Category Archives: Trafficking

Trafficking in Latin America

V Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean of WUCWO (World Union of Catholic Women Organisations) from 8 – 12 April 2013

By Martina Liebsch, Caritas Internationalis Policy and Advocacy Director

You could hear a pin drop when during the above mentioned conference the audience was confronted with the magnitude of the phenomenon of trafficking in Latin America. The evidence was presented as a film done by youngsters who travelling throughout the continent collected evidence in bars, on the streets, interviewing victims of trafficking, often minors, and bar owners and pimps. A shocking evidence of a continent which is seen as a continent of joy and sharing. This was evident as well in the testimonies of those who are working with persons which are being exploited. Continue reading

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Filed under Advocacy, Latin America, Migration, Trafficking, Women

Selling lies: human trafficking in Romania

In subway stations in the capital of Romania, a poster warns people about human trafficking. Photo: Laura Sheahen/Caritas

By Laura Sheahen

On a nondescript street in the capital of Romania, my colleague and I duck into a small, unmarked doorway and make our way up four narrow flights of stairs. In the stairwell, there are no posters or signs, none of the charity-related paraphernalia I usually notice when visiting organisations that fight human trafficking. We only see those when we reach the small attic office.

The organisation we’re visiting, ADPARE, has had to move offices a few times. The place is hidden because traffickers—criminals who buy and sell human beings—got too close.

We’re here to meet Adrian*, a 16-year-old boy who spent his childhood as a slave. Bought by a trafficker when he was a baby, Adrian grew up in Spain, forced to beg and steal.

He’d make hundreds of euros a day, and all of it went to his “false family,” as he calls it. At times he tried to hide money. “But they knew, so they beat me.”

In Spain, Adrian lived in a garage with the family. Everyone else had a bed, but he slept on the floor. “Because I tried to run away so much, they chained me at night,” he says.

One day when he was 11, Adrian was on a trip with the family back to Romania. When the family was sleeping, Adrian managed to escape. He rode a train to the capital city, Bucharest. “On the train I was thinking, ‘I’ll be free.’”

He was soon reunited with his birth mother, who didn’t know he had been trafficked and was overjoyed to have him back in her life. Police built a case, and some of his traffickers are in jail now.

Adrian’s is a success story for ADPARE, a group that works with Caritas and other charities to help trafficking survivors begin again. After a lot of counselling with ADPARE and a lot of hard work at school, Adrian is adjusting well to his new life and is excelling in his classes.

Other cases are much tougher. A girl who was trafficked to Switzerland—a neighbour had promised her work in a hotel—is back in Romania now. Women who are sold into sex work often suffer even more lasting trauma than people sold into forced labour or beggary. The girl drank a caustic liquid, trying to commit suicide. Her esophagus is destroyed. “We’re feeding her through a tube. Yesterday was my turn,” says Gina*, president of ADPARE.

Like everything about trafficking, sex trafficking is hidden. Human traffickers make it their business to be hard to spot, and make it hard to identify who is their prey. “Many clients of prostitutes think the woman is there because she wants to be,” says Gabriela Chiroiu of Caritas Bucharest. “But when you see her with bruises, burned with a cigarette, or crying, you should know something is wrong.”

Traffickers wear many masks, sometimes pretending to be caring, involved friends or lovers. “They know when to strike, when people are most vulnerable,” says Gina.

Gina recalls a 16-year-old girl who left her home because of family tensions and went to live on her own in a different city, working as a babysitter. “A man started grooming her,” says Gina. “He’d call and asked her if she’d eaten. He bought her medicine when she was sick.”

“Then one day he said, ‘I have friends—a couple with a baby—in Norway. They need a nanny.’” Once the girl was out of the country, she was sold into prostitution.

Often, the victims blame themselves. “There are too many traffickers to be angry with,” Gina says. “They’re angry with themselves for trusting someone.  One man who’d been trafficked to a factory in London said to me, ‘I was so stupid to believe everything.’”

Sometimes the person who sells you for money is a close relative. “One of the strangest things I hear,” says Gina, “is a woman saying, ‘The father of my children sold me.’”

Even when trafficked people escape, they’re not always safe. Gina’s on the phone with another man who was trafficked to England. He can’t to go back to his original area of Romania because traffickers are still on the loose there, and might threaten him so he’ll retract his police testimony.

ADPARE trains police, court workers, and other groups, teaching them how to talk to victims. “I like working with the police, because our trainings really change their attitudes,” says Gina. “The general mentality is that all the victims are prostitutes. When they looked at the cases, they were amazed.”

