By Lisa Schlein of VOA News in Geneva – Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery the United Nations says operates everywhere in the world. U.N. officials say trafficking of men, women and children for labor and sexual exploitation is the fastest growing source of profit for organized crime.
Human trafficking is widely practiced and vastly underreported. No one knows how many people are victimized because of the secret nature of this nefarious trade. But, the International Labor Organization estimates 700,000 to four million people are trafficked across international borders each year.
Human trafficking is relatively risk-free because it usually is the victim and not the victimizer who is regarded as the criminal and prosecuted. To redress this wrong, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva invited several trafficking survivors to relate their first-hand experiences and to act as the voice for the voiceless.
The experiences of the victims are individually and painfully felt. But there are common threads that run through all of their stories. Victims fall prey to traffickers who may be people they trust – parents, neighbors, friends and relatives. All go abroad in the hope for a better life.
“I come from New York. I went to the United States thinking that I was going to be working as a nanny and I ended up being a prostitute, not by my choice,” said Kikka Cerpa. “Somebody else put me to do it.”
It was Kikka’s boyfriend who persuaded her to leave Venezuela in 1992 and go to New York. She went to live with her boyfriend’s cousin and a friend. She says they beat her and raped her and forced her to work as a prostitute to pay off her boyfriend’s debts.
She says she lived as a prostitute for three years and was helped to escape by a customer, who then forced her to become his personal slave. She says she lived with him for 10 years and had two daughters.
“And, I could never leave him because every time that I tried to leave, he said that he will use my criminal conviction and he will have me deported from the United States and I would never visit my daughters anymore,” said Kikka.
Kikka finally did escape. She sought a court order of protection. Instead, she says her daughters were taken away from her and she was accused of being a criminal.
Eventually, with the help of an organization, Sanctuary for Families, she says she managed to free herself from the pimps and madams who had controlled her life.
Charlotte Awino’s story is different, but no less compelling. She was 14-years old when the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army abducted her in 1996 from her boarding school.
“We were taken away from the school campus heading nowhere,” she said. “Walking the whole time. Made to carry baggage. And, we were taken to southern Sudan and all that time there was raping, working in the gardens, digging, carrying luggage, being a slave, being beaten was the order of the day and threats. If you want to escape definitely you were killed.”
Charlotte says she was held as a sex slave for eight years. She was 22 years old and had two children when she finally managed to escape. She says she remains haunted by the memories of those lost, traumatic years.
“I am not here just to, you know, visit Geneva or anything. I am here to represent the victims of trafficking where they do not have a voice,” said Charlotte. “No one is there for them. And, nothing is being done, even if they escape back home. Since no one cares, I am just here to be a voice of the voiceless and ask the world to do something for such victims.”
Unlike the previous victims, Kumar Ramjali describes how he was trafficked for labor exploitation. He says a Jordanian company recruited him in his native Nepal in 2004 to work in America.
Unfortunately, Kumar says he soon realized he had been duped with the promise of a good job and good money. Instead of going to America, he says he was sent to Iraq where he ended up working at a U.S. military base against his will. He says his passport was confiscated and he was not allowed to leave for four years.
Jana Kohut, who was born in Bosnia, is now a human-rights advocate against trafficking. She speaks about the suffering of victims from personal experience.
In 2004, while living in Croatia, she says she was trafficked for sexual exploitation in neighboring Slovenia. She says she was tricked by a female friend and consequently abducted, raped and forced to work as a prostitute until she managed to escape in 2005.
She says she is now devoting her life to seeing that other women do not experience the same fate.