Much of what you are probably aware about regarding trafficking in persons is the slavery part, the rescue part, and the jewelry-making part. This is all very important in the work against this heinous crime. There is nothing better than setting someone free. Unless, perhaps you can prevent them from being enslaved in the first place! Unfortunately, the kind of work that is required in prevention doesn’t usually produce headline stories, or make good movie plots. In fact, it may not even look like so-called “counter-trafficking” work at all.The people in this work are the real heroes in this work and they are largely “unsung” at that.
Prevention of trafficking can be as “simple” (though definitely not easy) as good old-fashioned community development: strengthening families and communities through improving health, increasing and stabilizing incomes, advocating for services, etc. Basically, it is about decreasing the risk factors. Risk factors such as (but not limited to) child abuse, lack of citizenship, lack of safe migration strategy, lack of awareness about human trafficking, and of course, poverty. Some villages (urban or rural) have more risk factors than others, and so some groups target them specifically for trafficking prevention. Unfortunately, many people with a bit of vulnerability, caught at the right time, are at risk of being trafficked.
A UNESCO study of tribal people in Northern Thailand revealed that the most important risk factor for them being trafficked is lack of citizenship. International Justice Mission (IJM) in Northern Thailand is working on a project to identify those who are eligible for citizenship and advocate for their legal rights. I recently attended a working group prevention meeting in our local network and heard IJM present a report about the citizenship process and the challenges for the people.
Another program in this country is the 3-3-5 Campaign run by the CCT in Thailand in which children learn about their own physical and sexual integrity. They also teach strategies that help children prevent sexual abuse and care for others if it does happen to someone they know. Recently, it has been reported that a Thai woman recruiting for a “beauty pageant” couldn’t find any takers because the kids had already been trained to “smell a rat” and told their parents about her and she had to leave. In Moldova, Beginning of Life runs a similar (yet more mature) program for high school students. These are the kind of awareness campaigns that put real and practical tools for people to use
There are many more similar projects that are more or less directly related to counter-trafficking efforts. Many of these programs have been running since way before human trafficking was on anyone’s radar, but they are definitely worth supporting as trafficking prevention efforts.
As a pediatrician, I’m able to serve with groups working on trafficking prevention through advocacy for better health care, helping to develop child protection policies, and working with groups reaching out to vulnerable communities. It is definitely a multidisciplinary approach and it is a pleasure to serve with so many committed people.