Monday, July 9, 2007

Crisis of survival

Many poor citizens of Third World countries are always praying that their quality of life be alleviated into a level that would allow them to make both ends meet. At least, many of them are hoping, too, that they could eat three square meals per day and that they are able to survive the dog-eat-dog competition that put many poor countries at a disadvantaged position in so far as economies of scale are concerned.

But no matter what they do, and how hard they toil each day, fulfillment of their dreams is far from reality. And some of those who can no longer resist the temptations are forced to do what they think is right in order to survive, even at the expense of trafficking their children in exchange for money or favors.

Human trafficking is the world's third largest criminal enterprise. The U.S. Justice Department estimated that this crime generates US$9.5 billion a year in terms of profits. Speaking during a lecture on gender, migration and human trafficking, hosted by the Asian Development Bank in Manila, UNDP Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer said that human trafficking includes prostitution, debt bondage, forced labor and slavery, and exploitation of children as workers, soldiers or sex slaves.

In an ADB statement emailed to this writer, the UNDP official cited an International Labor Organization (ILO) that the migrant population the world over is estimated at 120 million, of which about 12.3 million are on forced labor or doing sexual servitude at any one time.

Heyzer claimed that people's movements are either forced or voluntary in nature. But as cross-border regulations are tightened, those who fail to meet the criteria become illegal, thereby exposing many of them to trafficking and human smuggling, which involved organized crimes, she explained.

Among the factors that put people at risk of being trafficked were traced to poverty, armed conflicts, natural disasters, family violence and gender inequality, she said. And the normal tendency is for these people to try their luck on high growth areas that could offer them opportunities for survival.

Heyzer also blamed globalization for creating imbalance in the pursuit of opportunities. For example, she noted that only those highly skilled professionals are in great demand by the global economy and technologies. While the semi-skilled and unskilled workers are relegated to accepting low wages and unsafe working conditions.

She said that many people are not sharing in the benefit of globalization, despite the expanding global economy because most of the world's wealth are still in the hands of a select few. "Only 2 percent of the global adult population today owns half of the global wealth, while the bottom half of the world's population in fact owns barely one percent," she lamented.

A good example of this lopsided distribution of resources is the Asia-Pacific region, wherein some experience the highest growth while others are mired in grim poverty, she cited in the statement.

It is true that globalization has opened up new opportunities for those with skills and capital, it has also shut down employment and livelihood options for those without them, especially in some of the poorer countries and in the rural areas that have failed to compete in the global marketplace, she said.

"As long as capital but not labor can move freely across borders, illegal migration and trafficking will remain rampant," says the statement.

She suggested that there is a strong need to raise public awareness on human rights violations and create public outrage so that people will be discouraged from using goods and services provided by traffickers and recruiters.

In the meantime, the U.S. State Department identified more than 30 countries, some of them in the Arab World, as harbingers of human trafficking. Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, senior advisor on trafficking in persons in Washington, D.C., identified 16 countries in a 2007 Human Trafficking Report to be falling under the Tier 3 category. But he mentioned only a few of them such as Algeria, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Malaysia.

Lagon said that a country falls into this category, which could receive sanctions, if it fails to do significant efforts to combat human trafficking. "It's especially disappointing that so many wealthy countries in the Near East that aren't lacking adequate resources to make significant progress are on Tier 3," he noted in the report.

He stated that Saudi Arabia, which rely extensively on foreign migrant laborers, also falls on Tier 3 for the third year. "Practices such as sponsorship laws create conditions that make guest workers especially vulnerable to trafficking in the region," he added.

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