Human trafficking: When awareness is not enough

THE hope of making enough money to send back to their families can outweigh known risks of exploitation when children consider migrating to richer countries for work, a groundbreaking new study has found.

The study on vulnerability to human trafficking validated World Vision’s approach to prevention work, which helps children and youth build protective measures into how they migrate, rather than trying to stop migration.

Previous experience of dangerous conditions or excessive hours does not necessarily deter young people from crossing borders or moving within their own country on a subsequent occasion to find work, according to The Vulnerability Report: Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

The World Vision report draws on responses from close to 10,000 children, young people and adults in communities across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

“For the last decade, millions of dollars have been spent trying to prevent the trafficking of persons in this region, but almost no organisation has been able to demonstrate with rigorous evidence that there has been impact in changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in regard to trafficking,” World Vision’s Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons Melissa Stewart said. “Most responses to date have been built on assumption.”

“With this in mind, World Vision designed a comprehensive study to find answers and to build the much needed quantitative evidence to test our approach and guide future programming work for all organisations on this issue.”

The first-of-its-kind regional study, supported by a leading UK research university, found that increasing awareness of the risks associated with migrating for work was an essential building block for prevention of trafficking, but was only a first step.

“Raising awareness of risks absolutely needs to be supplemented by reinforcing protective behaviours such as travelling with formal documents and keeping in regular contact with family members.”

Ms Stewart also said change to broader social and economic systems and structures was crucial to combating labour exploitation in the region, through measures including raising general literacy levels, and making it easier and cheaper for people to access formal identification documents.

The findings are informing World Vision’s End Trafficking in Persons (ETIP) program – a five-year anti-trafficking initiative active in both source and destination communities affected by human trafficking. The ETIP program is partly supported by funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The study fills an important knowledge gap by providing reliable data on attitudes, behaviour and knowledge of migrating young people, and will be a vital tool to inform programs designed to reduce vulnerability to trafficking.

“Measuring success in preventing trafficking is very challenging. The Vulnerability Report confirms that there is greatly increased awareness of human trafficking in areas where World Vision has worked,” Ms Stewart said. “While awareness alone is not enough to prevent exploitation through trafficking, it does provide a foundation which allows people to understand and weigh risks and take protective actions.”

The most frequently reported negative experience faced by children and young people who had migrated within the region for work was working in dangerous conditions – primarily in the construction industry.

Other forms of exploitation experienced included being forced to work excessive hours, wages being withheld, and being hit, beaten or sexually abused. More than 30 per cent of child and youth participants from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and more than one quarter from Vietnam reported restrictions on their freedom when they last migrated for work.

The study also explored attitudes to migrant workers in four border towns in the ‘destination’ country of Thailand. In these places, negative attitudes towards migrant workers were common, with more than half of the Thai locals surveyed believing that migrants cause disease and one third believing they cause crime and violence.

Up to one quarter of Thai citizens reported they had seen children under 18 working in dangerous conditions, or witnessed an employer beating a migrant worker, however very few had reported it or spoken to someone who might assist.

“These findings point to the need to foster positive attitudes and overcome negative attitudes to migrant workers,” Ms Stewart said.

To view the report, go to: Human Rights and Trafficking

For more information about World Vision’s End Trafficking in Persons Program: www.wvi.org/asiapacific/etip

Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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