Slavery is not dead. We can see slavery in its modern forms such as human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and cybersex everywhere. Cecilia Oebanda-Pacis was a child laborer herself and is now helping thousands of trafficking victims in the Philippines. She believes that only in working together can governments, NGOs, and business leaders end the vicious cycle of modern slavery.
The situation is especially dire for women. All over the world, they are the target of sexual and labor exploitation because of their gender, age, ethnicity, religion, and educational attainment.
The Sustainable Development Goal Target 8.7 is committed to taking “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.” Heeding this call, a multi-stakeholder initiative under the aegis of the International Labor Organization, Alliance 8.7, has decided to synergize their efforts to achieve this target.
Many migrant women in domestic work endure precarious working conditions. Traffickers disguising as recruitment agencies lure job-seekers into prostitution bars, sweatshops and cybersex dens.
The migrants are sometimes wrongly arrested as criminals, detained and, if they are undocumented, deported without due process.
Younger and more vulnerable girls who are used as couriers for drug syndicates are forced to keep their silence to avoid multiple-revictimization during rescue and investigation.
Back home in their communities, millions of unemployed women are without access to credit and at the mercy of loan sharks, and are unable to support the schooling expenses of their children.
"The situation is especially dire for women. All over the world, they are the target of sexual and labor exploitation because of their gender, age, ethnicity, religion, and educational attainment."
These children feel early on that they are duty-bound to help their families by earning money themselves. In the Philippines, for example, there are 2.1 million child laborers aged 5-17 years, based on the 2011 Survey on Children of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
Poverty, disasters, conflict, and lack of access to basic services further perpetuate child exploitation.
Children and young girls, even from middle class families, are also increasingly exploited through the internet. The growth of cyber sex dens is fueled by demand from rich countries.
Victims are afraid to break their silence because their parents are often complicit. Lack of clear legislation, standards, and protocols in investigating cyber-crimes in general hamper access to justice and fail to check this growing demand.
Gaps and Challenges
Ending slavery is a tall order but not impossible. There are many cross-cutting issues related to trafficking, including gender equality, human rights of survivors, and protection of children from exploitation and abuse, especially in cyberspace.
The critical gaps that should be addressed now include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Mainstreaming gender-based programs in all anti-poverty efforts that help prevent discrimination, bridge access to basic services, and leverage targets on education for all.
- Strengthening families through alternative livelihoods, social enterprise development and access to financial institutions, at the same time challenging beliefs and behaviors that undermine family strength.
- Mainstreaming children’s rights in business processes and value chain, while reaffirming the accountability of government to enforce existing legal frameworks.
- Ensuring access to stable work and decent working conditions especially for women in the informal sector.
- Protecting populations at risk from trafficking syndicates and online predators during situations of disasters and conflict.
- Ensuring genuine participation and leadership of trafficking survivors at all levels of programming and advocacy and inspiring NGOs to truly stand in solidarity with them.
- Creating a counter-culture against apathy, fear, and discrimination using new digital platforms and channels.
Calls to Action
A re-awakened, re-invigorated and re-vitalized movement shared by grassroots and national-level agencies, business and inter-faith leaders, and most especially by young people themselves, is crucial.
Such a process can only be fermented by an enabling and participatory environment that is rooted in a culture of listening and inclusiveness. Therefore, we call on stakeholders to commit to the following:
- For NGOs and Inter-Faith Groups to actively empower victims and mobilize all stakeholders to share innovations in addressing root causes of trafficking and slavery. To this end, we need NGO leaders and champions to develop their credibility based on moral authority and access to legitimate political platforms. Champions need to foster positive personal relations and supportive structures free from judgement, competition and propaganda. Leaders must also include the victims and survivors of slavery and trafficking themselves. Together, we can build a strong infrastructure for victim protection and legal action, community support by survivors and service providers, stable housing, and career training that goes beyond mere job access.
- For Governments to come up with national plans of action, to fully commit to their implementation, and to set the mechanisms to review impact and progress. Governments must ensure transparency and need to develop multilateral solutions to check related transnational underground activities.
- For Businesses and Private Employment Agencies to mainstream human rights into advocacy and partnerships to proactively eliminate slavery footprints in all processes across value chains. Businesses should continue to adhere to human rights laws and principles, addressing the demand-side of sexual exploitation, including compliance with anti-slavery laws and practices and respect for labor rights.
- For all partners to commit to the institutionalization of shared information systems and dissemination of best practices and evidence of impact, effectiveness, and sustainability of anti-slavery programs.
Taking into account the complexities of modern slavery, we need to facilitate a broad-based alliance at country level. No single institution can solve all the inter-related parts of the vicious cycle of slavery. Partners on the ground need to think across their silos, pool limited resources, and coordinate efforts more seamlessly to be able to scale up proven interventions. NGOs need to inspire partners and institutionalize innovations with a coherent framework and a strategy for collective action.
Also read this story by Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who is fighting for survivors of child sexual abuse.