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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The business of human trafficking...

Zambia is generally considered a transit hub for human trafficking in the region thanks to its unique geographical position. Apparently what we have failed to become for air transport, the smugglers have beenable to achieve for human trafficking. I have been meaning to do a blog on this, but missed the chance last year when this story came out. For this reason, when I stumbled on this latest paper "The Economic Drivers of Human Trafficking: Micro-Evidence from Five Eastern European Countries" I could not resist sharing. Although it focuses on Eastern Europe it has some interesting conclusions that may have wider implications (and applicability) :

First, migration networks may not always be beneficial for migrants. Although we cannot directly assess the role of networks, this tentative conclusion can be drawn by combining our result that trafficking primarily occurs where migration flows are largest, and access to networks relatively easy, with the anecdotal evidence that many trafficked victims are recruited through personal relationships. Our finding on the ambiguous role of migration networks stands in some contrast to the existing migration literature, which generally advocates a risk-reducing role of networks. More research is needed to better understand the role of network heterogeneity for migration and trafficking.

Second, policy measures to counter human trafficking and related awareness campaigns should mainly be targeted to areas where migration rates are high or on the rise, not to remote areas with no or little migration. Our indicative findings on the role of risk awareness and information use give some reason for optimism that anti-trafficking campaigns and measures to reduce information asymmetries in the migration process can be a promising way to reduce the incidence of trafficking. Besides awareness campaigns, the ILO (2005) suggests to set up labour market information systems on jobs at home and abroad and the general use of model employment contracts.

Third, our results document the strong link between illegal migration patterns and trafficking. Restrictive immigration policies certainly add to the problem by pushing would-be immigrants into illegality. Nonetheless, illegal migration movements may rather be a complement to, rather than a substitute of legal migration flows (Hanson and Spilimbergo 1999, Amin and Mattoo 2006). If this is true, the pool of migrants at risk would not necessarily be reduced through a moderate increase of legal migration opportunities. In addition, traffickers’ incentives would remain unchanged through such measures.

As a general conclusion, it seems likely that the market of human trafficking and the number of victims will continue to grow as long as migration pressure remains high.

I was also particularly struck by the vastness of the human trafficking business, which helps to explain perhaps why nations such as ours may struggle to completely eradicate the scourge :

All available evidence indicates that human trafficking is an exceptionally lucrative business for criminal groups. In a recent study, the ILO (2005) estimates that sexual and labour exploitation yields US$ 32 billion of profits a year to the actors involved. This corresponds to an estimated US$ 13,000 of yearly profits for each forced labourer. Another estimated figure is the profit of criminal gangs from sex trafficking alone, which is conservatively estimated at US$ 5 to 7 billion a year, with Interpol giving a higher estimate of US$ 19 billion annually (ILO 2005, US State Department 2008).

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