Ending modern slavery

Looking at sex slavery and human trafficking

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

What price can you put on a person?  If I was to be sold, how much would I be “worth,” how many dollars and cents would I sell for?  How can we even think of putting a monetary worth on a person?  These types of practices remind me of degrading practices that occur in war and genocides.  For example, in the Holocaust Jews were tattooed numbers on their arms.  This is the reason it is now looked down upon if a Jew gets a tattoo.  People are not numbers, they shouldn’t be given numbers.  One person is not better than another, so we can’t and shouldn’t rank people.

For Wealth & Poverty we read two articles on selling people into sex slavery, “Because She Looks like a Child: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy” from Global Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild and excerpts from “Ending Slavery” by Kevin Bales.  We also watched Not for Sale.

Human trafficking officers come to very poor villages in Asia and offer what sounds like a great opportunity to the parents.  Sell their child, mostly a daughter, to get money.  These people are extremely poor and they feel that the children will have no future if they stay in the village.  So they sell them.  They sell them into what the trafficker said would be a job, sewing clothes or working in a factory.  But as the sold child learns it is actually a brothel, where they must have sex with 15 or more men a night.  And they must stay because they now have a debt to pay back to the trafficker, as once the child was sold the trafficker gave the family money.

The other important thing to remember is that human trafficking does not only occur in poor rural villages on the other side of the world.  It also happens in the U.S. and developed countries.  This is a global issue.

Prostitution becomes a daily occurrence, it breaks people and their strength down, so it is no wonder that their resistance and desire to escape are weakened.  The girls are being emotionally and physically abused, daily.

The girls are stuck in their situation.  If they resist at all, there is violence that will “teach” them never to act up again.  And their debt will increase, which makes it seem so much more impossible to escape.  The debt is increased for whatever reason the pimp feels fit.  And the interest is exorbitant.  So they are trapped.  They have sex with men to make money, pay some to the brothel and pimp, and send miniscule amounts to their family.  But the system is made in a way that they can never really make enough to be able to leave.  Or they stay in the brothel until they get a sexual disease, pregnant, or “too old.”  The brothel provides the children with contraceptives and birth control, and some of the girls’ menstruation stops all together.

It is terrible to think that a family will sell one of their daughters into sex slavery, but with the trickery and deception and economic interest as first priority of the pimps and brothels, the families sell their younger daughters off as well.  The young girls don’t even know what a prostitute is and they become excited to become one, because the appearance of it, because of the nice clothes and money their older sisters or neighbors have from it.  But nobody tells these children what it actually is.  That’s a key problem.  A lack of awareness, a lack of education, a lack of information, and a lack of the parents wanting to tell the daughters what is actually going to happen.  It’s terrible that the pimps want to create a “relationship” with the families to ensure that they will keep selling their younger and younger kids, because there is a disgusting want for younger and younger girls as prostitutes.  This is a sick part of society.  But people will pay for this.  And that’s the main problem.  The lack of information and awareness and education and the want of society to engage in sex with young children.

It was surprising for me to learn that the brothels pay for HIV tests and condoms and birth control for the prostitutes.  I guess it makes sense — they want to keep them.  But there’s another problem.  Who are the people selling these things to the brothels and brothel owners/pimps?  They should refuse to sell these things so then it would be harder for the brothels to function because girls would be getting pregnant.  This is a terrible thing to be suggesting — stop giving them birth control so they get pregnant — but that would “free” them of slavery and keep the brothels from being able to use them.  And if the government or police enforced refusing to give the brothels these things that they need, it would help.  But the police even go to the brothels.  That’s how accepted it is in society.  It’s disgusting and sickening.

To me, these articles show how wealth and being more rich and affluent can cause poor decision-making and a confusion of priorities.  Wealth may infringe human rights (of everyone).  The wealth of many workers in Thailand increased drastically within a few years, and maybe they didn’t know what to do with it … so they wanted to buy sex more and more often.  And they wanted to increase their status and rank (to emulate the king with his minor wives and concubines).

When I got to the part about how sex is really sold everywhere in Thailand, it was difficult to read.  I try not to judge and be a Western woman looking down on another/outside culture and say my culture is better and more advanced.  But this is just upsetting to me.  No wonder there’s such demand for it — it’s “advertized” and happens everywhere.  This culture of accepting sex slavery doesn’t seem moral to me.  But I keep going back and forth, not wanting to come in as a Westerner and say I’m able to judge them and wanting so much to say that is wrong because my feelings and morals and beliefs about justice, equality, humanity, and human rights.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

