Anti-trafficking measures do not necessarily protect human rights. On several occasions, they have defeated their very purpose.

This was the message of the recently released report of the Global Alliance against Traffic in Women (GAATW), Collateral Damage. The report pointed out the deprivation of human rights of people caught on borders such as illegal arrests, pro-longed detention, untoward deportation and even physical and sexual abuses. Moreover, some effects of these measures have tended to lump the issues of migration with trafficking.

“Migration and labour policies are discriminating against poor people and particularly poor women. Such discrimination creates opportunities for dishonest brokers, corrupt officials and ruthless employers to exploit or traffic migrants,” Bandana Pattanik, GAATW International Coordinator asserted.

Collateral Damage is a result of extensive consultations with trafficked persons and “victims of anti-trafficking” as well as reviews of legal literature in selected countries in five continents.

Burmese women who have actually escaped from violence are deported back to high-risk situation in Burma. Some Brazilian tourists were held in European countries, with the suspicion that they were about to engage in prostitution. Meanwhile, unmarried and skilled Indian women remain banned from travelling to certain countries for work. Also in India, “rescued” women from prostitution are placed in “protective homes” where they are forced to submit to medical examinations. People, who are arrested and detained, with the assumption that they have been trafficked, are in the end criminalised.

“Migration is an activity that must be respected. Some anti-trafficking measures have had a negative impact on the people they are meant to protect. We also need to think about how NGOs and governments work on initiatives on trafficking, particularly, “rescuing” and “detaining,” Nelia Sancho, Executive Director of Buhay Foundation noted. Back in the early 90s, Sancho was among the Philippine feminists and gender advocates who lobbied for policy interventions on the burgeoning problem of trafficking. She observed though that the trafficking measures resulted to the criminalisation of women.

“An illegal sex worker may want to report a woman who has been deceived and would not like to be in prostitution. But because her status is in question, she is constrained in helping the situation of another woman,” Jackie Pollock, author of Collateral Damage and Director of the Thailand-based MAP Foundation cited.

Pollock also pointed out the gendered shift in semantics in anti-trafficking policies. As more men are being trafficked, the term “labour trafficking” has been deployed, replacing “sex trafficking.”

The report puts an emphasis on a human rights framework in the implementation and amendment of anti-trafficking measures. Collateral Damage maintains that most anti-trafficking measures which emerged following the United Nations Trafficking Protocol have focused on the apprehension of recruiters and human traffickers, and not on the subjects of trafficking. “In practice, a human rights approach in the area of human trafficking places people who have been or might be trafficked at centre stage and assesses strategies on the basis of the rights and needs of those individuals,” according to the report.

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