The traffickers themselves operate like shapeshifters, changing locations and contact information constantly. If they recruited someone using a mobile phone, they eventually “throw away the SIM card after a few weeks so they can’t be tracked,” says Gabriela.

Because selling people is so profitable, traffickers don’t let go of their victims easily. Sixteen-year-old Adrian is acing his science classes, getting to know his stepsister, and building a close relationship with his mother. “If not for ADPARE, I wouldn’t have so much support. I wouldn’t have recovered so fast,” he says.

Psychologically, he may be out of the woods. But there are some things he can’t shake off. People involved in his trafficking came to Adrian’s village last week, looking for him; he called Gina for advice.

“Trafficking has so many faces, you can’t imagine,” says Gabriela. “Behind everything is the trafficker, brutal, getting richer and richer.”

*Some names have been changed or shortened

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Filed under Advocacy, Europe, Labor exploitation, Migration, Romania, Trafficking, Women

Photo exhibit highlights plight of Nepali women

Lakshmi Paudel is a sixteen-year-old orphan in a village in western Nepal. She and her sister run their household, do farm chores, and look after their younger sib-lings. Orphans can be targets of human trafficking. “Employments agents” exploit young people’s natural desire to improve their lives and their curiosity to see the world, as well as their trust in adults. Traffickers then sell them into forced labor or unpaid prostitution. Caritas pays Lakshmi’s school fees so that she does not need to drop out of school. It is one of the photos in the exhibition. Photo by Katie Orlinsky/Caritas

Caritas staff members and colleagues from six continents were in Rome for Caritas Internationalis governance meetings this week. They also had time to  see a photo exhibit showcasing Caritas’ work to stop human trafficking and unsafe migration.

The exhibit, hosted at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz and funded by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, featured images of young women in Nepal who are at risk of being trafficked.

The photographs, which were taken by Katie Orlinsky, showed rural and urban scenes of women in Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest countries.

Caritas members around the world work together to raise awareness of false job advertising and other tactics that traffickers use to lure women into unsafe situations. Continue reading

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Filed under Advocacy, Asia, Domestic servitude, Labor exploitation, Migration, Nepal, Trafficking, Women

Happy to be home in Nepal

By Laura Sheahen

Madhu Tharu used to be a bonded labourer. With the help of a Caritas loan, she now runs a roadside snack shop. Photo by Laura Sheahen/Caritas

Thirty-year-old Madhu Tharu has been working for other people since she was a little girl. A bonded labourer in a village of bonded labourers, the Nepali woman basically belonged to her landlord. The system of serfdom that trapped her wasn’t abolished in Nepal until the early 2000s. So for years, she worked all day. Her brothers, at least, were allowed to go to school. As a kamalari–a servant girl– she wasn’t.

As teenagers, Madhu and thousands of girls like her were prime targets of traffickers, criminals who sell girls into forced prostitution or forced labour. As adults, women like Madhu are prime candidates for overseas work as housemaids. Uneducated and impoverished, they sometimes face physical and sexual abuse when working for Middle Eastern families in places like Kuwait.

Though some women do indeed earn money when they go abroad, the risks of migration are serious.  Even in the best cases, where employers treat women well and pay them fairly, mothers must leave their children behind when they go abroad. So Caritas tries to give women options that allow them to remain home.

A Caritas Nepal programme gave Madhu a small loan. She’s using it to run a tiny roadside kiosk that sells snacks. Her two sons can go to school, and her husband, a rickshaw driver, doesn’t have to work so hard.

Sumitra Bista was similarly vulnerable. “I have one son I have to support. My husband married another wife,” she says. “I used to have a small tea shop, but with the Caritas support I could buy more supplies and expand. The tea shop bloomed.” Working from 5 am to 8 pm, Sumitra sells about 100 cups of tea every day.

“There was no tea shop here before she came. She’s an entrepreneur,” says a man sitting on a bench in her shop. “People from the clinic nearby come here. The tea tastes good.”

Yam Kumari Bhat, left, was going to go abroad as a maid. A Caritas staffer urged her to use a Caritas loan to run a business. She now runs this tea and donut shop. Photo: Laura Sheahen/Caritas

The small loans are helping poor women—especially widows and those with sick or absent husbands—to stay with their children and be self-supporting. The loans also mean the women don’t have to take job offers that are suspect. Though some women find a happy ending when they go overseas, the female face of migration doesn’t always look very good.

Madhu is proud that she’s now running her own business. No longer an indentured servant, she is her own boss. “I used to work in other people’s houses. Now I don’t have to,” she says. “I’m happy I can earn money.”

Laura Sheahen, a Communications Officer for Caritas Internationalis, recently visited migration programmes in Nepal.

