Human Trafficking is Slavery

August 19, 2008

Human trafficking continues to be a problem in the CNMI. For its population and size, Saipan has a disproportionate amount of strip clubs, bars, massage parlors, and similar venues where the focus is young women and sex. After the sun sets on Saipan, the clubs in Garpan and those that dot Middle and Beach Roads come alive. A few weeks ago we filmed young women outside the clubs in their tiny outfits trying to lure customers. Some of the employees in Saipan clubs have been victims of human trafficking. Where do these women come from?

GMA News reports that the Philippines is among the top five nations in the world where victims of human trafficking originate. Attorney Ferdinand Lavin, chief of NBI’s anti-human trafficking division, said there are more than 15 million human trafficking victims worldwide including Filipinos:
He said 80 percent of human trafficking victims in the country are females below 18 years old, and that they are usually brought to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and even Cyprus.

“They are usually forced by syndicates to work as househelp, entertainers and even sex workers particularly in the South East Asian region,” Lavin said.

Lavin admitted that tracing human trafficking victims is a difficult task because most of them are “willing victims” and will only seek the help of the government when they experience abuse from employers.

He also said they are having difficulty in tracking down human traffickers especially in Mindanao.

“We can prevent those (individuals) that will use our air and sea ports, but there are also those who use the so-called southern backdoor,” he said.
The Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has responded to the problem of trafficked Filipinos by creating a task force to address the increase in human trafficking and illegal recruitment according to Labor Secretary Marianito Roque. GMA News reports:
"We always believe that the best way to prevent or minimize illegal recruitment or human trafficking is for would be overseas workers to check and verify first with the authorities, particularly with POEA, any offer of overseas job by individuals or entities engaged in overseas employment before dealing with them," Roque said.

He added that among the safety nets and measures established by the DOLE to mitigate if not totally eradicate or prevent illegal recruitment and human trafficking is the conduct of Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars, the establishment of Public Employment Service Offices (PESOs) in cities and municipalities nationwide which assist workers for their local or overseas employment; and linkages with various agencies of government charged with migration and travel.

Overseas, he said the 34 Philippine Overseas Labor Offices of the DOLE established worldwide help trace, shelter, assist and repatriate victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

Women outside Saipan clubs ©2008

The Marianas Variety reports that Assistant US Attorney Eric O'Malley said that China and the Philippines are the two top sources for human trafficking victims noting that most CNMI guest workers come from those two countries. O'Malley also discussed the obstacles in dealing with the problem:
O’Malley said several factors hinder the solution of human trafficking in the CNMI.

“The difficulty of identifying the victims, language barrier, and protectiveness of traffickers towards their victims are some of the hindrances law enforcers face in solving human trafficking cases,” he said.

Moreover, victims are not aware of their point of contact where to seek help, he said.

“It is important that human trafficking victims develop an awareness that they can go to the police, health providers, domestic and violence shelters, churches and the community for help,” O’Malley said.

He added that the victims should also know that they can get assistance from these different points of contact when necessary, like food and shelter, health and spiritual assistance, language and communication assistance as well as job placement assistance.

According to O’Malley, human traffickers in the CNMI use various ways to recruit their victims.

He said among the popular methods used in human trafficking are asking for recruitment fees and debt bondage; giving the victim assurance that everything “is for her own good”; targeting vulnerable victims; assuring the victim that the recruiter is her only good friend in the area; injecting in the victim’s mind to think of her own family; and stressing that the recruiter is her only protection from getting arrested by law enforcers.
The web site quotes the US Department of State, 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report:
Philippine men, women, and girls were trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Africa, North America, and Europe. The government and NGO estimates on the number of women trafficked range from 300,000 to 400,000 and the number of children trafficked range from 60,000 to 100,000. Many Filipino men and women voluntarily migrate to work abroad but later coerced into exploitative conditions.
The tactic of luring the recruits with a legitimate job and then coercing or forcing them into exploitative activities is often what happens in the CNMI. Many of the victims are women who were recruited as "waitresses" or "dancers", but later are forced to strip, or engage in sex acts. Often they are monitored and kept in their barracks, and typically they have their passports taken from them. Many are tricked by recruiters in the Philippines who send them to the CNMI to work in clubs illegally on tourist visas. These victims are told they will be arrested if they complain or seek help from authorities.

Hopefully, under the federal guest worker program the import of guest workers to fill employment slots in the CNMI's sleazy businesses will cease. One category of workers that should be eliminated when the federal laws are applied is the category of "cultural dancers" under which many of the victims of abuse are hired.

The FBI and US Attorney's Office are taking an aggressive stand against human trafficking in the CNMI according Assistant US Attorney Eric O'Malley. The Saipan Tribune reported:
In an interview with Saipan Tribune, O'Malley encouraged human trafficking victims to come forward and seek help.

“We want to let them know the [U.S] government is here to help them-not hurt, not deport, not throw them in jail. If they are true victims of trafficking, meaning they are being forced against their will to do what they don't want to do, we're here to help,” O'Malley said.
Again, part of the problem is that some of the victims cannot come forward for help because they are monitored or locked in barracks. Others are too afraid to come forward fearing convinced by recruiters or employers that they will be arrested if they do. Some of the questionable clubs and bars are owned by high-level NMI officials or their relatives, or have high-level officials as their regular clients as V.I.P. lists and former employees report. This could be another obstacle.

I imagine if CNMI and federal investigators could step up efforts to proactively monitor the clubs and bars by making regular visits and interviewing employees, more victims could be assisted. Every time I visit Saipan I am told of yet another club or clubs where passports have been taken from the employees, victims are being coerced into dancing nude or performing sex acts with customers, or other questionable practices are occurring. I have witnessed the same prostitutes on the same street corners on three trips that spanned over a year. A line from the trailer for Call and Response, a movie on human trafficking and slavery says, "If you're not seeing it, you're not looking for it... each and every one of us has an obligation to stop it." If you know of illegal practices in NMI establishments or suspect human trafficking, forced prostitution, or false imprisonment you can contact the Saipan offices of the FBI at (670) 322-6934 and the US Attorney's Office at (670) 236-2980.

Call and Response is a film to be released this fall that discusses the tragedy of human trafficking and the fact that are more slaves in the world today then in any other time in history. Artists and performers come together to call for an end to human trafficking and slavery. From their website:
Luminaries on the issue such as Cornel West, Madeleine Albright, Daryl Hannah, Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd, Nicholas Kristof, and many other prominent political and cultural figures offer first hand account of this 21st century trade. Performances from Grammy-winning and critically acclaimed artists including Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, Cold War Kids, Matisyahu, Imogen Heap, Talib Kweli, Five For Fighting, Switchfoot, members of Nickel Creek and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Rocco Deluca move this chilling information into inspiration for stopping it.

Music is part of the movement against human slavery. Dr. Cornel West connects the music of the American slave fields to the popular music we listen to today, and offers this connection as a rallying cry for the modern abolitionist movement currently brewing.
Here is the trailer:


Sydney jobs said...

Human trafficking has become a big problem and it is good to know that the Philippine government is taking actions in solving it but I think the problem still continues because of the lack of good job opportunities. It may be a reason why some of the human trafficking victims are willing to take the risk in getting involved in illegal recruitment.