Foreign Policy Blogs

Human Trafficking: Legal Futility in Action Worldwide

In the films Taken and Taken 2, Liam Neeson plays a father who tracks down his daughter after a group that seeks to sell her into sex slavery kidnaps her. While this is not a common occurrence for young American students in Paris, it is a major problem in many countries. Often places like Paris, New York, Toronto and even Geneva are not the source of these girls, but do end up hosting these girls beyond their will. This week President Kirchner praised a mother from Argentina for helping free many girls in the search to find her daughter. Unfortunately, her daughter is still missing, and despite her fight to free many other girls from sex slavery during her search, the courts in Argentina rejected the charges against a group that takes girls into that life of shadows. She continues to look for her daughter Marita Veron that was taken ten years ago. After the ruling, the community burst out in vocal protests.

Issues surrounding sex slavery will become one of the most evasive and complicated legal and societal issues over the next decade. Often legal issues are complicated by the fact that issues surrounding human trafficking are committed across borders, where legal jurisdictions are limited to defined countries and even regions. Many jurisdictions limit legal actions to be taken on behalf of individuals who are committing a crime themselves, and with involuntary prostitution still being seen as a crime in many places it makes it exceedingly difficult for these girls to get out of their situation. Compounding the standard legal issues, many of the girls who end up being taken often are foreign to the countries in which they are present or are part of minority groups that sometimes can be ignored by greater society. Along with being in a foreign land, the legal status of immigrants and new citizens in many countries are slow to become understood and implemented in legal reforms that would lessen the burden on foreign nationals residing in many countries. Often many types of laws do not address the reality of non-citizens in a country and even if help is sought, it could result in charges being placed on the individual who simple needs help. Because of the legal limitations and societal taboos, these agents of shadows are often very successful in trafficking women, telling the girls that their families would be threatened if they cause problems. It is common for these agents to take the girl’s passport and identity documents, taking their legal identity away from them in the process of taking their identity altogether.

Human trafficking operates in a similar way to narcotics trafficking, as the problem exists because there is a market for it, usually in places where disposable income fuels the use of the narcotics or service. Canadian journalist Victor Malarek published his book The Natashas on the subject of the global sex trade, often citing incidences when perfectly respected institutions with people that are respected in their countries and communities would be the source of funds for the agents in the shadows. In one interview, he described how NATO soldiers in the former Yugoslavia would take use of the services, and Malarek went to investigate. He discovered that many of the girls were taken from other parts of Eastern Europe, and in one serious case he personally worked hard to get one girl returned home who was taken from her family. Weeks later she returned to her kidnappers servicing the NATO soldiers after being threatened, simply to keep her family safe back home.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho pulled away from his usual focus on writing on spirituality in his book Eleven Minutes. Eleven Minutes was written in order to shed some light on the lives of girls who have been trafficked from Latin America to Europe. Based on the life of a real person he had met in Switzerland from Brazil, Coelho tries to show what someone in that position can feel and how she can move from being controlled by strangers to having a real full life. While the novel gives a positive outcome for the main character, the reality is that in most cases these girls live and stay under society’s radar as prostitution and prostitutes are not considered as legal equals, even if the laws exist to balance their rights. In many Latin American countries sex tourism is highlighted by trafficking of these girls to places where they can be bought and sold. Increasingly these girls are being trapped in developed countries and in smaller and smaller communities, with few effective laws being put into place and even less charges being laid in the even a case makes it to a courtroom. Not until an acknowledgement of human trafficking taking place in our communities and an understanding by society as a whole will any effective solutions result from legal reforms on the issues surrounding sex slavery. Until that time, girls will continue to be taken into the life of shadows.

  • Gabby Gottfried

    It’s sad to think we’re in an age where Americans in particular only think of the public enslavement of African Americans during the 1800s. Today, trafficking is a rampant and overlooked issue just because its hidden. We have more slaves circulating than ever worldwide yet we act like the concept is simply outdated. Another problem, more in the Middle East and Asia, is the organ trafficking in the black market. There are people waking up missing body parts due to thieves shipping then for money. These invasions on human rights, most downright cruel, must be brought to the attention of Americans especially to begin to prevent it.


Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration