Date: 11-15-2002

"The Human Rights Challenge of Globalization in Asia-Pacific-U.S.: The Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children," Nov. 13-15 in Honolulu, co-sponsored by the East-West Center and the University of Hawaii Globalization Research Center. For more information on conference speakers and abstracts of papers, check Conference Papers and Abstracts

HONOLULU -- There are more slaves in the world today than ever before, and they cost so little that they've become "disposable people." In Bangladesh, 3-to-5-year-old boys are being kidnapped or purchased for trafficking to the Middle East as "camel jockeys." In the United States, smuggled children are held in windowless prisons.

These reports came from academics, attorneys, government and social workers throughout the Asia Pacific and United States who believe victims of international trafficking put a human face to the downside of globalization. They also believe governments must prosecute the traffickers, protect the victims and cooperate on how to deal with illegal immigrants.

"This decade must be known as the decade that abolished slavery," said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a congressional leader on human-rights issues. Smith, in a taped address, spoke to more than 300 participants at a trafficking conference co-sponsored by the East-West Center and the University of Hawaii Globalization Research Center. The conference ended today.

Salma Ali, executive director of the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association, and other South Asian participants brought attention to the trafficking of young boys from their countries to the Middle East. They are used as "camel jockeys" because of their light weight and high-pitched voices, she said. Strapped to camels during races, "they feel afraid and they cry. This makes the camels run faster," Ali said.

Her organization believes 600 boys from Bangladesh have fallen victim, mainly sent to the United Arab Emirates. Because of the lack of non-governmental organizations there, it has been difficult to track down the boys, many of whom disappear and, she believes, die. Her government has remained for the most part quiet on the problem, she said, because of the many Bangladesh citizens who work in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirate recently banned anyone under age 15 from being jockeys, and Ali's group wants to work with Middle Eastern governments on the problem.

Kevin Bales, author of "Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy," estimated there are 27 million slaves in the world today who produce an annual $13 billion in goods and services -- numbers he and researchers compiled over two and one-half years. He defines the "New Slaves" as people who are controlled through violence and can't escape, are paid nothing, and are victims of economic exploitation.

"Slavery is too high a price for cheap goods," said Bales, a U.N. consultant on global trafficking who heads Free the Slaves and is working with the U.S. government on new anti-slavery legislation.

Bales said a slave in the United States cost about $1,000 in the 1850s, but one can be purchased in other countries today for as little as $40. "Today slaves are cheap, disposable, throw-away," he said.

Three factors supporting slavery are the population explosion, economies transformed by globalization, and corruption and complicity of governments. Slaves have been found working on coco plantations in Africa. When an award-winning TV documentary based on Bales' book ran in Europe, shocked audiences convinced major U.S. chocolate companies to sign the Coco Protocol, which provided funding from them for surveying and monitoring work conditions, pulling out of any market that used slave labor, and sponsoring rehabilitation for victims.

Dr. Saisuree Chutikul, chair of the National Committee on Combating Trafficking in Thailand, has been fighting trafficking of humans in her country for 20 years. Thailand has led other countries in programs to prosecute traffickers and protect victims, toughening its trafficking law in 1997.

In the early 1990s, agencies started to treat trafficked people as victims, not offenders, placing them in shelters rather than detention centers, and working with neighbor governments to make sure they were returned safely to their home countries. The Thai program involves all agencies from police and immigration to social workers on both national and local levels. It includes training border police to view trafficked people as victims, not criminals. "There will always be illegal workers," she said. "We need agreements (with other countries) on what we do with the illegal workers. The priority is to help the victims and make sure we prosecute" the traffickers.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, chair of the National Sub-Committee on the Rights of the Child in Thailand and former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, was recently awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship to study human rights in the United States. He saw smuggled children kept in a Texas prison without windows. "The children are not delinquent, the system is delinquent," he said, describing "human laundering" as "people brought into countries in various disguises."

To lessen trafficking, he said police need to be better paid in many countries, that human rights education needs to be incorporated into schools and police training around the world, and that the root causes of trafficking must be given more attention. "Make trafficking the human face of globalism."

Kevin Bales can be reached at bales@freetheslaves.net.

Salma Ali can be reached at BNWLA@bdonline.com.

This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center