Fighting the trafficking in human beings
Trafficking in human beings is, indeed, a sickening violation of human rights and a horrible criminal act. It is often associated with other crimes such as child labour, forced labour and exploitation, and has been called a ‘modern form of slavery’. Combating trafficking in human beings has been high on the international agenda for over a decade and the most dramatic cases obtain massive media coverage. However, due to its complexity, this issue is still widely misunderstood and underestimated, both by civil society and all those who, in one way or another, have to deal with it, notwithstanding its deep impact both in developing and industrialized countries all over the world.
Raising awareness, as well as conducting extensive training of government officials, employers representatives, trade unionists, international civil servants and local social workers, appears to be the best path towards improved understanding, better law enforcement and the development of effective action plans at national, regional and, hopefully, global level.
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June Kane (Australia) is a communication expert who can build on her long-term experience as a journalist, academic, chief of communication for various international organizations, trainer and subject expert. Dr. Kane is currently here in Turin to act as resource person for the ITC-ILO training course on the labour dimension of trafficking in human beings, which is currently taking place in Turin and is attended by 32 participants from 19 countries. We took this precious opportunity of having such a passionate and competent professional to learn more on the role of media and awareness campaigns, as well as of training to make International Labour and Human Rights standards have an impact on societies.
Q- Dr. Kane, you worked as journalist as well as media and communication expert for many organizations, projects and campaigns. Having been yourself on both sides of the barricade, could you tell us how and why the media could be an ally in fighting the trafficking in human beings?
A - The media have a vital role to play in helping people understand what trafficking is really about. This includes the essential role they play in informing and influencing decision makers, especially those in government or those who advise them. Trafficking is almost always depicted in films and in the press as a process of kidnapping human beings, locking them away in a truck or other form of transport, shipping them off to some third country and then exploiting them, usually in sex work.
There is no doubt that things do sometimes happen that way, but more often human trafficking is all about persuasion and deceit, with traffickers making promises of a better life or a good job to people who for various reasons are looking to move or are seeking out work. These unsuspecting people eventually find that the job they are moved to is dirty, dangerous and often poorly paid, if it is paid at all. The better life they hoped for remains just a dream as those who profit from their exploitation keep them in servitude and control their every move. People, including children, are exploited in many other ways, not only in commercial sex. They end up in sweatshops, in mining and construction, in agriculture and hawking or begging on the streets. What the media can do is show the full picture of what human trafficking is, so that people think about what they buy and where it might have come from and, especially, so that they are motivated to report any suspicious workplaces or movement of people that they come across.
Q - They say "if it bleeds, it leads". However magazine/newspapers readers and radio/TV spectators are often overwhelmed with sad stories and bad news. As a result, they get easily bored as they feel that, given the enormity of the problem, there’s nothing they can do about it, so they’d better not care. Moreover, the ever-growing commercial interests of publishers make media aim more at selling advertising spaces rather than at informing, hence educating their readers. How can one counteract this attitude and, at the same time grab the people’s interest and commitment on such unpleasant subjects?
A - The important thing to get media and readers, listeners or viewers of media to see is that, as awful as trafficking is, we can all do something positive to stop it. As I said, reporting suspicious workplaces or odd patterns of movement is one way of acting. People can also call on their governments to reinforce laws against human trafficking, and to enforce them stringently. It’s also important that people treat those who have been trafficked with understanding and acceptance. They are victims, not criminals, and they need human support as they set about rebuilding their lives.
As for pressure from media owners – well, there is no better human interest story than the trafficking of human beings, especially children. We all thought that slavery had ended a hundred years ago, but it is still with us. In the times of slavery, great newspaper reporters like Charles Dickens in England sold huge numbers of newspapers telling stories about slavery, and mobilized entire populations to call for action. Those days are here again. Maybe we need a few more Charles Dickens-type reporters!
Q –So what is the aim of the training course that the ITC-ILO has been running this week?
A - Understanding trafficking and knowing how to respond to it is the key to ultimately ending this terrible violation of human rights. But we have found that there are many ‘common wisdoms’ circulating about trafficking that are based on anecdote rather than fact. As you will understand, trafficking is a largely clandestine activity because it is a crime, so it is almost impossible to have accurate statistics on it. Similarly, it is different from place to place, because the labour markets into which people are trafficked vary, and so do the people involved. At the same time, in recent years we have learned a lot of lessons about how to respond to trafficking: how to protect those at risk, prevent the crime, improve law enforcement and help the victims. We believed the time was right to put all these things together into a comprehensive training package that would help to give government representatives, workers’ and employers’ organizations, UN and NGO personnel and others a common platform of understanding and a shared toolbox, if you like, of actions to take. In addition to the training package, which was developed as ILO’s contribution to the UN Global Initiative to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings (UN.GIFT) with input from ITC-ILO, UNICEF and other anti-trafficking actors, the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, IPEC, also developed a Resource Kit to accompany the training. This has a full text on child trafficking and a package of more than 170 resources.
Q - Dr Kane, we know that you also work in areas related to violence against children in general. Why are you particularly interested in the subject of child trafficking?
A - Although my work on violence against children is important, the subject of child trafficking and finding ways to end it is especially motivating for me. I think it has to do with the fact that children – and adults – who are trafficked are almost always people who have hope and dreams and who fall into the hands of traffickers because they want to chase those hopes and make a better life for themselves.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to think that your dreams are almost in your grasp and then to find yourself not only disappointed but further away from your dreams than ever, stuck in a situation which is dangerous, demeaning, devastating. Sometimes people ask me if working on trafficking makes me depressed or sad. I suppose it could, but mostly it makes me angry, determined, passionate about making a difference in these people’s lives.