IV. Major Contributing Factors to Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is based on the simple economic principles of supply and demand (Shelley, 2003). Global poverty is one of the major contributors to human trafficking because it creates a vulnerable supply of victims. Conversely, the economic prosperity experienced by some countries over the last few decades has created vast wealth and exorbitant incomes for some individuals, with enough earnings to demand a market in the sale of humans (Farr, 2005). Globalization, political instability, civil unrest, culture, the disenfranchisement of certain groups, and of course the revenue to be made from selling humans are all factors that contribute to this global problem (Raymond & Hughes, 2001). Other reasons for its prevalence may be due to the belief that there is a relatively low risk of being apprehended and punished. Law enforcement preoccupation with stopping the sale of weapons and drugs and with terrorism leaves criminals with the impression that human trafficking laws will not be enforced and that their chances of being arrested and incarcerated are minimal at best (Shelley, 2005). Thus, this false sense of security also drives the willingness of traffickers to continue their economic venture.
Globalization is generally defined as the increased connectivity between countries around the world, so much so that changes in the economy of one country, or changes in any other area such as in government or government services, have the potential to affect all those who inhabit this world (Bales, 2005; Shelley, 2005). For instance, the advent of the Internet, the ease of travel or transportation between countries, and the fusion of world markets are all factors that affect this connectivity, which means that globalization can be thought of as global interdependency. There are some scholars, such as Shelley (2005), who believe that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other such agreements that deregulated trade between countries contributed to an increase in transnational crime. Perhaps the first illegal business to profit was the sale of drugs, followed by the sale of weapons, and then the sale of humans. They believe so not only because these agreements facilitate the flow of goods (though not intentionally the flow of illegal good such as drugs, arms, and humans), but also because free trade agreements have a see-saw effect on global economies. Some countries will inevitably experience growth and economic prosperity as the result of open trade markets, while others will experience economic despair. For those countries in the latter category, illegal enterprises might be one solution to individuals’ economic desperation. For others, economic desperation makes them vulnerable to human trafficking, since most victims fall prey to this crime out of a belief that the trafficker will provide them with a better life. In sum, free trade agreements economically marginalize some countries to a point where illegal activities seem to be one of the few constant methods to make a living.
Economic marginalization of countries tends to affect women more than men—a sort of disenfranchisement of women. A shortage in legitimate employment opportunities means that only a few will be able to work. Those few are usually men, which leaves women facing severe poverty and extreme vulnerability. Also, economic marginalization means that countries will not be able to sustain most governmental services such as educational opportunities for all. Women again will be left out of the only available chances to receive an education. With little hope of finding employment in their countries, some women decide to take their chances at finding occupations abroad. Also, with little or no education, these women have no awareness of the dangers of human trafficking. The economic despair that occurs for women due to globalization has been referred to by some scholars as the feminization of poverty (Shelley, 2003, 2005), a term coined by Diana Pearce in 1978.
However, there are other scholars, such as Aronowitz (2001), who are of the opinion that political instability contributes to human trafficking. The fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s is a prime example. Civil warfare in the region created people willing to sell humans for profit and to fund their political ideologies as well as fund their need for arms. Civil warfare also created destitute individuals vulnerable to be trafficked. The inability of the tumultuous government to provide citizens with basic necessities created a spiraling feminization of poverty in the region. There were some who fled the country only to fall prey to human trafficking schemes in other countries. For instance, many people fled the crumbling Soviet Union to the newly independent states formed as the result of the collapse, only to find that places such as the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan are rife with human trafficking operations. Communism, according to some scholars, may have been beneficial to the citizens of the former Soviet Union because at least the government provided just enough resources to keep a large segment of the population from abject poverty and to keep the feminization of poverty from spinning out of control (Shelley, 2005).
Today, Indonesia and Cambodia are both undergoing political instability. Both have been identified by the U.S. Department of State (2008) as hot spots for human trafficking. China has also been identified as a country with significant threats to human dignity since it experiences a large influx of refugees from North Korea, Vietnam, and Burma. Most of the refugees are women and children in search of a better life and easily deceived into believing that economic prosperity awaits them in their destination country. Thousands of children are believed to be forced to labor against their will in China, and most are beaten by their employers to prevent escape.
As mentioned, political instability and civil war contribute to human trafficking because they also cause people to flee regions and countries. Refugees and people displaced from their homes, in general, are vulnerable to human trafficking usually because dreams of a better life cloud their judgment regarding employment opportunities (Farr, 2005). Of course, most of these individuals are deceived into believing that employment opportunities are legitimate. Natural disasters such as the Tsunami in 2004 that affected Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India, contributed to substantial displacement of people. The unfortunate occurrence, however, created a perfect situation for traffickers. Reports indicated that a large percentage of children became victims of human trafficking as the result of this natural disaster (U.S. Department of State, 2008).
Culture also plays a role in human trafficking. There are some countries in Africa that practice what is known as child fostering (Bales, 2005). This means that underprivileged families that cannot otherwise provide an education for their children send them to live with relatives in hopes that the children will be educated or at least learn a trade. Some parents may even send their children to stay with nonrelatives. Every so often, relatives or nonrelatives will sell the children because the burden of taking care of them has taken a toll on the economic livelihood of the family, or they will sell them simply to make a profit. In some developing countries, abject poverty coupled with the need to ensure that daughters marry for the sake of alleviating the economic burden on the family make daughters vulnerable to human trafficking. Farr (2005) reports that in Nepal, for example, this type of trafficking is common.
All of the above factors (poverty, globalization, economic marginalization, the feminization of poverty, political instability, civil war, natural disasters, and culture) are also referred to as the push factors of human trafficking because they all serve to push the most vulnerable individuals into positions where the likelihood of becoming a victim is high. However, human trafficking also has pull factors. These are the factors that contribute to the massive transportation of humans from one side of the globe to the other. Wealth, economic prosperity, and countries willing to look the other way regarding the hiring of illegal immigrants are just a few examples of pull factors. Germany, Greece, France, Belgium, Italy, and the United States are all top destination countries for human trafficking victims (Mizus et al., 2003).