Vulnerable Minorities: Eradicating Today’s Form of Slavery

Posted by Mark Lagon
December 19, 2008
Indian Laborer in Brick Factory

About the Author: Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

As Ambassador-at-Large to combat human trafficking, I have focused on how human beings are degraded and devalued by others in raising awareness of the human trafficking problem with foreign governments. The world is slowly recognizing that women, children, and migrants are particularly vulnerable to the trap of human trafficking. Often overlooked, however, are the millions of vulnerable minorities around the world, ensnared in forced labor and commercial sex.

Some societies treat minorities as disposable. Indeed it is a sad fact that they are not recognized as human beings of equal value which allows victims to be enslaved as sadistic and greedy exploiters go unpunished.

For example, stateless people are invisible people at high risk of trafficking due to their marginalized political status, lack of economic opportunities, and poverty. Take the stateless Vietnamese in Cambodia. Vietnamese women and girls in Cambodia are dehumanized by sex traffickers—and their status as a stateless minority leaves them with few rights, if any. They are bought and sold as commodities and subject to daily violence by pimps who sell them and culpable buyers alike.

Take the Roma who live throughout Europe. Many Roma—especially children, disabled, and elderly— are trafficked from Eastern Europe and the Balkans to Western European capitals to work as street beggars, for example. They are beaten and threatened if they do not make a daily quota. Too often people and governments ignore this very real exploitation because they did not look at what is behind the “beggars,” imagining the coerced trafficking victim is a lazy vagabond.

Other cases reinforce the important fact that human trafficking is not necessarily about movement, transportation, or crossing borders. While it may involve those things, it is defined by force, fraud, and coercion and the exploitation which results.

The largest population of human trafficking victims in the world is a minority that rarely crosses borders: lower castes in South Asia. The number of human trafficking victims in India dwarfs the number anywhere else in the world. Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves estimates that 20 million slaves are in India alone, many victims because they are of lower caste. In particular, the use of debt—often reinforced by violence—enslaves lower caste people in situations ranging from making bricks to weaving carpets to selling sweets in stalls on city streets.

I’ve talked with survivors in Tamil Nadu, an especially poor state in India. Many in bonded labor, some sexually exploited, have rights to freedom under a 32-year-old Indian law. Yet the federal and local political will to rescue them from exploitation does not match the commitment on paper.

I have also met with the champion of Uyghur Muslim rights in China, Rebiya Kadeer, who was jailed for speaking truth to power. She and U.S-funded, but independently operated, Radio Free Asia have reported that Uyghur Muslims have been relocated under force, which makes them human trafficking victims. Conveniently, Kadeer says, many of those trafficked are women of child-bearing age to reduce the Uyghur complexion of Xinjiang.

There are many other examples, such as indigenous peoples like the Amerindians in Guyana or the Twa/Batwa pygmies in Central Africa. Even here in the United States, I have seen in my work how minorities are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked, and am encouraged by our efforts to protect them.

From the Department of Justice’s prosecutions of traffickers, to the Department of Homeland Security’s new regulation to provide a pathway to citizenship for qualified trafficking visa recipients, to the recent reauthorization of our anti-trafficking law, we are offering a model for the world by protecting society’s most vulnerable. When we urge other nations to do more, we have best practices to share with them.

Worldwide, in order to eradicate today’s form of slavery, the best laws and efforts to implement them will depend on seeing minorities as fellow human beings—worthy of dignity, demanding protection, deserving justice.



Tennessee, USA
December 19, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

This is only the continuation of developmental problems inherent to control mechanisms in an absolute....another form of forced insecurity resulting in hopelessness.

This is not 'whipping post' mentality, nor is it a result of religious beliefs or simple economics. This is purely evil...

(OK I'm back, awake as Thomas would say)...I'll reiterate:

Joe in Tennessee writes:

You can use the word Evil or Control. If the end result is for negative structuring, we generally use the word evil -- and this is evil.

A method of control can be established by creating Chaos in both the individual and larger social structures. The keystone is the creation of insecurity and elimination of value or self worth.

By keeping any positive insight of self or self worth, an easy path for indoctrination exists, in this case creating slavery in the worst manner possible. It also leaves a void where hope is almost nonexistent except on a primal level: The only solution is an end by elimination of the intruder; thus war continues.

This problem relates and contributes greatly to the overall non identity of the African continent as one people, even within the borders of one Country therein.

Posted on Wed Dec 17, 2008

The solution is in establishing an identity for unification first and foremost. While that sounds easy, to create self worth is completely dependent here on establishing the security for basic primary existence. That means development of a complete society, structured on individual rights "gee, that's a democracy...

To correct some of you negitive persona:

Its why the U.S.A. tries so's not about money or the misuse of money. There will always be disparity, but in a Democracy, there is hope and if all the world was Democratic in premise, famine, war and the hope of the development of mankind for a greater good has a chance.

If you did not have even the least bit of democracy, you could not even offer an opinion here and what country has done more than any other to put you here?

New York, USA
December 19, 2008

Ron in New York writes:

Thank you.....this is one of the most compelling frontiers in the struggle to ensure human rights for all....the trafficked are desperate to better their lives and willing to sacrifice for their children's future...willing to take the risk for a slight chance to escape poverty and disease.. Trafficking and modern day slavery is already in the United States...and will only be eradicated when our national and international laws are harmonized to create political, economic and social protections. Deregulation and globalization are driving the Trade in Humans; and must be stopped.

