Underage Girls Trafficked For Forced Labour In South East Asia

Credit: Al Jazeera - From Myanmar to Singapore: Why the maid trafficking continues
Credit: Al Jazeera – From Myanmar to Singapore: Why the maid trafficking continues

The trafficking of young girls between Myanmar and Singapore is again brought to international attention, as the media exposure in 2016 failed to prevent the on going practices which were perpetrated through Myanmar government employees.

Since 2014 Myanmar made illegal female domestic work abroad, however reports suggest that recruiters are still practicing in rural areas. They promise families better opportunities if their daughters are sent to be maids in Singapore, ignorant to the illegality and risks involved.

Cases at a Singapore trafficking shelter exposed one case of rape, one of physical abuse, and a girl who ran away from her male employer who requested showering with him. There is a clear pattern of girls around the age of 15 still being trafficked from Myanmar, leading to several incidents during 2017. A 15 year old girl allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of her employers apartment just two weeks after arriving in Singapore, and shortly following a second girl returned back to Myanmar with severe injuries from attempted suicide.

This victim reported to officials the identity of the recruiter who was a member of Myanmar’s parliament and director of company Myanmar Global Manpower Link which continued operation of maid recruitment at least two years after it became illegal in 2014. Reports suggest he was involved in trafficking over 60 underage girls from Myanmar to Singapore. Corruption on Myanmar boarders means age documentation is altered to meet the Singaporean legal age of 23, in which the defendant Louis Zung admitted. However he denied any wrong doing by trafficking and according to the Myanmar community, agents who recruit girls for domestic service are seen as ‘benefactors’ assisting in lifting poverty, rather than being blamed for tragedies.

However the economic desperation of the victims’ families conceals the deep rooted issue of rights violations through trafficking and and unjust labour. Due to the corruption linked to the government of Myanmar, it seems exposure and criminalisation is not enough to stop this practice. The trade policies between Myanmar and Singapore need to be internationally regulated and sanctioned to address this.

For the full article on Myanmar to Singapore maid trafficking, read here. 

North Korean Slaves in Foreign Territory Finance Regime 

Credit: BBC Panorama
Credit: BBC Panorama

Recent investigations have suggested that over 150,000 North Korean citizens are sent to work abroad in Poland, Russia and China in conditions alluding to ‘slavery’. The revenue produced is estimated over $1 Billion USD per year, the majority of which is funnelled back to North Korea to finance the dictatorship regime of Kim Jong-un.

In Russia, a worker anonymously reported that they are ‘treated like dogs here’ and they have to ‘give up being human’. They are paid over just $500 per month, of which almost all is paid to their North Korean ‘captain’, which is sent directly back to North Korea as ‘Party Duty’ or ‘Revolutionary Duty’. In Poland, around 800 North Korean labourers work primarily on shipyards, with extremely limited rights and substandard conditions. Although the company JMA denies having North Korean slave labourers, reporters were shown around the workplace and the ‘hotel’ in which the workers live on-site so they have no reason to leave. Furthermore, the Polish government suggests that all workers are under EU slavery regulations and there is no evidence of money being sent back to North Korea.

Defended in some respects as a positive system as workers are given the opportunity to have a ‘glimpse of the world’ when sent abroad to work, the conditions in which they are working is undoubtedly modern slavery. In December 2017, the UN sanctioned North Koreans working abroad with host nations having 2 years to comply, to prevent the finances fuelling the North Korean army, nuclear program and the luxurious living of Kim Jong-un.

For a video report on North Korea’s Secret Slave Gangs, see here. 

Anti-Slavery Progress in Mauritania

Rights campaigners had criticised an initial decision to release on bail two men accused of keeping women and children as slaves. By Scott Olson (Getty/AFP/File)
Image by Scott Olson (Getty/AFP/File)

With a hereditary system of servitude, Mauritania has previously demonstrated significantly low slavery prosecution rates. In 1981 slavery was deemed illegal, but the sanctions were increased in 2015 with punishment of 20 years imprisonment recognising slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’.

Two recent ground breaking cases in the country have led to the sentence of two guilty of enslavement to 20 years. The primary victim of this case died before the case conclusion, who alongside his son, were reduced to slavery.

Another defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison for keeping three women as domestic servants a without pay. Although the defence put forward the argument of treating the servants ‘like family’, the court ruled that slavery is a crime no matter how ‘gentle’.

These verdicts mark significant progress in the slavery case law of Mauritania, marking the success of the legislation and the three tribunals to address modern slavery established in the country. Similar cases that have been pending for several years will be reactivated according to authorities, signifying the normalisation of human rights issues being upheld by law.

Read here for the full article on these Rare Slavery Rulings in Mauritania Sending Three to Prison.

The Interconnection Between Slavery, Trafficking, Sexual Servitude and Terrorism

Issues of slavery, sexual servitude and trafficking are embedded as financing means in wider terror networks. The revenue produced by these means is used to sustain terrorist organisations, including the likes of Da’esh, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Such financing means are being used to replace traditional fund raising. Instead slavery, weapon trafficking, sexual violence are increasingly used for money laundering to finance terror measures. This is engrained further due to the ideological justifications of sexual violence.

The total capital value of the slavery and sex market feeding on going terror networks is unknown. Some reports suggest kidnapping ransoms account for $10-30 million revenue to Da’esh in 2016. Other reports refer to a list they published, detailing ‘spoils of war’ including Yazidi women and children sold as sex slaves, virgins having been auctioned through social media for upwards of $12,000 each. Many accounts suggest terror soldiers use the promise of sex slaves in their recruitment process, and punishment of ‘non believers’.

In 2016 a specific Resolution 2331 of the Untied Nations Security Council was passed to address human trafficking within areas of armed conflict, recognising that these are ‘tactics’ for terror groups and are perpetrated mercilessly through the ‘strategic objectives and ideology’ of such groups. It states “that trafficking in persons undermines the rule of law and contributes to other forms of transnational organised crime’’. The UN Resolution 2331 encourages its member states to align their national policy with the wider intentions of Women, Security and Peace and the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. It targets the financial mechanisms between trafficking, large crime rings in conflict zones and terrorism.

Illicit economies make it difficult to protect victims and identify and apprehend perpetrators. However slavery and sexual servitude are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity, which have universal jurisdiction under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, deeming the location and nationality of the defendants irrelevant. There is need for legislation to address this nexus, and for enforcement by international forces and agencies on the ground in conflict zones. The definition of terrorism in both national and international law must be broadened to include sexual violence as a tactic, amongst the wider UN resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.

Men Are Vulnerable To Trafficking As Labour Exploitation Rates Prove Higher Than Sexual Exploitation

7th Annual Report: G R E T A Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings

The Council of Europe has released a report through the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) which suggests labour exploitation is now the most significant form of trafficking in Europe, reflecting the rising trend in recent years. Alarmingly, it has taken over rates of sexual exploitation in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Portugal, Cyprus, Georgia and Serbia.

Due to this shift, men are the most identified victims of human trafficking, however women and children are still severely affected. ‘Men are often exploited in industries including agriculture, construction and fisheries whereas women tend to be exploited in more isolated settings such as domestic or care work – where they are sometimes victims of both labour and sexual exploitation.’

The primary cause of these new ​figures points to the previous underestimation of labour exploitation against sexual exploitation rates, as there is relatively less targeted legislation, and there have been few successful prosecutions and convictions. With both forms of exploitation, victims fear reprisals ​from traffickers, ​which makes data collection difficult, as well as impacting on low conviction rates.

For the full 7th Annual Report: G R E T A Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, read here. 

Tribute: International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

More than 15 million people were enslaved in Africa and sold during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which constitutes the largest legally sanctioned forced movement of people in history. Spread over 400 years, 96% of those enslaved arrived in the Americas and remain a prominent foothold in the demographic. This year being its 70th anniversary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains a foundation document in international law and slavery legislation:

“Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.’’

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges this and makes a tribute to International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade this week on 25th March. Denoting this period as one of the most brutal and shameful eras in human history and remembering those who died and suffered, he aims to spread the message of equality and remind of the ‘dangers of racism and prejudice’ in social thought. Although modern slavery has changed form and means, much of our understanding is grounded in the history of the Transatlantic slavery era.

