Ruth Jack: Ending poverty key to preventing human trafficking

Ruth Jack of Tearfund Scotland
Ruth Jack of Tearfund Scotland
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AS MSPs pass historic new laws to tackle human trafficking and protect victims, they should be commended for taking a strong first step in Scotland’s res­ponse to this illegal trade. As a nat­ion, we should be a place of refuge, rescue, and protection to anyone who has been brought into this country against their will for any purpose, and it is only right that we do not become an easy destination for crime networks seeking new opportunities and new markets.

However, human trafficking as a growing and global issue will only be tackled in any significant measure if there is recognition and remedy for the factors that fuel this trade, and that make people susceptible to trafficking in the first place.

The truth is that in almost every situation, extreme poverty lies at the heart of human trafficking. Poverty, often exacerbated by natural disasters such as earthquakes in Nepal or floods in Pakistan, or by war and displacement like that witnessed in the Middle East, leaves people destitute and vulnerable, without choice and without hope. These people become prime targets for the unscrupulous who take swift advantage of their desperation, and either simply snatch children away or buy them from parents and relatives for as little as £1.60. Many more are tricked by offers of employment or marriage, and by the time they realise what is really happening they are enslaved.

We know that a child is trafficked, somewhere in the world, every 30 seconds. That’s 2,880 children every day and more than one million children every year. The average age of a trafficked victim is just 12 years old.

These are staggering figures that should halt us in our tracks.

In January, I travelled with colleagues to Nepal to see for myself why and how trafficking occurs, and how Tearfund is working alongside communities to prevent it. In the foothills of the Himalayas, we hiked into remote villages where no roads or running water reach, and where until recently young girls disappeared on an almost daily basis. We talked with community leaders, women’s groups, and children in a local school about their experiences, and we watched with considerable discomfort as those same children acted out a trafficking drama as a means of educating their peers and their parents.

One little girl aged six told of her escape from traffickers who had snatched her from her village while outside playing. Rescue came at the border between Nepal and India when charity workers trained to spot traffickers stopped them and were able to remove the girl from their clutches. She was returned to a grateful family, and a village that has now been educated and warned about the dangers of trafficking.

Stories like this are repeated around the developing world, except in many cases the ending is not a happy one and the trafficked victim often finds him or herself a slave to sex or enforced labour in a strange land with cruel, unforgiving masters.

Evidence from colleagues in the field suggests that the rescue of someone caught in trafficking can cost as much as £7,000, whereas the cost of prevention is just £36 per year. This in itself is a compelling reason to focus more attention on prevention, before we even start to consider the emotional trauma caused by the experience of being trafficked.

Tearfund’s campaign, No Child Taken, aims to raise awareness of the issues, and calls on people in Scotland to not only focus on the fight against trafficking within our own borders, but to support efforts to protect those worldwide who are most at risk.

With Scottish support, this year alone we have raised funds towards preventing the trafficking of 3,000 children through awareness raising, peer-to-peer education, after-school clubs; business training for women, self-help groups, and small business start-ups that enable families to lift themselves out of poverty.

Legislation and prosecution of trafficking here in Scotland are essential. But unless we look beyond our borders to the source of the problem, and address the roots of extreme poverty in places like Nepal, we will never address the steadily growing stream of trade in human lives. «