by Austin Bay
June 7, 2005
The March 2001 voyage of the coastal ferry Etireno briefly
raised international eyebrows and consciousness.
The Etireno's West African cruise through the Gulf of Guinea was
a voyage of the damned, for the Etireno carried slaves. Human slaves.
I wrote a column about the Etireno in April 2001. The story puts
sad flesh and bones on the U.S. State Department's 2005 "Trafficking in
Persons" (TIP) report, which was released last week.
"On March 30 (2001) the Etireno left Benin's port of Cotonou,
followed by reports that her cargo consisted of 200 children destined for
'domestic service' in more prosperous West African nations. Human rights
organizations pushed Benin's government for more information."
With international attention focused on the ship, Gabon -- the
Etireno 's original destination -- refused to let the Etireno dock. "On
April 17, the Etireno limped back into Cotonou. Upon examining the ship,
local authorities said it was "uncertain" if slaves had been aboard.
Realists wondered if an even greater evil had occurred, with the human
evidence drowned at sea."
Slavery in the 21st century is as real as it is morally
repugnant. Though "human trafficking" may strike some as a bureaucratic
euphemism, U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice didn't equivocate in her
condemnation: "Trafficking in human beings is nothing less than a modern
form of slavery."
Woman and children are modern slavery's most common victims.
"Sex slavery" occasionally draws tabloid headlines. Contemporary
sex slavery is more large-scale than the buying and selling of prostitutes.
It includes the "forced hiring" of child sex workers and often involves
shipping prostitutes and children across international borders. "The Balkan
Corridor" is one of the more notorious routes for this hideous trade. Women
from Eastern Europe and Central Asia are smuggled to Western Europe through
the former Yugoslavian states and Albania.
U.S. Ambassador John Miller, State's senior advisor for the TIP
report, provided this gruesome vignette: "Svetlana was a young woman living
in Belarus, looking for a job. She came upon some Turkish men who promised
her a well-paying job in Istanbul, and once Svetlana crossed the border, the
men seized her money, her papers, her passport. ... They forced her into
prostitution. ... They farmed her out to two businessmen, just like a
commodity. Desperate, Svetlana jumped out of a window and fell six stories
to a sidewalk. According to Turkish court documents, the so-called customers
went down, found her on the sidewalk and instead of calling the police,
called the traffickers, who killed her."
"Forced laborers" are another class of modern slaves. The
Etireno's lost children were certainly in that category. The children are
"rented out" to West African plantations.
In war zones, abducted children often become "child soldiers."
Uganda's sociopathic rebel movement, The Lord's Resistance Army, has
employed this evil recruitment tool for the last 15 years, but it has been a
vicious feature of many Sub-Saharan Africa wars. Sudan, Burundi and the
Congo (DRC) come to mind.
The State Department report fingers 14 nations as "poor
performers" in thwarting human trafficking. State's tough document names
names, including these U.S. Middle Eastern allies: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The others are an interesting mix of poverty and tyranny:
Bolivia, Cambodia, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Togo
State estimates at least 800,000 people per year are bought and
Does the United States have a problem? Yes. The TIP report
documents several cases of Mexican women and girls smuggled into the United
States and forced into prostitution. "Forced labor slavery" may not be as
prevalent in the United States, but it occurs.
What is to be done? The Department of Justice has successfully
prosecuted a number of sex slavery cases. The State Department has
implemented a multi-pronged "anti-trafficking" initiative that includes
non-governmental organizations and piggybacks on Homeland Security and
intelligence agency counter-smuggling efforts.
But as for effective international economic and political
sanctions? If they work, they work slowly. Meanwhile, the evil trade