UNODC is cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - UNAIDS
Speech by Mr. Gary Lewis, Representative, UNODC, South Asia at Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, New Delhi,
27 September 2007
"Fighting a crime that shames us all" at 53rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference New Delhi, 27 September 2007
Mr. Gary Lewis, Representative, UNODC at the plenary session on Human Trafficking
A man shops for an under-aged bride in the back lanes of Hyderabad.
A sex work customer with an HIV infection is ready to pay a heavy sum for a young virgin, believing this will cure him of his disease.
A young underweight boy is picked up from the backyards of Rajashtan to make bricks in the kilns many days south in Karnataka.
A girl is sold. She is from Nepal. She travels to Mumbai's red light district to help feed her family. Listen to her…
I am torn and bleeding where the men have been.
I pray to the gods to make the hurting go away.
To make the burning and the aching and the bleeding stop.
Music and laughter come from the room next door.
Horns and shouting come from the street below.
No one can hear me.
Not even the gods. [Patricia McCormick,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to take part in this meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I applaud the CPA for focusing this session - in part - on a crime that has no place in the 21st century. That crime is called human trafficking. It is a crime that shames us all.
Lives for Sale: Slavery not part of history
This year there has been a lot of attention devoted to the 200th anniversary of the formal ending of the slave trade in the British empire.
Mr. Gary Lewis, sharing the dais with other international experts at the 53rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association(CPA)
But slavery is not something which is receding into the depths of history. From impoverished rural villages to mega-cities, from wealthy suburban paradises to inner city ghettos, hundreds of thousands of people become victims of human trafficking every year, through force or deception.
Their lives are for sale - auctioned off to the highest bidder for sexual and commercial exploitation. More often than not, the victims are children and young women.
In a perverse commercialization of humanity, these people - these human beings - are used like products and then simply thrown away. Tossed aside. They are disposable people.
This crime affects almost every Commonwealth country - which in one way or another - are either countries of origin, or transit or destination. Some, like India, are all three.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Office that I work for, estimates that the number of victims is in the millions. The profits made - in the billions of dollars.
In India itself - in this ancient land where I am privileged to live and work with a small dedicated team - tens of thousands of women and children are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation
What shocks me is that so many people remain unaware of all this. If we aren't seeing it, is it because we aren't looking for it?
Why does this crime occur?
Why does this pernicious trade occur in the first place? There are two main reasons.
The first is
poverty and its handmaidens - low literacy and a woman's lack of awareness of her rights. These are the so-called push factors.
It is no coincidence that most victims are from developing countries. Often, I come across what I call the horrendous arithmetic of poverty. Parents may be aware of trafficking but yet they are helpless in the face of their situation. The breadwinner has died. There is too much debt. The crop has failed. They have too many daughters. This horrendous arithmetic causes them to sell a loved one in the interests of saving the family.
And they don't have to look far. For always and everywhere there are predators hovering. Predators who infiltrate villages, set up information networks, and look for the first signs of vulnerability of families. Often they simply exploit the dreams of poor and vulnerable people who are seeking a better life.
This brings us to the second factor:
the demand. Some of this is fuelled by globalization whose darker side demands cheap goods which can be provided by the victims of trafficking. Geographic mobility has spawned the growth in sex tourism. Other forms of demand arise. Female foeticide causes gender imbalances in parts of South Asia that creates a market for sex work and trafficked brides. This market now has a new driving force - as clients seek younger and younger girls, presuming them to be less of an HIV risk.
I'd like to end this summary of the problem by quoting Kofi Annan who, earlier this year, asked us all to
"look carefully at our own lives, and ask what abominations we may even now be tolerating - or joining in - or benefiting from." He then went on to exhort us:
"The slave trade as practised 200 years ago may be history. But moral blindness is ever present. Let us not close our eyes to crimes that shame us all."
How can we fight it?
So, what can be done to fight this crime? Given what I have said, many of these answers will be obvious.
The first and most obvious is to
beat the drum. Raise the awareness of the general public. But also target potential victims. Warn them that lucrative offers of employment in desirable destinations may be a trap. We also need to acquire more data and widen the scope of statistics on this dark subject. Prevention should be evidence-based.At the moment - I am afraid to say - in many cases we are simply chasing shadows.