This angers me so much that the brothels are just seen as business interests and the owner of one is seen as doing very successfully, as an “admired, successful, diversified capitalist.”  The article states, “earning a lot of money is good enough reason for anything.”  Absolutely not!  What about ethics, what about justice, what about human rights?  Capitalism clearly is a system with no morals, a system that can allow such terrible violations of human rights.  Maybe this wouldn’t happen under a different system, under a system that had different values (not just profiting, not just money, but some others like human respect, equality, etc.).  This sheds such a negative light on capitalism and what capitalism is capable of, so maybe we need to fix capitalism or look at alternatives if slavery is allowed to happen and even thrive (if the economic boom created a need and now insures the continuing of brothels) within its system.  This reminds me of how people believe the market can’t be a bad or good thing, it just is, because clearly the market can be good or bad based on what it’s producing or causing.  It makes money to produce cheaper, more efficient, less local, less regulated food and it makes money to sell children into slavery.  But is this right?  It seems like we’re slaves ourselves to the market.  The article also states, “The same economic boom that has increased the demand for prostitutes, may, in time, bring an end to Thai sex slavery.”  There is an increasing need for workers in industrialized jobs, so there’s more education and women are taking part in it, and so perhaps there will be less sex slavery.  But should we really wait for that to happen in the market of its own accord?  Should we really wait for the market to maybe change it?  Why can’t we step in and take things into our own hands if we see what’s happening is wrong in the market?

This map shows the countries where human trafficking is highest. Countries shown in red are high and blue are low, but the U.S. and other countries in blue also have human trafficking cases. Photo courtesy of BBC News.

I learned about sex slavery in the U.S. when I was very young, like 12 or so, at my Jewish socialist Zionist summer sleep-away camp and youth movement.  The movement has many values that it wants to instill in the next generation, so the summer camps serve as a place to of course have fun and learn about these values (tikkun o’lam or healing the world, community service, cultural Judaism, socialism, progressive labor Zionism, social justice, and actualization or taking these values and putting them into action).  The youth movement believes strongly in education and social justice, so during one of our many discussions we have throughout the day, we were sitting in a circle in the grass reading stories of girls sex slavery and how they’re deceived about the work they’ll do in the U.S. but it’s all a trick.  We were too young to talk about what we could possibly do, but one of the movement’s goals is to educate its members and to-be leaders.  In later years, we discussed ways to combat and fight against societal issues such as this.  I think it’s very important to discuss these issues and think of ways to fight them.  There needs to be education about this early on.  We need to learn about these big societal issues early on in our education careers, because as humans and as globalization causes things that happen abroad to affect us and our economy, we need to be aware and get involved in these human rights violations.  When you grow up learning about these things, and not just learning about the great things our country and the world has accomplished and being blind that only good things happen, when you become aware early on that there are bad things and people in the world, you have more time to think of ways to fix it and act to help others.  The sooner the veil kept from people about the wrongs of people and society is lifted and exposed, the better for people to see the truth and be educated and then more able to make informed decisions or act on this knowledge.

I disagree with a statement in one of the articles, “if there are tens of thousands of slaves in the United States today, it is worth remembering that there were once four million.”  It is arguments and beliefs like this that allow slavery to be made excusable.  And the mere number of slaves being less now than it used to be does in no way excuse it.

I thought the comparison between slaves and cheaper plastic ballpoint pens to be really terrible and truthful, unfortunately.  You don’t care about the plastic ballpoint pens, they’re disposable, you lose them all the time and it’s alright because you can just buy some new ones.  The same is true of young girls in brothels.  They’re viewed as disposable and expendable.

Bales’ article keeps referencing that slavery is illegal everywhere, “And because slavery is now illegal everywhere.”  But you can write as many laws as you want against bad things, against slavery, you can outlaw slavery everywhere, but it won’t matter, it won’t change anything, people will still find a way to enslave people and they will break laws.  The only thing that will change this is actual action and holding people accountable for their actions (no impunity for corrupt officials and police) — enforcement of the laws — action.

I really like at the end of the article, how Bales says that ending slavery will free all of us.  Because, truthfully, if we allow or sit by while slavery is occurring, we are truly allowing it to enslave other humans and in turn enslave us because we buy products that they produce or use them for sex and so on and so on.

I also really like the way that Bales is saying to end slavery.  He thinks the antipoverty programs and antislavery programs should be combining their work and resources.  In this way, they can be stronger and have both lenses to look through when they’re thinking about ways and working to eliminate poverty and slavery — because he was explaining how both feed into the other.  When he talked about looking at development programs through the eyes of a gender lens, I saw how important it is to make sure you’re looking at these programs and their effects from all sides.  If you leave someone out, if they become marginalized, then of course that serves as a detrimental effect towards the village or country or economy as a whole — those people aren’t allowed to be involved in the process and are then not contributing to the progress.

One of the most important ways to eliminate slavery is to empower the local people, to give the communal autonomy.  I really agree with this strategy.  It is the local people themselves who will know best what resources they need, what needs to change, and how to help their own people.  If we give local people the resources or the jump-start they need (micro credit, or other ways), then they can start to bring in other resources through work and local programs and band together to help each other and watch for slavery and human rights infringements occurring.  Having local people own the process and take responsibility and act on their collective demands and needs is extremely important.

I also agree that racism and prejudice need to be combated and talked about if we are to ever fight the hatred that causes these terrible human rights violations to occur.  Racism and prejudice is passed through generation to generation — children are taught hatred.  Children learn hatred very easily, but why shouldn’t they learn equality and acceptance and respect as well?

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