Foreign Policy’s strangely addictive blog Passport featured the following post a few days back.

Slavery’s thriving hot spots

Wed, 06/13/2007 – 12:38pm.


The U.S. State Department released its seventh annual Trafficking in Persons Report Tuesday. Unlike most government documents, this report is designed to shock the conscience: It contains poignant first-hand stories and photo accounts of sex workers, domestic slaves, and child soldiers from all
corners of the world. But the statistics alone are shocking enough: An
estimated 800,000 people were trafficked across national borders in
2006. Eighty percent of those were women; 50 percent were minors.

That’s about where the numbers end, though. It’s great that the State Department is calling attention to this heinous trade, but sadly, the report is very thin on data or trend analysis. Readers are left with almost no idea whether human trafficking is getting better or worse. Instead, we get repeated anecdotes illustrating why “modern-day slavery” is bad—as if anyone interested enough in this topic to download the report would need persuasion. As the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime explained in March, good data is hard to come by on this underground phenomenon. Still, if you’re trying to get a basic handle on trends, the UNODC’s Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns report does a reasonable job.

The State Department does attempt, at least, to assess how governments are attacking the problem. The report groups countries into one of four categories based on to what extent they serve as a country of origin, transit, or destination for trafficking, as well as the efforts made by their governments to address these problems. Here the trend is negative. Seven countries—Algeria, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, and Qatar—dropped to Tier 3, the worst category, bringing to 16 the total number of countries deemed negligent in this year’s report.

Persian Gulf states occupy a disturbingly large number of the worst spots. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar all rely heavily on foreign workers, particularly in their domestic and service sectors,
but provide little or no legal protection for the exploited and no prosecution for their abusers. (Robot camel jockeys aren’t going to solve this a problem of this scale.)

The State Department threatens sanctions for Tier 3 countries who do not take serious anti-slavery action in the next 90 days, including a cutoff of U.S. aid and support for World Bank and IMF loans. Passport
readers are invited to rate the chances of any penalties for a staunch U.S. ally such as Saudi Arabia, which has languished in Tier 3 for three years in a row and, according to the report, “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

Here in Bosnia (where I currently live and work), human trafficking is a big problem. It’s not even underground or shrouded in secrecy. One literally stumbles across it on a daily basis. For example, a large number of children (as well as disabled and elderly persons) beg on the streets of Sarajevo. The majority of the children are from poor and minority families in the local area, but there are also quite a few trafficked here from other parts of Bosnia, and even abroad. The latter are easy to pick out, because they are in worse physical condition than the local children who beg. Once, while walking down Ferhadija (the main pedestrian street), I saw a scrawny little beggar girl, no older than seven, violently punched by a man who, as I later learned from a Bosnian friend, was most likely the person forcing her to beg on the street late into the night. When I saw the man punch the little girl, I froze. I was just so shocked by what I had seen. By the time I snapped out of it, the man had disappeared into the crowd. It’s probably a good thing, too. I felt like…well, you can probably imagine the kinds of thoughts that ran through my head.

Bosnia is a country of transit, origin, and destination for human trafficking. Women and girls trafficked from other parts of Eastern and Southeastern Europe are often forced into prostitution, and made to work out of nightclubs. During my induction training at work, my “class” of inductees was given a stern warning about staying away from shady clubs, and it was suggested that we stay away from nightclubs altogether if we wanted to play it safe. After all, it is extremely important that people working for the international community set good examples while they work in BiH, and live up to their stated principles.