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Human and child slavery on the rise

18 April 20160 comments

Slavery or forced labour among refugees and displaced persons is a burgeoning issue across the globe, according to two new reports commissioned by anti-slavery organisations.

One report found a growing number of children whose families have fled the Syrian war to Lebanon are being forced to work for little or no pay, many of them in dangerous conditions.

About one million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, where they make up a quarter of the country’s population. Many have no legal right to work and families are forced to find other ways to pay for food, shelter and healthcare.

Some Lebanese employers prefer to hire children, finding them cheaper and more compliant than adults, according to the report produced by a consortium headed by the UK-based Freedom Fund.

The report said adults are also being used as forced labour and are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

“Our findings indicate that forced labour is becoming increasingly common as refugees become more desperate. According to two interviewees, forced labour is now so widespread as to constitute ‘the norm’,” the report said.

The report was based on interviews with local officials, refugees, international agencies and local NGOs.

One NGO interviewed for the report estimated that between 60 and 70% of refugee children work.

Many have to work for little or no money as a condition for living in informal tented settlements – often in the fields of the farmer hosting the camp.

“It is almost impossible for parents to refuse this request,” the report said.

Child slavery 3Children are also hired out to nearby farmers, restaurants, auto repair shops or other employers. They have been known to force children to work in towns and cities, according to the Freedom Fund.

Almost all refugee children in the country’s eastern Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria, are working in the fields there, many exposed to dangerous pesticides and fertilisers.

In towns and cities, they work on the streets, begging, selling flowers or tissues, shining shoes or cleaning car windscreens, the report said.

They also work in markets, factories, aluminium factories, shops, construction and running deliveries.

In 2013, Lebanon launched a national action plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, including among Syrian refugees, by 2016.

Many organisations in the country are providing support to Syrian refugees, but efforts to curb slavery and human trafficking are often uncoordinated, limited in their focus and do not always target those most at risk, the Freedom Fund said.

“Without significant and determined intervention, the situation will only worsen for many hundreds of thousands of refugees at risk of extreme exploitation,” the Freedom Fund’s CEO, Nick Grono, said.

Another report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found few countries were immune from human slavery and trafficking.

The report identified at least 152 countries of origin and 124 countries of destination affected by trafficking in persons.

The UNODC report said human trafficking entails recruiting, transporting and providing people for forced labour through the use of force, fraud or coercion – and this may or may not include movement.

“People may be considered trafficking victims regardless of whether they were born into a state of servitude, were exploited in their hometown, were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking,” the report said.

“At the heart of this crime is the traffickers’ goal to exploit and enslave their victims, which is implemented through various practices,” it said.

“In many cases it happens via criminal recruitment agencies that force migrants to incur substantial debts and send them to criminal employers who severely exploit them to reduce their production costs.

Child slavery2“It most often occurs in construction, agriculture, fishery, clothing factories and domestic work, i.e. in those sectors of the economy where national labour legislation frameworks are non-existent or poorly enforced.

“Consequently, the most vulnerable to slavery conditions are those who, due to poverty, lack of other possibilities or indebtedness, accept irregular work and fall prey to traffickers who severely exploit them and make it impossible for them to leave,” the report said.

Activists say some of the most vulnerable groups include migrants in irregular situations and asylum seekers, people in conflict and post-conflict situations and in refugee camps, and women and very young girls in clothing factories.

Human trafficking was recognised as a crime by the international community with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime that came into force a decade ago.

The Protocol obliges all country-signatories to criminalise all forms of trafficking.

“Some 40% of countries reported less than 10 convictions a year, while 15% did not record a single conviction,” the UNODC report said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist