Saturday, December 04, 2010

EU Widens 'Human Trafficking' Definition

BBC reports that the European Union is widening the definition of human trafficking to include aiding, abetting, instigating or attempting. This is all very well and good, but it is not enough. What is needed is not so much a more inclusive definition of human trafficking as a major overhaul of the migration policies with regards to human trafficking.

In fact, a widening of the definition could mean that victimisation becomes even more widespread. Not to mention that there are problems with the definitions of these new criteria. What, for instance, constitutes as aiding or abetting trafficking? Is it simply enough to employ someone who has been trafficked without knowledge, or buying sexual favours from a prostitute who has been trafficked, even if the person buying is not aware of it? It is not obvious who is and who is not a trafficking victims as they are often held under threats to ensure they do not seek help.

Instead, what is needed, is a major look through EU's migration policies to ensure that people who have been trafficked can access their human rights in their destination countries. Currently, protection and support is often dependent on the trafficked person giving up information on the people who have trafficked them into the country. As the definition of human trafficking includes an element of coercion or threat, it is often hard for trafficked people to turn against the people who trafficked them. It is not uncommon for a sex trafficking victim, for instance, to have his or her family threatened by his or her pimp, making the trafficked person believe (regardless of the truth of the threat) that if he or she tells on the trafficker, his or her family will be in mortal danger.

What is more, and this is especially applicable to people who have been trafficked into sex work, is that there is still a stigma attached to being a trafficked person. Because the access of rights for these people is so poor today, and because the migration laws are so restrictive with regards to trafficked people, actually turning to the authorities for help might not feel like an option to these people. Often, if one comes out as a prostitute, because of the current moralisation of sexuality, that person is viewed as unclean and damaged. Unfortunately, this reflects in the authorities' dealings with such persons, especially because of the general lack of training. Seeking help from authorities might, thus, do more psychological damage. Also, in doing so, the trafficked person knows that the possibility he or she will be return to the country of origin is very big. This is not a bright prospect when these people fear being ostracised from their communities, cast off even by their family, because of the social stigma that is attached to prostitution and rape. Comparable to this is the vast number of women who were sexually terrorised in former Yugoslavia during the war, and have still not come forward because of the social stigma attached to being raped. (For further reading, see the recent UNFPA report published this year.)

Because some trafficking victims are actually voluntary illegal immigrants who were put into slave-like conditions upon the arrival in the destination country, authorities might be reluctant to give these people their rights as they are already seen as criminals. What they fail to understand, however, is that these people are still held against their will in a line of work that they have not agreed to (usually prostitution) and that they are being exploited on a daily basis. They lack the basic rights of self-determination over their own beings, and this can happen regardless if someone has entered a country illegally. Punishing these people for being illegal immigrants in the first place is nothing less than a double restriction of their rights.

As long as women and men who are trafficked into foreign countries against their wills or into a job that was not agreed upon from the start do not have access to protection and human rights, it is not going to be enough to widen the definition of human trafficking. As with a lot of other policies to prevent human trafficking, this one is aimed at stopping the organised crime rings involved with the consequence of ignoring the needs of the people who are actually being trafficked.

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