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Expendable humans

By Harry Throssell - posted Monday, 25 August 2008

“Slavery has been abolished throughout the world” commented former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr on ABC1’s Q&A show on August 14, (2008).

Perhaps he was referring to British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce ending legal slavery in the British Empire in 1833. But trafficking people is very much alive and well - or alive and sick - around the world, with Australia a lucrative market.

“Trafficking” involves moving people by force for the purpose of exploiting their labour, bodies, or organs; “smuggling” refers to helping people who wish to move across a national border.


Caroline Cox of the British House of Lords, author of This Immoral Trade: Slavery in the 21st Century (2007) spoke on ABC Radio National’s Encounter program about her work on the exploitation and persecution of minority groups. “Every child in the world should have an idea of being someone to be cherished, and none should be called abeete, or slave”, she said. “But Wilberforce’s work is still not accomplished. Slavery exists … in many other parts of the world in different forms. International protest and prayer brought down apartheid; why are we silent about slavery?”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, trafficking in persons has reached “epidemic proportions” during the past decade, involving 127 countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries. Financial estimates of the global trade in human beings vary from $500 million dollars a year to $32 billion, with only military and drug sales higher.

An International Labor Organisation Report shows 12.3 million people forced into slavery worldwide, while the US Free the Slaves organisation quotes 27 million, the proportion of women varying from 50 to 90 per cent. Most, including children, are destined for the sex trade, others in forced domestic work or other labour.

In Trafficked, Kathleen Maltzahn of Project Respect in Australia quoted a 2004 US Department of State report estimating 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children were trafficked across international borders each year and millions more within borders, at least half of them for sexual exploitation. One thousand women were brought to Australia each year making billions of dollars for criminal networks.

Most victims are from South-East Asia and Eastern Europe with Australia being in the second highest category of recipient countries.

In 2004 The Good Shepherd Sisters of Melbourne helped fund the first major research into human trafficking in Australia. Estimates ranged from under 100 to over 1,000 trafficked persons here at any one time, mostly involving Asian females. Extreme poverty was a major causative factor.


Christine Carolan told ABC Radio National’s David Busch of a young woman trafficked into Australia. “She thought she was coming to look after Australian children, and when she came from Sydney airport to the house she saw toys on the floor and thought ‘these are for the children I’m going to mind’. But she was moved immediately to a brothel in Sydney and repeatedly raped until an Immigration raid freed her”. She was 14-years-old.

Maltzahn writes:

Women - often Thai women - were coming to Australia on the promise of decent conditions and good pay. Many knew they might be doing prostitution [but] a small minority had no inkling … Women told us of being lied to, raped, beaten and locked up, of having no control over how or if they had sex with customers, having to have sex when they were sick or menstruating, being deprived of their passports and threatened with violence and deportation. Some were sold from one trafficker to the next. All were paying off “debts” of at least $35,000.

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About the Author

Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.

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