to protect them, nor records of individuals when they go missing. Further, due to the conflict, approximately 100,000 people have been uprooted in the last two years and are now living in displacement camps. The Burmese government has also barred international aid organizations from accessing refugee camps housing the Kachin, and China has refused to provide assistance to Kachins who are seeking refuge across the border. In August 2012, the Chinese government even forced thousands of Kachins who were seeking shelter in the country back into Burma. "Push tens of thousands of people to China's doorstep, deprive them of food and status, and you've created a perfect storm for human trafficking," said KWAT spokesperson Julia Marip.
Kachin Women's Association-Thailand

Who is Trafficked?

Women and children are profitable income sources for traffickers. Women are either sold as brides or into brothels or massage parlors. China's one-child policy has created a particular market for trafficked Kachin women. Currently in China there are 117 men for every 100 women, and by 2020 there will be 30 million men looking for brides among 24 million women. Kachin women are considered favorable brides due to the lightness of their skin and proximity to the border. Kachin women are also thought of as fertile and excellent child bearers. They are sold for around $6,5000. Traffickers either kidnap women who are either migrating to the city from their villages, or will go into villages and refugee camps and offer families a dowry, playing on traditional customs. Chinese businessmen form a significant portion of the clientele. Lower income Chinese men pay brokers to fetch women from Myanmar families. Other women are trafficked into Thailand's sex industry; trafficked sex workers are often raped, and are sold from $300 upwards to the prostitution industry

Kachin Refugee Camp in Burma
Children are also viewed as highly sought after commodities by traffickers as well. Children trafficked to Thailand are occasionally rented out from parents. Brokers offer around $100-224 a month for children; children can earn from $15-100 a day working as beggars or shop assistants. Owners often beat children who are working as beggars so they appeal more to alms givers. Children also make excellent assistants as they can be paid less, are less likely to attempt to escape, and are more subservient in general; the favored age by traffickers are 3 month old toddlers to children under ten years of age. Young children are also sold to fuel Thailand's growing adoption rackets; others are sold into the child prostitution industry. Traffickers use the Internet to dodge international forces against child proposition. Recently, NGOs' efforts and stricter Thai laws have created a crack down on child trafficking, therefore increasing the demand for child trafficking as the supply dwindles.

Jasmine Prokscha

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