For the full tribute on the Victims of Transatlantic Slave Trade read here. 

Climate Change and Natural Disasters Induce Vulnerability to Trafficking


Climate change increases the likelihood of natural disasters, forces groups of people into migration or resettlement from their original territory, and leaves people homeless, which are all high risk circumstances for trafficking. Environmental conditions should be a key factor in assessing socio economic wellbeing and security of a group of people against displacement, and in turn exploitation.

In contrast to refugees of war where majority of people that have been migrating are of middle or upper class, when faced with environmental catastrophe they may be pushed into a position of desperation and share the vulnerabilities if the poor. Through a sudden disaster, people may be thrust straight into poverty if all their assets, property and potentially lives are lost as there is often no safety net for unpredicted catastrophes. This shock and rapid displacement of people often attracts new traffickers to the affected area or encourages systems and crime rings already in place. As people are heavily dependant on their surrounding environment, they are suddenly put into situations of desperation for work people become targets for labour abuse or slavery. There is also risk of people becoming involved in the trafficking itself as a way to make income. This of course perpetrates the issue while bolsters the trafficking business in a disaster stricken area.

In slow onset environmental changes, such as sea level rise or temperature change, a similar trend occurs when it leads to forced migration. Traffickers may look to regions where recourses may be scarce or environmental changes cause a change in labour demand. For example drought causes the movement away form agriculture and into more industry driven roles in urban areas, giving traffickers a window for recruitment. Furthermore significant trafficking is seen at host regions or places of settlement, such as in urban slums. Often with very minimal beginnings, little education, work experience in cities or knowledge of their rights, migrants are mislead by ‘agents’ into exploitative work.

Women, men and children all face different risks to environment induced migration. If hit by disaster, children may be orphaned and at high-risk without the care of their parents, as seen after the 2004 Ocean Tsunami in South East Asia as records of child ‘abductions’ in Indonesia were much higher. Women are most often recruited for domestic work or sexual exploitation whereas men are most often forced into labour in inhumane and exploitative conditions. Such work is often in poor environmental conditions, including recourse extraction and dealing with toxic substances, for example palm oil extraction in south East Asia. This constitutes an abuse of their human rights and furthermore contributes to the supply chain of industry pollutants that cause climate change.

To combat this issue, there needs to be acceptance of the link between these climate change, migration and trafficking. There is need for awareness to be raised and regulation in times of disaster and on going migration, as the IOM monitors trafficking rates through their Migrant Crisis Operational Framework. National policy should avoid restriction of the movement of people, because this will push traffickers further underground or into the black market where exploitation thrives. Environmental migration should be regulated as a coping mechanism for victims, which requires international cooperation.

Nuanced Supply Chain Led Modern Slavery Legislation in Australia

There has been significant movement in Australia this week around the introduction to the Modern Slavery Act for Australia in 2018. This is being viewed as “historic legislation” as it pushes for nuanced supply chain based solutions involving individuals, business and public sector commitment, rather than the previous criminal justice perspective.

The major issues businesses have faced are in allocating resources and having limited education on addressing modern slavery in their supply chains. The new regulations are designed to avoid profit loss, but businesses will be accountable and at the forefront of addressing this issue. To comply with the new legislation, they will have to report on their efforts to eliminate modern slavery. Slavery will become an issue discussed by top management or Board Members of businesses rather than simply CSR efforts.

Technology is being developed to assist in these processes, including the block-chain systems, which document every valid contract in a supply chain. However, active commitment from the top-tier stakeholders is ultimately essential to address modern slavery through on going enforcement.

Modern slavery is a severe national issue with 4,300 living in this condition according to the Global Slavery Index, and a widespread issue amongst Asia-Pacific. Experts including Luis C deBaca, are viewing this as the opportunity for the Australian government to be a regional policy leader in addressing the on going problem.

Click here to read further information reported by ProBono on Australia’s Modern Slavery advancements. 