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Filed under Advocacy, Asia, Migration, Minor migrants, Nepal, Trafficking, Women

Home alone in Nepal

Schoolchildren in the Bardiya district of western Nepal. Many of their parents are working overseas. Photo: Laura Sheahen/Caritas

By Laura Sheahen

“Where’s your mother?” Usually when you ask small children this question, the answer is predictable: At home. At the market. At work, a few kilometres or a drive away.

In villages of Nepal, a deeply impoverished country on India’s northeast border, children answer differently. “In Kuwait.” “In Saudi.” “She’s in a foreign country.”

Mahesh Upadhaya is older—he’s 17. “My mother went to Saudi Arabia for two years. I was 15 when she left,” says Mahesh, who lives in an area of western Nepal called Bardiya. “When my mother wasn’t here, I couldn’t go to school. I had to do chores and work in the fields.” Mahesh’s father is deaf, and as the oldest of five children, Mahesh had to help the family get by until his mother began sending home the money she earned as a maid for a Saudi Arabian family. About 200,000 Nepali women like his mother have gone abroad, usually to be live-in housemaids in Gulf countries. Some are treated well. Some aren’t. Continue reading

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Bhutanese refugees in Nepal: A day in the life

A woman weaves in a Bhutanese refugee camp in eastern Nepal. Women and girls in the camps are vulnerable to unsafe job offers and wife-beating. Photo by Katie Orlinsky/Caritas

In the early 1990s the country of Bhutan, in the Himalayas, forcibly drove out over 100,000 ethnic Nepalis they claimed were not true citizens. These Bhutanese refugees ended up in eastern Nepal as migrants in limbo. Required to stay in refugee camps, they’ve lived for 20 years without electricity or good health care. The camp residents are also vulnerable to underhand job offers.

In March 2012, photographer Katie Orlinsky and Laura Sheahen of Caritas Internationalis visited the camps with Rupa Rai, who runs safe migration programmes for Caritas Nepal.

8:00 As we drive along the road to the camp, we see refugee men bicycling into the nearby town of Damak for work like bricklaying. At the camp entrance, we pass a dozen thatched-roof kiosks with Western Union signs. Many refugees have finally been admitted into countries like the USA, Australia, and Canada. Some are doing well and are sending money back to their relatives.

9:00 We see big warehouses filled with bags of rice and pulses from the World Food Program. We pass a marriage procession–complete with young men bearing a heavy car battery on a stick, the better to play wedding music in a place that has no electricity. This is a legitimate marriage, our camp guide explains, not a contract marriage. Since Bhutanese refugees are now being relocated to desirable countries, some Nepalis want to marry them in name only, to get the visa. At times, though, the contract marriage ruse is used to lure girls into more dangerous situations. Told that she’ll receive money if she goes to a place and is part of some paperwork formalities, the refugee girl may end up sold into, say, farm labour in Korea—or sold into a brothel in India.

10:00 We walk through the dusty lanes of the camp, where the bamboo-slat huts are about a metre apart. The walls are papered with newspapers inside to keep out the wind. Continue reading

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Drugged, kidnapped and enslaved in brothel: how one Nepalese woman fought back

Charimaya Tamang was one of the first women in Nepal to prosecute the person who trafficked her. She now leads awareness-raising sessions in rural areas and runs a shelter for survivors of trafficking. Photo: Laura Sheahen/Caritas

By Laura Sheahen

“In the brothel, there were no windows. The only light was from the lightbulb—that was the sun and the moon for us.” Charimaya Tamang grew up in the hill country of Nepal, working on her family’s farm. She was used to the outdoors and sunshine and freedom. But after waking from a drugged sleep thousands of miles from her village, the sixteen-year-old was shut in a room behind three doors, each one locked after the other.

Unlike most girls from rural Nepal, Charimaya knew early on that the men who eventually abducted her were criminals. One had approached her in her village, complimenting her intelligence and her classroom work, suggesting she leave her home for better opportunities. “They’d say, ‘You have potential, you could work in a business,’” she remembers.

But Charimaya had read in a book about human traffickers who buy and sell unsuspecting people into forced prostitution, beggary or labour. She knew that people were sometimes promised jobs that didn’t exist, or taken to the big city without knowing what would happen next.

So she was wary, all the more so because she saw unfamiliar girls hidden in the upper floor of a small hut in her village. Though there was no high school where she lived, Charimaya was taking informal classes. She even pointed out to her fellow students that trafficking might be happening where they lived.

They had to drug her. Though she usually went to cut grass with other village women, one day she was in the forest alone. Four men grabbed her, tied her hands behind her back, and made her swallow a powder. Continue reading

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