Human Trafficking Widespread in Global Fishing Industry

Credit: Trafficking in Persons Report 2018

Published Jul 1, 2018 9:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Department of State has released its 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, an annual publication that provides a global overview of the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and various efforts underway to confront it. The report’s theme of “local solutions to a global problem” highlights the critical role of communities in recognizing and combating slavery.

The report highlights many countries where human trafficking in the fishing industry is evident. As one example, the report cites two boys in Ghana: Emmanuel and Isaac’s mother struggled to care for them and keep them safe. When she could no longer afford to feed her boys, she sold them to a man who put them to work on a fishing boat. This man was abusive, often hitting Emmanuel and Isaac with the boat paddle. Emmanuel and Isaac would often split one meal a day between them. The brothers were able to escape when their trafficker heard authorities were arresting people who had children working on the boats. Emmanuel and Isaac now live with a neighbor who sends them to school.

The report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. The Department of State places each country onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem. On the contrary, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem and complies with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards. Each year, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking to maintain a Tier 1 ranking.

This year’s report focuses on effective ways local communities can address human trafficking proactively and on how national governments can support and empower them. “Local communities are the most affected by this abhorrent crime and are also the first line of defense against human trafficking,” said Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. “By engaging and training law enforcement, religious leaders, teachers, tribal elders, business executives and communities, we become more vigilant and learn to identify and address vulnerabilities swiftly. Proactive community-driven measures strengthen our ability to protect our most vulnerable and weaken a criminal’s ability to infiltrate, recruit, and exploit. 

Pompeo highlighted some recent progress made:

•   In Estonia, the Government implemented a new law that will help victims come forward and get the support that the victims need to recover.

•   The Government of Argentina convicted officials complicit in trafficking crimes, established additional legal protection for victims and bolstered efforts to train frontline responders.

•   In Bahrain, the government worked to hold local traffickers criminally accountable and developed a mechanism to get victims needed shelter.

•   The Government of Cyprus bolstered efforts to convict traffickers and improve protections for victims as well.

•   Of the 48 African countries included in the report, 14 received upgrades indicating that despite significant security threats, migration challenges, other financial constraints, and other obstacles, the region improved significantly.

In contrast, Pompeo cites:

•   Horrific accounts of human trafficking and abuse of African migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers have emerged from Libya, resulting in modern-day slave markets. 

•   In Southeast Asia, Burma’s armed forces and others in the Rakhine State dislocated hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and members of other ethnic groups, many of whom were exploited through the region as a result. Some in the Burmese military also recruited child soldiers and subjected adults and children from ethnic minority groups to forced labor.

•   Untold number of North Korean citizens are subjected to forced labor overseas by their own government, in many cases with the tacit approval of host governments.

•   In Iran, trafficking victims are punished for acts they are forced to commit. For example, sex trafficking victims may face the death penalty for committing adultery. 

“The world should know that we will not stop until human trafficking is a thing of the past,” said Pompeo. 

The report highlights the effort of 10 heroes:

Ausamah AlAbsi from Bahrain 

In recognition of his perseverance in advocating for victim-centered policies within the government by establishing one of the region’s top shelters for trafficking victims, launching the government’s new national referral mechanism for trafficking victims and spearheading efforts to reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers by reforming the government sponsorship system.

Josue Ango from Burkina Faso 

In recognition of his exceptional commitment to fighting human trafficking throughout his career, his key role in building Burkina Faso’s comprehensive and multinational anti-trafficking network and his invaluable contributions to strengthening the governance response to combating child labor and supporting youth who are vulnerable to human trafficking.

Francisca Awah Mbuli from Cameroon 

In recognition of her unwavering resolve to prevent forced labor within vulnerable communities in Cameroon, her commitment to raising awareness throughout the country and around the world in partnership with media outlets and international organizations and her innovative programs to economically empower women who are survivors of human trafficking. 

Yanira Violeta Olivares Pineda from El Salvador 

In recognition of her dynamic leadership in combating modern slavery as the head of El Salvador’s specialized trafficking in persons unit, her success in prosecuting traffickers and dismantling their domestic and international criminal operations despite limited resources and her vital role in elevating anti-trafficking efforts as a government priority.

Maizidah Salas from Indonesia 

In recognition of her unwavering efforts to empower Indonesian migrant workers through skills training, public awareness and family assistance. Her central role in forming the first migrant worker community in Indonesia and her courage in demanding stronger protections for vulnerable workers and trafficking survivors through sustained engagement with authorities and the public. 

Sunita Danuwar, from Nepal 

In recognition of her exceptional leadership in founding the first comprehensive victim services organization in Nepal, established and run by survivors of trafficking; her persistent community outreach and engagement with vulnerable communities to prevent human trafficking and her unrivaled commitment to protect and empower survivors.

Blessing Okoedion, from Nigeria 

In recognition of her extraordinary courage and using her lived experiences to spread awareness about and prevent human trafficking, her selfless efforts to assist survivors and lend a helping hand to those still subjected to the crime and her unwavering advocacy for greater protections for vulnerable groups and victims of trafficking across Italy and Nigeria. 

Ivana Radovic, from Serbia 

In recognition of her pivotal role in driving the work of one of Serbia’s premier anti-trafficking organizations, her persistent advocacy efforts for trafficking victims and her unparalleled contributions to strengthening Serbia’s anti-trafficking response by building the capacity of government and private sector institutions. 

Kim Jong-chul, from South Korea 

In recognition of his commitment to expose forced labor conditions and practices through his groundbreaking investigative research on human trafficking in South Korea and globally, particularly of migrant fishermen on South Korean flagged vessels and his tireless work in fighting for the rights of vulnerable groups and human trafficking victims.

Dr. Yosief Abrham Mehari, from Sudan 

In recognition of his selfless service as a medical doctor and advocate to provide critical assistance to trafficking victims, his unparalleled generosity in dedicating his time and resources to ensure survivors receive quality medical care and support and his collaboration with Sudanese authorities to connect victims of human trafficking with services to help them successfully rebuild their lives.