17/09/12 Malay Mail
Documentary highlights people afflicted by forced labour, the sex industry and war
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012 - 13:42
by Meena Lakshana
IN INDIA, the streets of the red light district in Mumbai are woken by the sirens of police cars ringing through the dead of night.
In the mingle of customers and observers, pimps and ‘mother hens’ of brothels linger by the curb, trying to cajole cops. Police barge their way in and NGO Rescue Foundation founder Balkrishna Acharya leads the pack.
He searches the area, then proceeds to break open a covering on the floor.
Slowly, about seven girls no older than 20 years of age creep out.
They were forced to hide in a space no larger than a closet while the raid takes place.
Balkrishna then starts hammering at the flimsy ceiling of the brothel.
Again, about a dozen adolescent girls in simple, cotton night gowns creep out of a small area.
Some of them stumble, as they are dizzy due to the lack of air in the cramped space.
This is one of the harrowing scenes in "Not My Life", a documentary about human trafficking in all its dark shades.
Raw with the depiction of human exploitation, it is honest, grave and disturbing.
Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar global business where families and individuals afflicted by poverty (the most prevalent factor) are recruited to work in forced labour, the sex industry or fight in wars in their home countries.
Women, children and men are coerced, physically abused and paid low wages to work for long hours with little freedom.
LexisNexis, one of the sponsors of the documentary’s global distribution campaign, recently organised a screening here in Malaysia at Actor’s Studio in Lot 10, Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.
Ticket sales and proceeds from the event, titled Bringing Human Trafficking To Light, were channelled to two organisations, the Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (Camsa) and the Good Shepherd Sisters in Malaysia.
LexisNexis Asia CEO Shawn Clark, said the company hopes to compel people with the message of the documentary to make changes in their immediate environment.
“We want people to call the authorities and alert groups working on human trafficking to stop this.”
“This weakens the network and reduces the power of trafficking,” he said.
Clark also said the company hoped to enlist lawyers to do pro bono work for victims of human trafficking.
Camsa country manager Daniel Lo said human trafficking is imperative in today’s modern society, especially in an age increasingly being defined by the sharing of information with the click of a button.
“Human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal activity in the world, after the trade of drugs and arms.”
“Why does human trafficking matter? It’s because freedom matters – my freedom, your freedom and freedom of the victims,” he said.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion on the issue, where International Labour Organisation (ILO) Triangle project national coordinator Anni Santiago and Good Shepherd Welfare Centre executive director Theresa Symons provided their views on industry of human exploitation.
Santiago said there are an estimated 214 million migrants worldwide.
ILO also estimates there are 105 million active migrant workers located around the world, out of which 20.9 million are trapped in forced labour.
She said some of the major issues contributing to forced labour are the growth of commercial businesses profiting from the movement of people, high cost of legal migration channels, limited regulation of recruitment practices and low-level knowledge of migrants themselves about their labour and migration rights.
“The government can play an important role in the aspect of the recruitment by keeping it at a minimum period and monitored by governmental agencies.”
“Migrant workers are also not allowed to enter trade unions so they have an issue of where to seek redress if need be."
She also said the increased regulation of recruitment agencies and the provision of knowledge on rights to potential migrant workers are critical.
“There are standard pre-departure programmes in countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to educate individuals so that they can make informed decisions on migration.”
Symons offered a different perspective to the issue, when she mentioned that certain Nordic countries stipulate the act of purchasing sexual favours illegal under the law.
“I was at a conference on human trafficking once and one man said this: We men are the buyers, sex workers are the goods and brothel owners are the vendors.”
“So with the enforcement of those laws in the Nordic countries, the focus is not so much on the supply of women, but the demand for them.”
She said as long as there is demand for sex workers, be it women or children, the industry thrives and the advent of technology only complicates matters.
Symons said for headway to be made in controlling human trafficking activities, we have to address gender equality, poverty and women’s rights-something the world at large is still grappling with today.