The trade is the reduction into slavery of people for the purposes of exploitation of a sexual nature, for labour or for any other form of economic gain. According to article 3 of the Additional Protocol to the Palermo Convention of the United Nations, signed by over 80 states in December 2000 and coming into force in 2004, we speak of trade when the action of the recruitment, transport, transfer, accommodation or reception of people is brought about by means of threats, the use of force, kidnapping, fraud, deceit, the abuse of power or with the giving or receiving of payments or advantages aimed at obtaining consensus, on the part of a person who exercises control over another for the purposes of his/her exploitation.
In this sense, trade is spoken of in reference to the women and children entrapped in the sex industry, to the children and adults forced to beg in the street, of child soldiers in some parts of Africa and Asia, of the manpower used in agriculture, in the mines, in manufacturing in every corner of the world, and even to the case of the buying and selling for the purpose of removing organs.
Compared to the past this new form of slavery enjoys no legality or legitimacy and has taken on a decidedly global dimension: Nigerian girls who enter the circuit of sexual commerce in Italy passing through Eastern Europe, children from Togo and from Benin sold for domestic work in Gabon and in Nigeria, Nepalese girls sold in India and forced to work in the Mumbay (ex Bombay) brothels, Thai children sold in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, and so on.
Clandestine immigrants and victims of human trade share the common desire to find a house, a land, a job and, in general, a better life. However there exist clear differences between trade in people and smuggling them. The distinctive factor of trade is the reduction into slavery. While the smuggling ends once the person has arrived at his/her destination, trading involves the continuous exploitation of the person for the purpose of obtaining illegal profits. In other words, the clandestine immigrant is free once he/she has arrived at his/her destination, while the victim of trade finds him/herself in a condition of slavery.
The victims of trade may well consent at an initial stage, but they are deceived by the traffickers about the nature and conditions of the work that they will carry out once they have arrived in the country of destination. In this sense, the above-mentioned article 3 of the Palermo Protocol maintains that the victim's consent does not annul the crime of trade.
One last distinction regards the geographic aspect: the smuggling of human beings is always transnational, while trading may even be carried on within a state, as, for example, the children forced to work in the brick furnaces or in the carpet industry in India or Pakistan, or the children who tin sardines in the Philippines.
The victims all have one common feature: they come from poor social contexts and they move towards the richer areas. Today we know that many victims come from Latin America, from the Caribbean, from north and sub-Saharan Africa, from Southeast Asia, from central Europe, from the Balkans and from the ex-Soviet Union. They are, therefore, people who leave a scenario of poverty, fear and frustration. Common to many migratory phenomena, the victims are mostly subjects who have initiative and personal resources such as to make them risk the journey of hope through which, however, they end up in the net of the traffickers.
Another common factor is exploitation. The victims of trade have no faculty of choice as to whether and how they work, and they are forced to suffer hard labour by means of various techniques. A common practice is that of the debt that the victims contract to sustain the expenses of the journey and of their accommodation. More in general the traffickers maintain a relationship of subjugation with the use of both physical violence, typical of the groups of exploiters from the Balkans, and forms of psychological violence like the magic-religious practices of the Nigerian groups or the threats of retaliation against their families in their home countries. An ulterior instrument of pressure is represented by the fact that the victims are deprived of documents and therefore run the risk of forced repatriation.
The victims searching for a better life immediately discover that their expectations will not be lived up to. First of all, many of them die during the journey. Those who arrive find themselves with a low wage, or even nothing, and inhuman treatment. After this, the exploiter may sometimes decide to improve the victim's conditions and feed his/her hopes of earning for him/herself and of returning as a rich person to his/her country of origin. However, the result is hardly ever happy since few victims escape from the relationship of slavery. Physical and psychological violence remain the order of the day. And we must also remember the cases of the girls who have contracted, and sometimes transmitted to their children infectious diseases like AIDS. And lastly, not to be ignored are the cases of murder. According to a survey carried out by the Parliamentary Anti-mafia Commission in 2001, 186 victims of trade, largely Albanians and Nigerians, were killed in Italy in 1999, a figure equal to 23% of the total number of murders committed in the whole of Italy that year.
For the people subjected to forced repatriation, the return may be traumatic. In the case of the Nigerian girls entrapped in the sex industry, they may be shipped back in the same clothes that they were wearing in the street and, on arriving, find no reception structures. It is not unusual that, penniless and with no resources, they prostitute themselves as soon as they leave the airport. In he case of the Albanian girls it has happened that the exploiter was waiting for them at the airport.
The places of the exploitation are "the street" and "the cellar", the former being understood as the privileged destination of the victims of the sex industry, of the beggars and the pickpockets, and the latter as the place for the exploitation of labour. In a research in 2001, Europap/Tampep calculated that about 50 thousand people are on sale every evening in the Italian streets. It must be added, however, that the slaves of the sex trade do not only end up on the street: there is also a large hidden market made up of apartments, nightclubs, saunas and beauty parlours. The cellar, instead, is represented by all those "industries" without the most fundamental conditions of hygiene and safety where a great number of people are obliged to live in isolation, working at extenuating rhythms.
In recent years the problem of trade in human beings has taken on dramatic dimensions. The unfulfilled process of economic, cultural and political integration, the growing disparity between the rich countries and the poor, the wars, the high unemployment rates, the increase in the demand for products and services at low cost, all these factors have encouraged and urged the poor to emigrate, and have stimulated the criminal networks of traffickers to profit by these migratory flows.
To give figures is difficult for various reasons. In spite of the collective effort of the countries signing the Palermo Protocol on trafficking, the phenomenon remains hardly visible and rarely denounced by the victims themselves. Furthermore, it is very difficult to monitor the migratory flows for at least two reasons. On one hand there are no standardized research methods, therefore the statistics are difficult to compare. On the other hand, the flows are hardly homogenous and in continual evolution above all thanks to the ability and speed with which the traffickers open or abandon routes in order to avoid the meshes of the police. The arrival of people already repatriated previously and the use of false names and documents make it even more difficult to estimate the phenomenon.
Already in 1998, the United States government estimated the number of women and children sold globally at between 700,000 and 2 million a year. Recently the State Department declared that the figure could even be as high as 4 million if you consider all the victims of human trade, including those who are bought and sold without crossing any borders. The United Nations Fund for Infancy (UNICEF) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) have estimated that about 2 million women and children have been subjected to slavery and trafficking in 2001. The minimum estimate of 700,000 is, however, that indicated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which maintains that between 80% and 90% of the victims have been exploited for sexual purposes, while the others were destined for forced labour. To have a more precise overall idea of the estimates drawn up by the various national and international organizations, it is possible to consult on line a database recently prepared by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).
Apart from the unreliability of the estimates, one can certainly state that human trade is a great global business in continual growth. According to a survey carried out in Italy by the International Institute of the United Nations for Research on Crime and Justice (UNICRI), in the lowest bracket of the sex market, a Nigerian woman in the hands of the network of traffickers can yield as much as 5,000 euro a month. Furthermore, to rid herself of the debt, a girl must pay an average of 50-60,000 euro.
In the majority of cases the exploiter is a member of a transnational criminal network. It is not always a question of mafia groups, or centralized organizations, that is, with an executive that takes the most important decisions. The phenomenon before which we find ourselves is often that of complex networks, composed of groups of people or single individuals with different degrees of specialization, each of which guarantees the functioning of a different phase of the trade. There exist, therefore, experts in recruitment, in the falsification of the documents, of the transport from the countries of origin to those of destination, of the exploitation by means of physical or psychological violence and of the recycling of the illegal profits. These figures do not necessarily belong to a single organization and hardly ever are they all in contact with each other. They make up, instead, a criminal network, often decentralized, which works, expands, places victims on the circuits and substitutes any malfunctioning cogwheels with flexibility and immediacy without compromising its functioning.
The criminal networks that operate in the sector of human trade move with greater speed than the states and governments that attempt to combat them. Their flexibility, in fact, allows for the identification of safe routes and markets with a high demand, and for the cynical exploitation of the weak links in bureaucracy and the contradictions in the legislation of the various states.
In every country a great many people voluntarily or involuntarily increase the profits of those who exploit the victims of the trade. A customer of the traffickers is certainly the person who pays for sexual relations with the victims. The level of awareness of these clients about the victims' condition of slavery is not easy to say. It is reasonable to think that if some of them are in the dark about the real relationship of exploitation, or at least that they do not approve of it. Cases in which the customers help the girls to get out of the sex industry are not rare. On the basis of the work carried out by the Gruppo Abele, between July 2000 and December 2001, in Italy almost a thousand customers called the free-call number that assists the victims of the trade. However, it must be remembered that this type of customer is representative of the majority of the demand. The trade is fed also by those who buy the merchandise produced in the "cellars", like watches, bags and "designer" products in the street. Lastly, one can even risk becoming a "customer" through the windscreen wiper boys, having to choose between giving something to the victim and carrying out one's civic duty by denouncing the case of exploitation to the police.
First and foremost there exist legal answers. At an international level, many states have been committed to the suppression of human trade since the agreement on suppression of the "White Slave Trade", signed in Paris in 1904. The United Nations have banned this trade and the trafficking in human beings several times in a series of conventions going from the Convention for the repression of the trade in human beings and the exploitation of prostitution of 1949 until the most recent Palermo Protocol of 2000. Thanks also to these conventions, many countries, both those of origin of the victims and those of destination, have approved laws that punish the crime of human trade and/or have increased the penalties.
However to dismantle the criminal networks is anything but simple. In the first place, initiatives limited to one or a few countries have only a relative impact, given the transnational nature of the trade. The introduction of an effective countermeasure in one country does not usually lead to the defeat of the traffic, but rather to the movement of the routes towards countries that are less attentive or equipped for the prevention and contrast of this crime. It can be added that the traffickers are organized in flexible and decentralized networks that allow for the fast substitution of all the figures arrested in the course of police investigations. Lastly, the criminal networks have showed a great capacity for adaptation, also within the individual countries, and the traffickers, for example, in response to a measure like the prohibition of prostitution, can move the sex business from the street to indoor establishments.
In the light of these difficulties, is possible to state that effective legal responses need national and international cooperation between the government, the police force, the magistrates and civilian society. In addition the countermeasures cannot be limited to the countries of destination of the victims, but must also strike the criminal groups that operate at the source, in the countries of origin, that is. A type of answer that does not take into consideration the fight against the trade in the countries of origin can hardly halt the international flow of victims and traffickers, however many arrests and convictions may be made. The suppression of the trade is rendered difficult also by a series of painful factors such as corruption and insufficient adequate structures. A major reason, therefore, why the countries with the most resources must offer assistance in economic terms and in the transmission of know-how to make every local and national situation able to effectively contrast this social plague and to dismantle the criminal network.
Together with legal answers, there also need to be socio-political answers, that is to say all those initiatives that remove the factors that push people to emigrate from their countries. Also this type of answer presents great difficulties in as much as it comes up against huge problems such as hunger, ignorance, wars and, of course, social-economic contrasts. Although it may be hardly realistic to think of removing these factors in a short period of time, it is possible here and now to promote initiatives that can help the potential victims to build themselves a future, alternative to that of slavery. Information campaigns, awareness fostering of the public opinion and of the forces of law and order, support in the application of the laws, help to socially emarginated groups and re-inclusion in society for those people repatriated, are important instruments that allow for the prevention and reduction of the slave trade both in the places of origin and in those of destination through the personal effort on the part of the victims and customers and the effective support of the public institutions and civil society.
Apart from the laws that punish the slave trade and the exploitation of human being, the fight against the slave trade in Italy is regulated by 'article 18 of the Unified Text on immigration of 1998, which establishes the victims' right to protection and assistance. Article 18 foresees the issuing of a renewable six months' stay permit for those victims of the slave trade who collaborate with the courts or who decide to follow a programme of protection and social re-integration. Adopting principles established by the United Nations, Italy therefore follows the road according to which prostitution is not persecuted, but its exploitation is.
Among the principal initiative (governmental), the call-free phone service must be mentioned, instituted by the Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers (Department for Equal Opportunities) thanks to which the slave trade victims can ask for assistance. The number is 800-290290.
Also to be pointed out, lastly, is that thanks to a programme of the UNICRI, the Magistrate of the National Antimafia Commission and the Minister of Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have signed a Cooperation Memorandum on the fight against the slave trade in November 2003. The Memorandum foresees the exchange of information and experience relative to offences linked to organized crime and to the re-cycling of the profits of illegal activities.
For further information on the problems at an international level you can contact the UNICRI (e-mail: email@example.com).