Human trafficking has existed for centuries. While it is a worldwide phenomenon, it is believed that in Europe it is most common in the Balkans. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) says that Kosovo, a place familiar to many Irish soldiers as we have been serving there as peacekeepers since 1999, is a major destination for the trafficking of young women for prostitution. According to Amnesty International, most of those trafficked are from Moldova, Romania, bulgaria and Ukraine. Kosovo was also identified in a 2010 US government report as a source, transit, and destination country for female and child victims of human trafficking. All this is not to say that human trafficking is confined to the balkans.
It happens almost everywhere, including Ireland. Many of our readers would be most familiar with this topic through films such as Liam Neeson’s ‘Taken’ (2008), in which a retired CIA agent pursues an Albanian gang of human traffickers who have his daughter. ‘Taken’ is the film that spawned the now infamous phrase: “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t let my daughter go, I will find you and I will kill you.”
Unfortunately, in reality tackling human trafficking is a lot more complicated than Liam’s method of shooting anyone he comes across wearing a leather jacket and slicked-back hair. People smuggling and human trafficking are not the same, in that the first must take place across international borders, whereas the latter, although it may be cross-border, can also take place within countries. Another difference is that trafficking must involve the exploitation of the person being trafficked.
To be defined as human trafficking, three distinct elements must be fulfilled: ‘act’, ‘means’, and ‘purpose’. The act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons must be done by a means such as the threat or use of force, abduction, fraud, deception, or abuse of power, and it must be for the purpose of some form of exploitation, such as sexual exploitation, labour exploitation or organ removal. However, in the case of anyone under 18 only the act and purpose are required for it to be deemed trafficking. Surprisingly, it was only in 2000, almost 200 years after the British Slave Trade Act of 1807 banned the transatlantic slave trade, that a legal definition was agreed internationally in a protocol to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, commonly known as the Palermo Protocol.
The same definition is also used in the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005, which also provides for a number of rights and supports for victims of human trafficking. In Ireland, trafficking was made a crime punishable by up to life imprisonment by the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. An amended Act in 2013 expanded the definition of trafficking to include exploitation of a person for the purpose of forced begging or forced participation in criminal activities. In December 2013 Minister Shatter published the ‘Annual Report of Trafficking in Human Beings in Ireland for 2012’, the fourth such report to be produced by the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, which was established in 2008 in the Department of Justice and Equality.
The report is based on information provided by An Garda Síochána; NGOs such as Ruhama, ICI, MRCI and Stop Sex Trafficking; and international organisations like the International Organisation for Migration. The report is published on the government’s dedicated anti-human trafficking website www.blueblindfold.gov.ie. The concept behind the website’s title is ‘don’t close your eyes to human trafficking’ in that the blindfold represents people having their eyes closed and not being aware that this type of crime may be going on around them in cities, towns and villages in Ireland. The Report stated that 48 people were proven to be victims of human trafficking in 2012. Of these 39 were trafficked for sexual exploitation, six for labour exploitation, and the remaining three were for uncategorised exploitation.
The profile of the group was 31 females and 17 males; 25 were adults, 23 were minors. What may be surprising to many given the common concept o of trafficking is that 19 of the victims originated in Ireland. Of the remainder 10 were from other EU countries, eight were from western Africa, and 11 were from other regions. The 19 Irish were all minors and were all reported as victims of sexual exploitation. The 2012 Report shows a continuing reduction in the number of reported cases compared to previous years. An examination of the data between 2009 and 2012 indicates that the number of victims originating from outside the EU has been declining on a yearly basis. However, it is important to recognise that due to the clandestine nature of human trafficking and its overlap with other highly secretive activities such as prostitution and various forms of exploitative labour practices, estimating the prevalence of this crime is highly problematic.
All Defence Forces serving on peace support operations are given the Soldiers’ Card, which details their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, and includes specific provisions relating to UNSCR 1325. The Defence Forces has also adopted the UN Secretary General’s Bulletin on Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse to define the standard of conduct. The Bulletin sets out a zero-tolerance policy that prohibits sexual relations with members of the host/dependent population, sex with children (under 18 years), and any transactional sex, whether for money, goods or favours. Due to the adoption of this policy by the Defence Forces, any breach constitutes an offence against military law and renders the perpetrator liable to prosecution.
These people find themselves in terrible situations. No one willingly signs up to becoming a slave. Human traffickers frequently recruit their victims through fraudulent advertisements that promise jobs such as hostesses, domestic work or work in the agricultural industry. Victims can even be recruited by family members and can come from rural or urban backgrounds.
Learning these signs will help you to detect the possibility of human trafficking while serving overseas or just while going about your daily life in your town or village.
So, As Individuals How Can We Help? By being vigilant and learning the signs. Recognising a victim of human trafficking is not always easy but being familiar with some of the general indicators will help. People who have been trafficked may:-
- be unable to leave their work environment;
- show signs that their movements are being controlled;
- be subjected to violence or threats against themselves or against their family members and loved ones;
- display injuries consistent with an assault;
- display injuries/ill-health consistent with working with hazardous substances without suitable safety equipment or clothing;
- be distrustful of the authorities;
- be afraid of revealing their immigration status;
- not be in possession of their passports or other travel or identity documents;
- be completely dependent on their ’employer’ for accommodation, food, transport and communication.
Further information on this topic can be obtained from: Anti-human Trafficking Unit, Department of Justice and Law Reform, 51 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, or from www.blueblindfold.gov.ie.
To anonymously report any suspicious activity, call: Crimestoppers 1800 25 00 25 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was previously published in the April 2014 issue of An Cosantoir – The official Magazine of the Irish Defence Forces (dfmagazine.ie) by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald