Reimagining Human Trafficking

One can’t deny that globalization, despite its multifarious positive spill-over effects, has been instrumental in further widening the chasm of economic welfare between the rich and the poor in each country. This chasm has ushered in a retrograde dynamic involving an accelerated emigration of the poor to “greener pastures” per se, in search of more lucrative employment opportunities. However, with the more affluent economies tightening the avenues of influx, these immigrants have been rendered more susceptible to human trafficking. Despite having attracted a considerable share of attention in the global milieu over the past decade, human trafficking is popularly perceived as a heinous crime involving the relegation of women to rather perverse streams of revenue in the informal sector (for ex. prostitution), thereby depriving trafficked workers, regardless of gender, involved in non-sexual labour of requisite attention. Furthermore, the legal framework designed to mitigate trafficking primarily treats it as a savage crime where the offenders deserve punishment and the victims ought to be rehabilitated into the “mainstream”. Thus, one can clearly trace a conspicuous void in terms of addressing the precursors that lead to trafficking, while formulating policies and setting agendas.

A more insightful analysis of trafficking would yield that, quite contrary to the macabre vision of victims being coerced via violent means, it stems from disparate socio-economic conditions. Traffickers typically act like any self-serving economic agent would and leverage upon this arbitrage opportunity, with women being the primary target owing to the gender notions derived from traditional sex roles pertaining to the labour market, in particular, and reactions to global restructuring trends, in general. A country like India, where practices such as the “Devadasi” system, or a similar off-shoot, are still prevalent among the “lower castes” posits a ripe social fabric conducive for such malfeasant practices. On the other hand, all the relevant government-backed institutions have thus far adamantly adhered to the myopic view of regarding trafficking as a habitué of the “law & order” fold (more specifically, border & crime control). There is no doubt that a robust legal counter-trafficking response is imperative in tackling such a problem and a lot has been achieved in this regard, within the purview of the government. The Palermo Protocol, inked in 2003, intended to achieve a paradigmatic shift in this arena by binding all the member states to the key procedures identified by the United Nations as critical in preventing trafficking. Despite being guided by noble intentions, the Protocol comes across as a didactic verse directed to the immaculate enforcement of criminal & border control justice, even at the risk of compromising humanitarian values on several grounds. Sadly, the salient features stated in the Palermo Protocol (popularly referred to as the “Trafficking Protocol”) mirror the precepts of the counter-trafficking policies in vogue. They disregard the blatant truth glaring at everyone in the face: given the extent to which such trafficking networks are entrenched pan-geographically, one can’t arrive at a sustainable solution for the problem unless the contingent socio-economic factors are aptly ameliorated.

Based upon the facts and views posited thus far, it is quite intuitive that a more empathetic view towards the problem of human trafficking is warranted if one desires to annihilate its root causes. However, the empathy should be directed towards the “source” of the trafficking network, rather than the “end purpose” to appositely grasp the finer nuances encompassed within the vista of this vile practice, while at the same time not compromising the acute technicalities involved in the associated modus operandi. Although policies intended to regulate the demand side of the trafficking conundrum could appear to serve as a panacea (at least on paper), it could prove to be very counter-intuitive in the long run given that such measures have proved to harbour xenophobic feelings in the past, leading to grave social unrest. Thus, in order to develop more effective counter-trafficking strategies, one should take stock of the current strategies being employed across the globe, to understand what the gaps in their respective value proposition chains are, and how one could make their fabric more tuned to prevention and not cure. These initiatives should be actively coupled with an extensive study of relevant human rights laws in order to narrow down the socio-economic precepts that influence each strain of human trafficking most significantly. In addition to this, international human rights would provide a standard framework to offer the disenfranchised a crisp socio-political space which is imperative to eventually reintegrate them with the rest of the society. The principles of “non-discrimination” and “equality” should ideally form the cynosure of such a human rights-backed jurisprudence as these two concepts could invariably be used to cogently characterize any precursor of human trafficking: poverty, domestic violence, barriers to education, etc.

The human trafficking industry, as we speak, represents approximately forty billion dollars of global trade per year, growing at a more rapid rate than any other industry in the world. Closer home, a non-descript island like Sandeshkhali (Sunderbans), once frequently afflicted by tiger attacks, has adopted the avatar of a trafficking hub, contributing a major share of the fourteen thousand odd individuals who disappeared from West Bengal alone, in 2012. Over the past decade, several countries in the world, with the United States at the fore, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars just to mitigate trafficking only to meet with results which are a far cry from being even remotely commensurate. Such startling statistics are indicative enough that it’s time one re-aligns one’s views towards the problem at large and takes cognition of the fact that human trafficking is a complex and multi-causal phenomenon. Thus, one can only hope to convert rhetoric to reality only if the system they are trying to extirpate is approached with a protocol, underpinned by a holistic understanding of the core ethos of the people afflicted by this malpractice, i.e. by adopting a more “victim-centric” approach.



The author is a student of IIM Ahmedabad – Class of 2016 and a member of the 2015-16 Student Team at InsideIIM

Srinjoy Ganguly

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