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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

7-11 Franchise Owners Arrested in Labor Trafficking Scheme

On Monday, eight men and one woman from Long Island were arrested with conspiring to commit wire fraud, with stealing identities of U.S. citizens, and with concealing and harboring illegal aliens employed at 7-Eleven Inc. franchise stores in Long Island and Virginia. The identities stolen included three deceased persons and one eight year old child. The arrests were made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General, the New York State Police, and the Suffolk County Police.

The defendants, who owned the 7- Eleven franchises, created a scheme in which they allegedly hired over 50 illegal aliens and gave them identities stolen from U.S. citizens. U.S. Attorney for the District of New York Loretta Lynch stated that the defendants allegedly forced the immigrants to work 100 hours a week and stole the majority of their pay by taking substantial portions of the paychecks that they received from corporate headquarters.

The defendants also forced their employees to live in and pay cash rent in unregulated and overcrowded boarding houses they owned. Lynch referred to this system as a "plantation system", which has allegedly been going on for more than 13 years. The defendants trafficked the workers from Pakistan or the Philippines, where they had roots, thereby enabling them to recruit from within their own ethnic communities.

Most surprising: there were no safeguards in place at the national 7-Eleven Inc. payroll office. Despite the fact that the defendants had put the same social security numbers for victims working in both Virginia and New York, checks were still sent to both of them. The case began two years ago when a 7-Eleven employee approached the new York State Police about not being paid for his work; later another worker contacted the Suffolk County Police.

This operation highlights several issues often seen in cases of labor trafficking. One, the ease in which people are able to perpetrate these crimes. There was no apparent connection between the two families, yet they both committed similar types of fraud. Second, the victims were classified by the state as "illegal immigrants". Although agents from ICE are currently treating the workers as potential witnesses and are not seeking to move to deport them, Ms. Lynch stated that she felt that the employees "were not innocent victims in this scheme" although "they had been abused". Further investigation is necessary, but in the meantime, these workers should be viewed as potential victims of labor trafficking, brought to the U.S. and exploited.

 ICE, however, did put this note on the bottom of their on-line report:

HSI encourages the public to report suspected labor trafficking, forced labor or the exploitation of undocumented workers through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 (from the U.S. and Canada), or from anywhere in the world at 1-802-872-6199, or online at www.ice.gov/tips.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Phillipines Launches New Video Campaign Against Human Trafficking

The Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Philippines continued their effort to combat human trafficking by launching a new infomercial campaign designed to be a visual presentation of the dire effects of human trafficking on victims. The name of the campaign is called 'Iligatas Mo Ako', and the first infomercial was launched at the premier of Iron Man on Friday.

                                                       Sex Trafficking Iligatas Mo Ako Ad
This campaign is meant to address the serious issue of human trafficking in the Philippines by raising awareness. The campaign address both sex and labor trafficking, as well as organ trafficking.

According to IACA, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, there were 1,376 individuals trafficked in the Philippines in 2012. Furthermore, although there were 1,519 reported cases in 2011, only 100 convictions were reported.

The campaign will run for 6 months at various movie theatres across the nation, and will post hotline numbers for people to call if they have information regarding trafficked individuals.

Jasmine Prokscha

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Say Hello to our New Intern!

Hi, my name is Jasmine Prokscha, and I’m a rising second year law student at Loyola School of Law, Chicago. I’m originally from Connecticut and went to undergrad at Drew University in New Jersey. I’m very excited to work for the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) this summer, as ending human trafficking is something that I am very passionate about. I first became aware of the issue of human trafficking through a research project on the Bosnian Genocide, where I learned that women, and quite a few teenage girls, had been trafficked to Western Europe. My concern over human trafficking further grew after interning at the United Nations, where I learned exactly how complex prosecuting human trafficking is, and the legal issues surrounding it such as how to prosecute international human trafficking rings, and the immigration issues that victims face once they escape their traffickers. I hope to pursue a legal career in which I can represent victims of human trafficking, and also help effect the legislation that deals with how to treat these victims.

I am very looking forward to work for IOFA and AATOP this summer!

Jasmine Prokscha

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First Filipino Community Forum A Sucess!

Thank you for coming out to support us at the AATOP & CIRCA Pintig Filipino Community Forum and making it a success! We had almost 50 people in total attend the forums on both Friday and Saturday!

The CIRCA Pintig cast began with a short play about a young girl who was trafficked from her village in the Philippines to work in a massage parlor in Chicago. The play accurate depicts the role that the family may play when they send off their loved ones to live "better lives" and the manipulation of the traffickers. 

AATOP then presented an overview of trafficking in general and within the context of the Filipino community. 

Shelby French from IOFA talks about the Calimlims who were sentenced in 2009 for trafficking a Filipina woman in their home for 19 years

We ended with a rich discussion from the audience of questions regarding trafficking and bringing awareness to everyday people. Several individuals have already approached us and asked to be trained to identify and serve potential victims in their communities!

We look forward to more community forums this year!

Check out our project partner, CIRCA Pintig, and their summer arts events!