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Monday, November 4, 2013

Human Trafficking and the Unspoken Gender, “What About The Boys?”

Image Credit: Alexander L. Tremayne

Having surpassed the illegal arms trade in terms of global prevalence, human trafficking is now set to surpass the sale of illegal drugs in the not too distant future. It is a growing problem within all fifty states of the US, as well as globally, and one that is not yet fully acknowledge by governments around the world, despite being a $32 billion-a-year industry. It is estimated that the trafficking of children makes up for around 50% of all human trafficking. And although child trafficking is sometimes highlighted in the news, the focus is often heavily placed on the exploitation of young girls, yet girls are not the only victims. Boys are often trafficked and subjected to inhumane treatment, the likes of which most of us cannot comprehend. Theirs is a story seldom told, but equally important. 

"Trafficking does not discriminate. It just exploits."
Kat Rosenblatt, Anti-Human Trafficking Activist

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as, “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.” Trafficking can involve the kidnapping of children for exploitation involving sexual abuse and other forms of abuse too, like forced labour. And whilst 797,400 children last year were reported missing in the US alone, the vast majority of those children were soon returned home.

Yet for every two girls that go missing, a boy goes missing too. Child soldiers, recruited all over the world by governmental and paramilitary organisations, as well as rebel groups, also represent a form of human trafficking. While the State Department’s most recent report on trafficking, which has a great deal of insightful information in it, does not break down the gender of young children forced to serve as modern-day slaves and soldiers, the charity War Child offers some statistics on this point: 

  • As part of their recruitment, children are sometimes forced to kill or maim a family member - thus breaking the bonds with their community and making it difficult for them to return home. 
  • 60% of all child soldiers are boys 
  • Both genders used as cooks, messengers and even spies

Whilst the overall percentage of boys being trafficked appears to remain stable at around 8-10% in relation to global human trafficking as a whole, in numerical terms this constitutes a significant number – yet, even one boy lost to human trafficking is one child too many. And it’s not just very young boys who are exploited; adolescent males are, too.

In a dilemma which inextricably links both young girls and older boys, the ‘Loverboy’ Syndrome, involves the use of adolescent males to groom and manage young girls for sex, often acting as their pimps and forcing young girls to prostitute themselves. It is a tragic story for both girl and boy, often hugely impressionable both – the young girl looking for affection or friendship, perhaps even an escape from her life, and the adolescent male, pressured into becoming a pimp by neighborhood gangs and ring leaders, unable to say no for fear of the repercussions. This too, is a form of child trafficking, with both perpetrator and accomplice as victims.

There are cases where girls and boys are kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, but “in most cases they are seduced by men who make them feel loved and offer them other stability,” according to Maria Clara Rodriguez, the outreach and education supervisor at Kristi House, an advocacy centre dedicated to fighting child sexual abuse.

Child trafficking is a wide and diverse phenomenon, affecting all kinds of interactions between adults and children of all ages. The UNODC tells us that between 2007 and 2010, in terms of trafficking victims (all ages) which have been detected globally, the share of boys amongst the total number of detected victims was 8-10%, with girls accounting for about 15-20%. These figures, when placed side by side, show a pressing need to view the trafficking of boys as an equally serious phenomenon to that which affects girls.

In Europe and Central Asia, between 2007-2010, the percentage of boys detected as victims was 4%, and for girls, the figure was 15% (the remainder being 20% of men and a staggering 61% of victims detected, being women). In Eastern Europe, the statistics for child trafficking looking specifically at detected victims was 3% for boys and 6% for girls, a much narrower gap than in Europe and Central Asia (UNODC, Global Report On Trafficking In Persons, 2012).  Egypt though, unlike other countries however, experienced a high volume of trafficking in boys, between 2009 and 2010. (UNODC, Global Report On Trafficking In Persons, 2012). This sharp increase has been attributed to the fact that Egypt recently passed a law making adult trafficking an offence. And now, it seems that young boys are, more than ever before, at risk of being trafficked. (UNODC, Global Report On Trafficking In Persons, 2012).

The effect and impact of trafficking on boys, though still a little talked about phenomenon, is starting to catch the attention of charities which focus on child welfare and human trafficking. Now, a new peer support project for boys and young men who have been victims of human trafficking has been set up by The Children’s Society and Ecpat UK, to offer support for those boys and adolescent men who have experienced sexual exploitation, forced labour and those who have been press-ganged into criminal activities. Current statistics from other sources on the trafficking of boys in the UK paints a picture of an emerging trend – that boys may be far more susceptible to trafficking than previously imagined. Some experts have suggested that 38% of the 549 children identified as potential victims of human trafficking in the UK last year were boys, and have gone on to say that the real number could be far higher, as many victims simply go undetected.

The Human Trafficking Centre reports that the number of children and young people trafiicked in 2012 rose by 12%, as compared to the year before. The alarming increase in the trafficking of boys in some countries around the world should not be viewed as an anomaly, but an indication of potential future harm to boys and adolescent males. Little seems to be available at present in terms of research in this area, but it must be explored if we are to understand the phenomenon of human trafficking in its entirety, and protect children from the horrors of human slavery.   

Written by Natasha Phillips: Website | Twitter
Edited by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International

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