The Latin American Research Centre at the University of Calgary hosted Agueda Marin on Monday, an expert in the field of human trafficking, to discuss the causes and effects of human trafficking on its victims.
Estimates from the United States Department of State place the annual number of illegally trafficked individuals in the hundreds of thousands with 12,000 of them coming to Canada. The International Labour Organization estimates the forced labour trade to be worth over $31 billion per year to traffickers.
"It's not fiction," Marin assured the audience of 40 people, "It's something that's happening to a lot of people."
Members of the RCMP Immigration and Passport Branch were on hand with members of the Calgary Police Service's vice squad for the presentation. Both Police forces were looking for more information to use in recognizing and helping victims of human trafficking.
While neither police service would comment on their ability to deal with human trafficking, the RCMP members assured the audience that existing protocol is being updated to better deal with the victims and to prosecute the individuals responsible for their exploitation.
Human trafficking takes place when individuals convince people in poor developing nations that a better life awaits them in the western world. Expert traffickers can select the most susceptible, unknowing victims to travel to other nations to be quickly forced into the sex trade or hard labour.
Marin called human trafficking the slavery of the new millennium. Victims are forced into the sex trade in 69 per cent of all trafficking cases, with another 19 per cent carrying out forced labour. Estimates place the number of victims between the ages of 18 and 25 at 41 per cent of all trafficked persons, with another 20 per cent being between the ages of 26 and 35.
War-torn and disaster devastated regions are particularly susceptible to traffickers. Countries in the Balkan region of Europe have seen a significant rise in human trafficking since the end of the Yugoslav war, as has South-East Asia since the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, said Marin. Should victims be discovered, they are usually treated as illegal aliens and deported to their home country while their traffickers receive little or no punishment.
The lack of clear laws in the west makes the prosecution of traffickers very difficult for police and courts. Canada, however is taking a stand on human trafficking. On Nov. 25, Bill C-49 received royal ascent, making Canada one of the few countries to pass a law specifically to stop human trafficking. The United Nations has also addressed the issue by adopting the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children; and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.
Marin said human trafficking is only a small part of a bigger problem: poverty in the developing world. Almost all trafficked persons come from nations in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and South-East Asia, she noted. Significant reductions in poverty in these nations may make them less prone to having their citizens trafficked, while nations together with the UN and non-governmental organizations work to establish framework in dealing more appropriately with traffickers and victims.