Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fighting trafficking in Orange County

Yvette Cabrera
The Orange County Register

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of columns on human trafficking in Orange County.

Clickity click, clickity click. High heels tap the sidewalk in a pedicured staccato that sweeps across this forgettable Garden Grove shopping center. Curious onlookers can't help but stare from nearby storefronts.

The clatter comes from nine Vietnamese women who hastily walk out of a chiropractic office, their chic slip-ons shimmering in the hot afternoon sun. Dressed in form-fitting jeans and summery tank tops, the women climb into a waiting van that will deliver them to the Westminster Police Department.

They've just been caught in a police raid inside a chiropractic office that officials allege was a front for a brothel.
"This is the biggest one I've ever seen by far, locally," says Westminster police Lt. Derek J. Marsh, of the Aug. 7 sting operation.

Yet, rather than arrest the women for prostitution, Marsh says they were charged with being in a house of ill-repute, a lesser offense. Marsh also made sure the women were treated courteously, weren't handcuffed, and were given access to victim advocates and services.Why the special treatment?

The answer – and reason for this carefully orchestrated operation – lies with Marsh, who knows that what you see is not always what it appears to be: A brothel can also be a prison without bars for women trafficked illegally into Orange County, enslaved by pimps and forced to prostitute their bodies.

We may not see them, but victims of human trafficking live anonymously among us in our sunny cities, sexually exploited in residential brothels, or ferried to shopping centers where sex is sold alongside coin-laundries, cell phone shops and dry cleaners.

Human trafficking is a growing problem worldwide that experts say has worsened as the global financial crisis deepened this year. The federal government estimates that annually between 14,500 and 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States, Marsh says.

"No one wants to face the facts that those types of things exist. If they know about it, it's 'not in my backyard' so I don't have to worry about it," says Marsh, co-director of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, created in 2004.

"…But the reality is it's there. It may not be as prevalent as the government estimates; it may be more prevalent."
Sandra Morgan, the task force's administrator, says Orange County has become a destination for sex traffickers because of the county's wealth. And while most of the county's cases have involved sexual exploitation, Morgan says the demand for labor in sectors such as the hotel and restaurant industries, has also made them magnets for traffickers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Heart of Darkness: the modern-day African slave trade

Original Article By Ruona Agbroko

Standing just outside the town hall in Egor local government council, Edo State, Caroline Osasu did not allow NEXT talk to her daughter. This is not surprising. Mrs. Osazu mumbles in pidgin English that she agreed to this interview in the first place, only because the ‘fixer’ was her close friend.

“I can explain a little. I cannot just explain everything because...” she stops midway, as her eyes fill with tears. Fair-skinned, with some wrinkles, beautiful, though impoverished, this mother of seven won’t even look me in the eyes as we speak. She often retreats into a shell of silence; quite like the big snails she sells at Egor market for a meagre living.

Mrs. Osasu was approached by a family friend who said she wanted to “help” her 22-year-old daughter ‘travel out’. Her first child, whose name she did not reveal, worked for 10 months in Spain as a prostitute before she was deported two months ago.

She is just one of thousands of Nigerian females trafficked into the international sex trade yearly. According to the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, (NAPTIP), about 10,000 Nigerian girls, aged between 13 to 17 years, are either in jail or held captive by sex-slave lords in Morocco and Libya, with a high percentage of them being indigenes of Edo State.

About that same number of females are also reportedly living and working in Italy as prostitutes. Adefunke Abiodun, Head, Benin zone of NAPTIP, said that within Africa, Nigeria is the largest single source of trafficked women to Europe and Asia. “It is a lucrative business for the trafficker, their recruiters... in fact, everyone, except the girls concerned”.

Mrs. Abiodun said although some girls were willing to get involved in the trade, they had no choice regarding which country they would end up in—or how life-threatening and lengthy their journeys would be. Only few go by air. And even then, they do so after going by road to other African countries (Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and South Africa) and may reach Europe by train.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Chinese government offering migrants classes on avoiding human trafficking

BEIJING- Migrant workers are getting free classes warning them about the dangers of child abduction and human trafficking, said an official with the Ministry of Public Security.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Yang Dong, deputy chief of the criminal investigation department, revealed that free classes on protecting children would be offered to migrant workers.

"Only a few missing persons cases would turn in to trafficking cases if we could get more cooperation from the community and if migrant families could provide more information to help trace the children before they are too far away," Yang said.

From 30,000 to 60,000 children are reported as missing every year, but it is hard to estimate how many trafficking cases that includes, he said.

The pilot project, launched yesterday with the assistance of the National Federation of Women and Children (NFWC) and the United Nations Children's Fund(UNICEF), will be conducted in the villages of Kunming, Yunnan province and Dongguan, Guangdong province.

Landlords and factory owners have been enlisted to inform workers about the classes, because transient families are typically hard to reach.

The classes are part of a national crackdown on human trafficking launched in April, and if successful, they will be rolled out across the country.

"I might have lost my 4-year-old twins if I decided to work full time," Guo Caiyun, a 35-year-old housewife who moved to Kunming of Yunnan province months ago, told China Daily yesterday.

"I want to earn more money to support my husband to finish his postgraduate study in Yunnan University, but I changed my mind after participating in the community lessons," she said.

Guo is among the increasing number of migrants in the country whose children face a greater risk of abduction.

"Isolated living conditions in big cities cause urban people not to care about the floating population of migrants living in neighboring houses people do nothing even if they have doubts about strangers who talk with neighbors' children," said Guo Ye, the chief of the division of complaints and appeals under the NFWC.

"In rural areas the situation gets worse, as people don't always cooperate with police," he said.

Lei Meihua, a senior official with the provincial department of NFWC in Guangdong, told China Daily more than 60 percent of the population in Dongguan are migrant workers, and most work for local factories.

"That's why we need to encourage local entrepreneurs to join in our program," she said.

Bi Yonghong, a 39-year-old landlord in Shageng village of Kunming, told China Daily yesterday she promised to cooperate with the program.

"A missing child is a tragedy for any family, so I have the social responsibility to do a favor for my tenants if they are unaware about children's safety," she said.

To combat child trafficking, the Ministry of Public Security also set up a DNA database to link all the country's 236 DNA laboratories so they can share information.

The database includes DNA of missing children, given by their parents, and samples will be taken from children suspected of having been abducted or vagrant children with an unclear history.

"The national DNA database is particularly helpful for the big migrant population," lawyer Zhang Zhiwei, a volunteer with grassroots NGO Baby Come Home, told China Daily.

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Filipino diplomat possibly killed for work in anti-human trafficking

MANILA- Police are looking into the possibility that Philippines Embassy social attache Finardo G. Cabilao was killed because of his work against human trafficking.
Cabilao was found sprawled in a pool of blood in the living room of his apartment in Taman Maluri, Cheras, on Aug 7. He was described as a staunch defender of human trafficking victims who had been duped into the sex trade.

Kuala Lumpur deputy CID chief ACP Khairi Ahrasa told Malay Mail that it was one of the possibilities police were looking into.

"We are checking if his death is linked to his work or related to personal matters," he said.

"We are liaising with the Philippines Embassy in investigating the case."

He said police had also seized Cabilao's laptop, among other items, that were found in the apartment to assist in investigations into the case that has been classified as murder.

Khairi said several people, including Cabilao's friends and colleagues, have been called for their statements to be recorded.

Police also had a meeting with representatives from the Philippines Embassy to discuss developments in the case.

Police ruled out robbery as the the motive since Cabilao's cash and valuables were intact. There was no sign of forced entry, suggesting that the person who had killed Cabilao was known to him. Cabilao's fellow social workers said he had received work-related death threats.

It was learnt he was writing a book on the business and victims of human trafficking for prostitution in Malaysia prior to his death.

He was buried on Tuesday at the Manila Memorial Park. His death has received wide coverage in his home country and over the Internet.

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