But moral outrage is not going to stop the traffickers. Supply and demand, risk and reward, are the traffickers' primary motivators. We therefore need to lower their incentives to trade.We need to change the
risk/reward balance. As long as there is high demand and high profit margins - coupled with low risk - unscrupulous criminals will always find a supply. We must
increase the risk to traffickers by empowering law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice. Only then will the risk/reward ratio shift.
Fortunately, a strong international legal instrument exists to fight human trafficking. It is called the
UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. It supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
UNODC works with States - providing legal and technical assistance - to help them ratify this Protocol, and then implement it.We call this the 3 "P" agenda: prevention, prosecution and protection.
Prevention: In terms of prevention, we try to lower people's vulnerability to trafficking. We try to warn potential victims. We help with the exchange of information on trafficking routes, traffickers and victims.
Prosecution: In terms of prosecution, we help countries to enact domestic laws which make human trafficking a criminal offence.As Parliamentarians, I call on you to ensure that your laws make a clear distinction between those who are the victims of trafficking and those who are the real criminals. I urge you to make the punishment fit the crime.Far too often, victims are treated like criminals, while traffickers escape with a slap on the wrist.
Protection: In terms of protection, we help provide for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims, accounting - especially - for the needs of women and children.We promote the development of special procedures to protect children. Victims should be given a safe place to recover following rescue. Sometimes all they need is time to be left alone for a while. In silence. Proper treatment often prevents re-victimization.
What can parliamentarians do?
Having heard all of this, you may be asking yourselves:
"What can we - as parliamentarians - do to help"?
Friends, you have a key role to play.
One. Since you create the political and legislative environment for the successful development and implementation of anti-trafficking initiatives, your first priority must be to make sure that your country has ratified the UN anti-trafficking Protocol.
Two. As legislators, you must also make sure that laws and measures are in place to fight human trafficking in terms of prevention, prosecution and protection.If you need UNODC's legal or technical assistance, all you have to do is ask.We have lawyers and other experts available to work on a short or long term basis with your office.
Three. You can make sure that human trafficking is regularly on the parliamentary agenda - standing committees, hearings, and so on.Actively involve experts and victims of trafficking into these discussions.
Four. You hold the purse strings. Through your resource allocation decisions, you can see to it that the benefits of economic growth reach down to the source areas where human trafficking can be prevented. If you create work opportunities in the source areas, you can put a stop to the migrations upon which the traffickers thrive. You can also make sure that sufficient funds are allocated for anti-trafficking programmes. You can put an end to the horrendous arithmetic I referred to earlier. Most of us have children we care for and look after. Can you imagine how difficult it is to make such choices?
Five. You can review the effectiveness of law enforcement operations to ensure that anti-trafficking laws and measures are having a real impact. Set up a national anti-trafficking coordination mechanism or national rapporteur.
Six. Collect and share information on trafficking cases in your country so that together we can build up the global knowledge base of information on this hidden crime. Again, UNODC is here to help.
Seventh and finally, you can interact with parliamentarians from other countries - and from within your own legislatures - in order to share experiences and good practices. I believe that this meeting would be a good opportunity to start such networking.
UN.GIFT - A Global Initiative
But what about international action? Since trafficking in persons is often a trans-national crime and affects almost all countries around the world, it needs to be fought on a global scale.
UNODC, in partnership with other members of the UN family, has, this year, launched a Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking - also known as UN.GIFT.
The Global Initiative is based on a simple principle: human trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and such atrociousness that it cannot be dealt with successfully by any one government alone.
We are therefore engaging as broad a spectrum of actors as possible. We are holding regional forums around the world to look at the different manifestations of the problem, to collect information, and to build stronger networks to mount a turning point in the fight against trafficking.
In this very hall, two weeks from now, we will launch the South Asia Conference on Human Trafficking as part of GIFT. For two days we will seek ways in which to re-dedicate ourselves to struggle for the cause of those whose calamities I have described when I started speaking with you ten minutes ago. From every country in South Asia, we all - businessmen and women, Bollywood stars, policemen, politicians, our friend from the media, those in government and those from the NGO community who struggle in the trenches day in and day out - we all will forge a new consensus. We will declare this consensus and we will work to achieve each milestone from that point onwards.
For those of you from South Asia, one concrete way you can show your commitment to ending trafficking will be to participate in this conference.
This gathering will be only one of several across the globe. In Vienna in February 2008, we will take stock of what progress we have wrought in 2007. We will draw breath. We will cast ourselves forward again.
I urge you to think about how you can join this endeavour and do your part in ending a crime that shames us all. As you do so, ask yourself these two simple questions: