Understanding Human Trafficking

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Human trafficking in Canada

There is growing evidence of the widespread occurrence of human trafficking in Canada. The RCMP reports that Canadian women and girls are exploited in sex trafficking across the country. Persons from aboriginal communities as well as minors in the child welfare system are especially vulnerable. Local gangs, transnational criminal organizations, and individuals are involved in sex trafficking in Canadian cities and towns.

Foreign workers, who may enter Canada legally or illegally, are subjected to forced labour in agriculture, construction, processing plants, the hospitality sector or as domestic servants. The exact number of people trafficked in Canada is difficult to determine because trafficked persons are often reluctant to come forward. Some of the reasons a trafficked person may be reluctant to ask for help include:

  • Fear: Traffickers use threats of violence, actual violence and sexual assault to instill fear. Often, internationally trafficked persons fear deportation if they go to the authorities. Traffickers also threaten violence to family members if the debt is not repaid.
  • Debt bondage: Many people who have been trafficked owe money to their traffickers for transportation, visa fees, food or drugs. They are told they cannot go free until the debt is paid. The amount is often arbitrarily increased so that the debt bondage continues.
  • Dependency and isolation: The trafficked person likely has no family or social network. Surroundings and culture maybe unfamiliar and they don’t know where or who to turn to for help. The trafficker may forbid conversation and keep moving the trafficked person from place to place so they cannot get to know anyone. The trafficker may take away identity documents and provide drugs or alcohol to complete the dependency. Children are particularly vulnerable to extreme isolation.
  • Trauma bonding: Trauma bonding occurs when a person develops positive feelings towards their trafficker, usually caused by being isolated and being controlled by the trafficker.
  • Shame and guilt: A person who has been trafficked may feel too ashamed by their experiences to ask for help. It can be particularly acute for males because it not commonly recognized that they also can be trafficked.

Who is trafficked?

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Anyone can be trafficked. Traffickers prey upon people who are vulnerable. There are many factors that contribute to world wide vulnerability, including:

  • Political instability: War, civil unrest, and natural disasters can lead to forced migration whereby people end up homeless, without work, without family nearby and living in constant fear.
  • Poverty: Traffickers offer poor and marginalized people false promises of a better life. These people may take greater risks in their attempts to provide for themselves and their families.
  • Racism and the legacy of colonialism: Racism and colonialism contribute to the marginalization of people, particularly indigenous populations. Colonialism is the practice by which a nation controls a foreign territory for the purpose of exploiting its resources and people. The legacy of colonialism continues to impact entire communities as people struggle to exercise their basic civil and human rights.
  • Ethnicity: Aboriginal women and girls are uniquely vulnerable to human trafficking because they are more likely to be impacted by other factors associated with residential school abuse, gender inequality, poverty, domestic violence or the child welfare system.
  • Gender inequality: In many cultures, women are seen as being of less value than men. Women are paid less for equal work, have fewer rights, less health care, less education, less property and may be expected to be submissive to men.
  • Addictions: Traffickers sometimes supply drugs to break down resistance, cause dependency and coerce people into forced labour or sex. As a trafficked person becomes addicted, the trafficker uses that vulnerability to maintain control.
  • Mental health: People with mental health issues may struggle with limited capacity to consent, assess risk or detect ill intentions. Traffickers are skilled at detecting these vulnerabilities and manipulating them to their advantage.
  • Gang coercion: Females can be exploited by entering a gang as a girlfriend of a gang member and then being sold for sexual acts. Often youth born into gang-involved families are expected to contribute to the family business in any way the gang deems fit.
  • Online vulnerability: Traffickers increasingly use social networking and video chat sites to lure, advertise and exploit people. Traffickers then use explicit or compromising photos to further their control — threatening to publish these images online where family members will see them. Online social networking sites are now prime recruiting locations, replacing easier to monitor locations such as shopping malls, schools, bus stations and parties. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to being lured this way.

Why does human trafficking happen?

Anti-trafficking advocates argue that human trafficking exists because there is a demand for cheap goods, cheap labour, and the provision of sexual services. "Push factors" include poverty, gender inequality, lack of opportunity and education, political unrest, and unemployment. "Pull factors" include globalization of the economy, the demand for cheap goods and services, and new communications technologies.

Trafficking in human beings is not new. Slavery, servitude, forced labour and other similar practices have existed for thousands of years. In the last two decades however, changing conditions around the world have led to a global increase in human trafficking, mainly of women and girls.

Who are the traffickers?

Perpetrators of trafficking can take many forms. They may operate independently, with a small network, or be part of a large transnational organized crime network moving people over long distances.

They may be a professional or an amateur. A trafficker may be a stranger, a friend, a family member, a labour contractor, a diplomat, a career criminal, or a business executive.

In some countries, employment and talent agencies claim to provide training and help for people looking for legitimate work in another country. In actual fact, they are recruited for the purpose of exploitation. Government and law enforcement officials are sometimes involved in trafficking.

How does human trafficking violate human rights?

Human trafficking is a gross violation of human rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, and the right to freedom from slavery and degrading treatment. Traffickers treat trafficked persons like commodities, infringing on their basic rights to make their own decisions, to move freely, and to work where and for whom they choose.

A human rights approach views the trafficked person as someone in need of protection and services rather than as a criminal. Such an approach is crucial to restoring the dignity and well-being of the trafficked person.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2014.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence Human Trafficking in Canada © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.