Children of the Refugee Crisis are Vulnerable to Trafficking

ARCHIVE PHOTO. A Syrian boy walks along a corridor inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, 280 km (173 miles) east of Sofia, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Pierre Marsaut
ARCHIVE PHOTO. A Syrian boy walks along a corridor inside a refugee camp in Harmanli, 280 km (173 miles) east of Sofia, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Pierre Marsaut

Human trafficking has become one of the three largest organised crimes, along with small arms and drugs trade which all monopolise on the displaced people of the refugee crisis. Gangs already involved in trade of illegal substances exploit the opportunity in the modern slave trade that produces over $150 billion annually.

Modern slavery is a global issue, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi highlights the highest number of slaves per country are in India, with over 18 million current victims. Europe’s refugee crisis exacerbates numbers, as approximately 10,000 lone children have been reported missing since entering the EU according to Europol data. In order to prevent their daughters being sold into slavery or for commercial sex, families of Syrian refugees are being pressured to arrange child marriages.

This month Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit 2018 is an international summit on Child Rights addressing the nexus between gangs, refugees and modern slavery. There is an emphasis on technological advancements such as facial recognition for missing children, as well as tighter enforcement amongst gangs involved in refugee migration and education amongst vulnerable victims to address the root causes.

For further information on exploitation of the refugee crisis by gangs see here.

Trafficking Victims Forced Into Illicit Massage Business

There are over 9,000 known illicit massage parlours within the USA, with an estimated annual revenue of $2.5 Billion. This accounts for the second highest bracket of human trafficking.

Workers ​in illicit massage parlours are often criminalised or punished for a job they may have been forced into. While some sex workers make the conscious decision to enter the line of work, many within the illicit massage business are victims of human trafficking and therefore work under conditions of force, coercion, fraud and deceit. Due to the underground nature of the business, crime lords and business owners have the ability to protect themselves and their own identities amongst the vast network of people involved. This poses a major issue as employees lower in the supply chain bear the consequences, on top of working under inhumane conditions.

Trafficking cases within massage parlours accounted for the second highest bracket in the USA in 2017, (to escort services as the first) with 2,949 out of 32,000 cases of trafficking recorded by National Human Trafficking Hotline. There are over 9,000 known illicit massage parlours within the USA, with an estimated annual revenue of $2.5 Billion.

However, these figures are a small estimation in the total scope of the problem. Naturally it is a crime that is difficult to quantify, as victims often do not know they are being taken advantage of or are manipulated into keeping quiet​, through threats and control mechanisms​. The victims are statistically most often women from China or South Korea, in their 30s-50s who have had children, speak very little English and are in positions of debt or financial pressures, in which they would have been taken advantage of by seeing this opportunity.

The perpetrators may use these vulnerabilities to fraudulently or deceitfully recruit women. The recruitment advertising often hides the sexual element of the work and also understates the pay, leading victims into debt to their traffickers. In addition, they may use coercion, legal and emotional manipulation, cultural shaming or deportation threats to force victims into commercial sex on an on going basis. Typical scenarios may be when women are told these circumstances are “normal in the USA” or “police are corrupt and will not help them”, or using blackmail by threatening to tell victim’s families of their sexual experiences. Their access to money, communication and national identification are most often confiscated.

The underlying cause of illicit massage businesses is to feed larger crime networks. ‘Front’ businesses are operated, including nail salons and laundromats, in order to launder money through and move victims between. However customers who engage in this business create the demand and therefore sustain the business.

According to the Polaris Project report, there are some obvious indicators as to which parlours are operating commercial sex, even if they do not openly advertise it. If they do, they promote to primarily male clientele through online sites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist. They will typically offer lower market price reflecting the wages of the women, if any. There will be private presentation of the business, often with windows covered and locks on doors with buzzer entry only. A significant indicator of trafficked victims is when the women live on site of the parlour.

The most effective way of combating trafficking in the massage industry is effective and local-national scale legal framework, with increased risk for the traffickers themselves rather than their employees forced into criminality or prostitution, with thorough law enforcement and consistent regulation. In the USA, 46 states reference industry standards for massage orientated businesses, yet these are usually only regulated on county or city level. Business operations including open hours, profit transparency, landowner responsibility should be enforced, and online advertising banned. On a broader scale, cross-state investigations into trafficking and crime rings should aim at the root of the issue, as well as avoiding media framing of ‘sex workers’ as the criminals rather than victims.