December 20, 2008

Takashi in Japan writes:

Well, I'm just sorry as far as your information goes.

But. If there is any hope, with the people who are suffering, I hope there is a proper solution for it.

Again, I am sorry. This is beyond my capacity.

Stop T.
New Jersey, USA
January 2, 2009

SNT in New Jersey writes:

The human trafficking problem in 2008 is just horrible.

December 22, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Fighting today's form of slavery is a global issue and TOO complicated.

Ambassador Mark P. Lagon is absolutely RIGHT and he provided us a perspective for action.

QUOTE: Take the Roma who live throughout Europe. Many Roma -- especially children, disabled, and elderly-- are trafficked from Eastern Europe and the Balkans to Western European capitals to work as street beggars, for example.

They are beaten and threatened if they do not make a daily quota. Too often people and governments ignore this very real exploitation because they did not look at what is behind the "beggars," imagining the coerced trafficking victim is a lazy vagabond. END OF QUOTE!

I think that Mr. Lagon's post describes clearly what really happens and what many governments ignore.

According to my opinion, there is ONE global mafia mechanism that exploits children, disabled and elderly, no matter the country or the race they come from. When it comes to the "final desk" you easily find out that it's the same mafia that exploits people from different regions.

I will speak for my country; It's the SAME mafia (different countries, different victims, but the same "central" mafia) that uses Roma, Pakistanis, Serbs, Nigerians etc. at the same street beggaring points they have "marked" as their "property." (Note that here in Greece we also have "traffic lights beggars").

It's obvious that we have to deal with the same ONLY ONE mafia, since you can trace different races at the same "points," depending on the time period.

And they do it in a "scientific" way, taking advantage of emotional, political and religious tendencies that can multiply their (mafia's) profit.

Ex.1 When ex-Yugoslavia became democratic and People's choices created Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia etc., they (mafia) knew that they should invest on Serbs, concerning street beggaring in Greece.
Why? Because they knew that they could invest on the religious factor. Serbs are orthodoxies; Greeks are too! So ...we can work on the religious emotion. They "imported" big "cargos" of Serbs and all the traffic lights in Greece became a street beggaring mechanism, where you could see (still) Serbs beggaring, holding in hands crosses and orthodox icons in order to blackmail the common religious emotion. After this simple observation, now it's clear why we never met a Bosnian or a Croatian "begging for help." Serbs could "sell better" in this case.

Ex.2 You cannot arrest and expel (in Greece) someone for street beggaring. However, you can send him "back home" if you catch him selling illegal music CDs, for example. Serbs are useless concerning illegal Cds, because if they get caught they can be expelled, and mafia knows it. So, they fetch a "cargo" of Nigerians that can use them in this part of human trafficking. Nigerians, come to Greece under a strange, complicated, political refugee status that makes it extremely difficult to expel them for selling illegal Cds. They arrest them, they pay the small fine and... then, they return in the streets, selling illegal CDs again. Simple and clear!

And just think that I am only referring to a very small parameter of the human trafficking chain, focusing just in my region. Please, consider also the fact that this human trafficking spider is really huge (prostitution, forced labor, forced marring etc.).

The spider is so big that only organized governmental and global action can help us make things better.

That's why I strongly agree with Mr. Lagon's point that "people and governments ignore this very real exploitation because they did not look at what is behind the 'beggars,' imagining the coerced trafficking victim is a lazy vagabond."

I remember the "spiritual" perspective that Dr. Rice offered us during a recent "Annual Human Trafficking Report" welcome speech. (I will use my words): She underlined the importance of both local and Global action. Governments around the Globe must take action on both a local and a Global basis.

U.S.A. can offer them data, know-how, help in general, on the ground that America is not new at this fight. Actually it's the first and until today the only country that is fighting human trafficking.

However, we cannot expect everything from U.S.A. only. All the other countries must "move" too!

Syrian P.
December 22, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

Slavery comes in different forms, in this case from Saudi Arabia it is legal read this- A Saudi court has rejected the divorce plea of an eight-year-old girl, who was married off by her father to a man 50 years her senior.

The judge dismissed the plea, filed by the girls divorcee mother in August, on the basis that the case should wait until the girl reaches puberty.

The judge has dismissed the plea because she does not have the right to file such a case, and ordered that the plea should be filed by the girl herself when she reaches puberty, lawyer Abdullah Jtili told the AFP news agency.

She doesnt know yet that she has been married, said lawyer Abdullar Jtili about the girl who is about to begin her fourth year in elementary school.

The girls relatives say she is still living with her mother and the marriage will be consummated only after the girl turns 18.

Jay T.
California, USA
December 24, 2008

Jay in California writes:

Slavery also comes in degrees according to how little choice economically desperate people have, trafficked or not. Whatever increases poverty thus enables slavery, even if it is not officially recognized as such. Some examples take place within U.S. protectorates, lending a facade of freely exchanged labor. UN agencies like the IMF, World Bank, and WTO arguably contribute to this inhumane situation.

New York, USA
December 28, 2008

Ron in New York writes:

I almost human trafficking can take place without the tacit or active participation of the local or state government (Justice, interior,customs,police, etc.) If organized crime and government (and corporate/private sector) are colluding for profit or other benefits...then Human Trafficking (slavery trade) will thrive. It all starts at the top.....sometimes we all get a little too "sophisticated" about these issues.


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