The real cost of human trafficking

Posted on 25 February 2012

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Posted on 24 February 2012
Deborah Cowan
WVoN co-editor

Human trafficking and the buying and selling of human beings has been happening since the earliest of times.

But it seems that trafficking is not just the most horrific human rights abuse of modern times, it’s also big bucks for those who deal in the exploitation and misery of others.

According to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the industry generates huge sums of money – profits have been estimated by the International Labour Organisation at between $12 billion and $17 billion per year.

The report also reveals that, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it is now the fastest growing form of international organised crime.

The latest excruciating tale comes from Malaysia where hundreds of Ugandan women are reportedly being trafficked every month.


The story is all too familiar. Ugandan women are being promised jobs in domestic service and in the hospitality industry only to be forced into prostitution when they arrive in Malaysia.

Posters advertising positions in Malaysia for young women are being put up in shopping malls in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Promises of a free ticket and a good salary are used as enticements. However, the reality on arrival in Malaysia is one of degradation, fear and enslavement.

The Ugandan Government is now facing criticism for not taking action to prevent the sexual exploitation of women and young girls or addressing the activities of what are essentially highly organised criminal gangs.

Voice of America reported that Hajah Noraihan, the Uganda’s honorary consul in Kuala Lumpur, has voiced her concern.

“It is very serious. I am told every day ten girls are brought into Malaysia by unscrupulous pimps.”

She also said that she had heard evidence of pimps trafficking children to Malaysia, and that at least three Ugandan women had been killed in the last two years.

A report released last week said that more than 600 Ugandan women are currently trapped in sex rings in Malaysia.

The fact that 57 of those are either in detention or jail highlights a further problem common with trafficking.

Often women who are discovered to be working in the sex industry are treated as criminals, rather than the victims of crime they actually are.

Another common factor that has emerged from these reports is how victims of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation are controlled through intimidation and threats of repercussions for themselves or their families. Many believe that they will be killed if they try to escape.

Asan Kasingye, chief of Interpol in Uganda was quoted as saying “Some of the girls, when they reach here, we ask them to tell us what happened. And she says, ‘I can’t tell you; I will die.’ They will never talk.”

Apparently, traffickers are taking advantage of relaxed immigration laws, where Ugandans no longer need a tourist visa to enter Malaysia.

There has also been criticism over the lack of enforcement of trafficking laws which were passed in Malaysia in 2009.

In the same year, Uganda was placed on the US list of countries with the worst human trafficking record for a third time.

According to Canadian website Castanet, the US Department of State said in its 2011 report that Uganda “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

A Ugandan parliamentary committee is due to travel to Malaysia to try and ascertain how the traffickers work and how Ugandan women end up being sexually exploited and forced into degradation and sexual slavery. They will also look at how labour agencies are being monitored.

It’s unimaginable to think that the trade in human beings is a billion dollar industry. But the real cost is far more compelling and horrifying – that of human lives.

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Read also
Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland

Hundreds of Ugandan Women Trapped as Sex Workers in Malaysia