For years I had thought I would work in human trafficking (as an advocate for victims as opposed to a perpetrator, just to be clear). But life took a different course and I ended up doing different work. But trafficking was never far from my mind and never far from me – the time I spent in Kosovo was eye opening as to just how out in the open trafficking can be – it’s not all shady backroom deals like the movies portray. Sometimes it’s just right in your face.
So, years later when I landed in the Solomon Islands – jobless – after my husband was transferred there, I was afforded a fantastic opportunity to lead a new, very small, programme on trafficking in persons. The bulk of the work aimed to define the scope of trafficking in the country, identify attitudes towards it, and raise awareness.
One might ask, ‘in the Solomon Islands?’. Indeed. You think ‘trafficking’ and you think refugees from Syria or migrants from Africa (or if you’re old enough, you think Thailand and Moldova). But trafficking happens in every country – you don’t even need to leave your house to be trafficked. More on that later this week (check our FB page for info). But yes, trafficking in persons in Solomon Islands is significant. From Indonesian and Filipino workers trapped and working in slave-like conditions in logging camps, to children trafficked on to passing fishing trawlers, to girls sold as ‘wives’ to the very victims of trafficking in the logging camps. It is one convoluted mess, and very few people understand what is happening to them or that it is actually against (international) law.
One of the challenges was that local customs got mixed up in trafficking. For example, what used to be a common practice of arranging marriages between villages, with the groom’s village paying a dowry or ‘bride price’, has now become a way to get money out of the logging camps. Girls are essentially sold to men in the logging camps under the aegis of ‘bride price’. And when those men (finally) escape back to their own countries? The girls (because most are between 14 and 18 years old) have nowhere to go, unwelcome in their former villages as they are now just an extra burden, families having already spent the money they got for them… and usually with a child or two in tow.
Trafficking is, effectively, a situation in which a person is forced to do something against their will, is unable to leave or not paid. There are lots of crossovers with the issue of slavery, and in fact in an increasingly global world – and yet also a practice for centuries – one leads to the other and then back again. Those slave markets in Libya that were recently in the media? Both slavery and trafficking.
This week the aim of Theory in Practice is to provide resources for people to understand just how complex the topic of trafficking in persons is, how easily one can become a victim, and how likely it is taking place right in front of you. There are a lot of problems in the world and the better we can understand them, the more effective our own personal contributions to helping overcome them can be.