Culture, Context and International Cooperation:
Day 2 of the Summer Symposium
Less than halfway through the CCARHT Summer School Symposium, a theme that strongly emerged was how broad and far reaching human trafficking is, whilst simultaneously being so distinctive in comparison to other crimes.
It is broad and far reaching in the sense that it is prevalent globally – at the national, regional and international levels. Additionally it covers many different types of crime, from slavery and labour exploitation, to fraud and similar financial criminal activity, and to forced sex work and organ harvesting.
It is distinct from other crimes in the sense of its structure, with levels of coordination differing at each stage of the trafficking process, and also in the sense that how its nature is dependent on the distinct cultural context in which it is operating. Yet in whatever form it manifests, one thing the symposium impressed on all present is how urgent the issue still is.
Glynn Rankin, Former co-Director of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, kicked off day two of the symposium, speaking about trafficking from a prosecutor’s perspective. While recognising that international co-operation is vital in tackling trafficking, Glynn emphasised the difficulties in this. Procuring, requesting and corroborating evidence from other countries makes the legal process very bureaucratic, even before the case goes to court, which presents new challenges regarding victim protection. While the reported cases of human trafficking have risen, the sad but unsurprising result of the complicated and lengthy prosecution process, is that the number of prosecutions have in fact fallen.
As if to bolster Glynn’s point on international cooperation, Professor P M Nair, (former senior Indian Police officer, UNODC, NHRC amongst others) then focused on India, drawing attention to the fact that India is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking. The Indian government is not unaware of the issue; in fact, Professor Nair acknowledged that the government has set aside a substantial budget to start addressing trafficking. However, this is mainly spent on reacting to cases, whereas Professor Nair believes that the financial resources would be better spent on prevention and rehabilitation, particularly on capacity building – giving women the opportunity to study and work in order for them to support themselves, thus reducing the supply of potential trafficking victims.
This brought us onto one of the major discussion points of the symposium – how cultural and developmental contexts make people more vulnerable to being trafficked. In India specifically, the caste system means poverty is pervasive, creating vulnerability in an entire segment of the population – 82% trafficking victims are from the poorest castes. Added to this is the communitarian tradition, which sees families and communities playing a significant role in children’s decisions. In our more individualist society, it can often be difficult to comprehend why parents might willingly send their children away into sex work, but we must bear in mind that in impoverished rural areas, the opportunity for a child to go to the city to work may seem like an appealing one on the surface. Once in the city, the children are trafficked into sex work, with escape extremely difficult, unable to inform their communities at home of their predicament and the fraud. Hence Professor Nair stressed that sensitive intervention and good information are vital if we are to tackle the source issues.
Naturally, international differences do not only encompass economic disparity; Beatri Kruger, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of the Free State in South Africa, highlighted the abuse of African traditional religion by traffickers, demonstrating the role of cultural contexts to human trafficking. ‘Juju’ ritual practices have been used by the Yoruba people in South West Nigeria for centuries, with some criminalised, but others serving as binding legal oaths. Already, as Beatri pointed out, the law has a contradictory approach to the role of Juju. Amidst this confusion, traffickers now use Juju as an invisible control mechanism. Having subjected victims to an oath through Juju, involving inserting the evil spirit into the victim’s body, traffickers create a profound fear and belief that breaking the oath will result in misfortune. They gain an extremely powerful position over the victim, without having to place physical restraints on them, or even to be geographically proximate to the victim, because the ritual has made it spiritually impossible for their victim to escape.
These cultural and developmental issues create two related problems. Firstly, they are not immediately apparent – invisible control mechanisms are so powerful because they are difficult to detect, adding to the already huge challenge of identifying victims. Similarly, developmental issues are perpetual and permanent background issues that are not a direct cause of trafficking. Secondly, if we do not share the same cultural and economic backgrounds, it can be difficult for us to immediately understand the source issues. This makes it difficult to identifying the issues themselves and more difficult to tackle on a political and legal level. A huge question we face is how we can reclaim traditional practices from the abuse of traffickers, and to develop source areas’ economies and create more alternatives to taking up work opportunities that involve trafficking. However, these solutions must be navigated extremely carefully in order to avoid attacking and suppressing different cultural traditions. Identifying traffickers’ precise intervention with these traditions is a challenge in itself.
As well as the international component, trafficking is a distinct type of crime in its structure, as recognised by Dr Paolo Campana, University of Cambridge Lecturer in Criminology and Complex Networks, and Sine Plambech, a Post Doctural researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. Dr Campana explained how there is relatively little coordination between actors in the recruitment and exploitation stages of trafficking, since they tend to operate individually, unlike other types of crime, where participants often contribute to a centralised criminal project. This adds to identification difficulties – tracking down one trafficker does not help to identify others in the same chain of trafficking. This is exacerbated by the fact that sometimes recruiters and madams may be victims themselves, as Sine pointed out. As it becomes more expensive to travel to the destination country, victims may try to recruit others to reduce the overall cost, blurring the line between victim and trafficker.
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Not only are the traffickers difficult to identify, but also victims can often be hidden amongst crowds in day-to-day life. The current global focus appears to be on trying to catch trafficking at the transportation stage – we see this ourselves with increasingly stringent border controls. However, Dr Campana posed the question: ‘How are victims meant to be picked out from a crowd of ordinary travellers?’ Instead, he suggested that resources should be channelled to tackling trafficking at the source and exploitation stages, bringing us back to the contextual issues explored by Professors Nair and Kruger.
It is clear that human trafficking is an extremely urgent issue that cannot be ignored. Trying to understand the motivations of victims, consumers, and the traffickers themselves is essential. As Leo Sakomoto said at the end of the film ‘Not My Life’, which ended the day, ‘I can’t see a good life while there are people living like animals. Not because I’m a good person, not because it’s my duty, but because they are human—like me.’ Although there are cultural differences between regions, we all share a common humanity, and it is this with which we must engage in order to empathise with all actors involved in trafficking so that we can find an effective long-term solution. After all, as another quote from the film recognised, ‘trafficking is not an inevitable outcome of the human condition’.
This summer school has made me determined to contribute to the work against human trafficking to bring us closer to the day when trafficking is no longer an outcome of the human condition at all.
Thanks to our guest blogger Tiffany Hui. Tiffany has just finished her first year studying Law Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. She attended the CCARHT Summer Symposium 2016 as an intern, and is the secretary of Cambridge University Amnesty International. She is hoping to use this experience to pursue human rights law in the future.
If you are a Student working in the field of migration, the history of Slavery or on aspects of Human Trafficking and would like to be part of our Associate Internship programme or post material to be considered for our blog – do be in contact – firstname.lastname@example.org.