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Trafficking: Global and local reality

When Lady Macbeth learns of a murder committed in the palace, her response is: “What? In our house?” I think of this each time I give a presentation on trafficking of persons; people cannot believe this is happening in our house, our city, our country. But it is, and business is booming. The next questions are always: “Why don’t we know about this?” and “What can we do?”

And this is part of the problem. While many women’s and religious groups have focused on this terrible violation of human dignity, for most people, this crime remains invisible. In the United States alone, over 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are victims of trafficking; worldwide over 1,000,000 are transported across national borders for the purposes of forced labor or sexual service. Trafficking human beings is far more profitable that trafficking drugs, because women and children can be used over and over.

Even for those who are aware, when we read another story, watch another documentary, listen to a victim of trafficking; we are again shocked, sometimes surprised, and wonder what to do. But the situation is changing; more and more groups are being educated; television has opened the eyes of many, newspaper columnists have called on citizens and governments to address this issue.

We have come to know the causes that often are related to poverty and to the status that women and children hold in a community. We know the massive flow of global finance and goods, borders made porous by international trade agreements, and instant information technology, coupled with vast numbers of people migrating in search of employment and security, invite and sustain this crime. War and its aftermath; lack of education, little or no employment coupled with greed and corruption, provide fertile soil for trafficking.

What can be done about this? The United Nations has agreements and, conventions for addressing trafficking world-wide. But little happens at the UN that does not first begin locally. When we educate people, we are doing something about this. When we lobby our state legislators to enact laws to support USl regulations, when we are in contact with the local law enforcement authorities, when we educate emergency room personnel, we are doing what needs to be done nationally. These efforts support what can be done internationally.

When we lobby our government to sign the Convention on the Elimination Against Women (CEDAW), we are linking the local with the global. As of 2 March 2006, 182 countries - over ninety percent of the members of the United Nations - are party to the Convention. The United States has not signed the Convention, and is, therefore, not bound by it. An election is coming, we might ask candidates their position; we might offer to send information (which I would be happy to supply).

The UN presence can bring the stories of trafficking to an international venue; we can remind governments of the conditions which foster trafficking and can tell of efforts in countries to address this situation. We can tell of the sisters in Nigeria who formed an association to support of the dignity of women (COSUDOW) whose main focus is trafficking. In one project, they rehabilitated 30 women formerly involved in trafficking. This UN office can seek to strengthen the connections with our Family whose stories of trafficking will often be about the “supply” that feeds the “demand”; these stories which together can be closer to the truth we seek.

I am always encouraged by the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, a principle author of the Declaration of Human Rights, which remind us that our efforts start wherever we are.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual human person…Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Trafficking Defined:

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, receipt of persons, by means of threat or the use of force, or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.

(Source: The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking)


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