Why are women more vulnerable to trafficking than any other demographic?
There are many answers to this upsetting question. One aspect of the problem is, of course, that the illegal trades into which most trafficked people are delivered – namely, but not exclusively, the illegal sex industry – has an overwhelming demand for trafficked women over men. However, to leave our analysis here would be to ignore other deeper, systemic factors that predetermine women around the world to greater exploitation and vulnerability and less access to education, political freedom and equal opportunity.
Protecting women from trafficking is as much about education and opportunity as it is about cracking down on the traffickers themselves. The debilitating circumstances of poverty, illiteracy, and prejudice against women create sad circumstances, ripe for exploitation by traffickers. Allow me to outline an example of the typical circumstances:
Hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions, of people migrate every year from rural India into the throbbing urban centres – Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkatta, Chennai. People are desperate to scrape a living and feed their families. As soon as the older children are able, they are put to work too, to bring in any extra income they can. Families will starve if they wait for their children to finish school. For unskilled labour in India, the pay is deplorably low. Sometimes families migrate together, sometimes men migrate seasonally – working in the cities for six to eight months of the year and then returning home for biannual harvests.
However, there is a growing trend of sending children, including young girls, (although let us not forget that in many, many cases children simply go missing) to the cities, often alone, to work in restaurants, hotels, or private homes as domestic workers. Families sending their children to the cities usually operate through a trusted middle-man, who is paid to take their children to the cities. These men are usually, shockingly, someone the family already knows – originally from the same village or region, someone working in a local trade: bangle-making from Gujarat, leather-working from Rajasthan, texile-working from West Bengal. Too often, these men default on their promises. The girls never reach the restaurants and hotels. They are diverted straight into brothels or domestic servitude. They are not paid, they cannot escape because their traffickers threaten harm upon families back home. They are victims of human trafficking.
The majority of the victims in these situations are women. Women are often powerless within their societies: with unequal political and social rights, and no titlement to land (only 2% of the titled land in the developing world belongs to women). Often women are illiterate, totally uneducated, because their families refuse to let them learn. If women work, their labour is worth less than a man’s. Women are expensive burdens on their families: weddings are usually paid for by the bride’s family yet they contribute very little income.
Legal reform and a revolution in the social perception of women will help us STOP THE TRAFFIK. How can you help?