May 2016


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By guest bloggers Hannah Kooy & Sanne Terlingen, OneWorld.nl

This blog is part of a series based on the original, investigative research of the authors. Their full report can be found here. The first blog – Djibouti: The Next Thailand? – can be read here.

As has been observed in previous HTC blogs and elsewhere, the classification system used in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Reports has a long history of receiving scrutiny for being a political tool. The utter lack of transparency on its methodology and the seemingly political nature of the Tier ranking system both cast doubt on the objectivity of the TIP Report’s data, as our research in Djibouti bears out.

Several factors indicate  the TIP Report’s assessment of Djibouti has also been politicized. To understand this suspicion, it is crucial to understand what information the TIP report includes and excludes about the gravity of human trafficking in Djibouti and to what extent the government applies itself to combat trafficking.

What does the TIP Report say about Djibouti?

The 2015 TIP Report stated several times that the Djiboutian anti-trafficking policy is severely lacking. In 2014, three trafficking victims were identified and one trafficker was convicted. This in the context of a country where yearly about 100,000 migrants pass through and the risk of trafficking is known to be high, as acknowledged in the opening sentences of the 2015 TIP report.

While acknowledging the various forms of trafficking occurring, the 2015 TIP Report also states that Djibouti’s efforts to protect victims, prevent trafficking, and prosecute traffickers are all inadequate. This damning analysis is mitigated, however, by emphasizing that the government has “demonstrated continued interest in combating trafficking” and naming the few things that Djibouti is doing to combat trafficking- even though these measures are noted as ineffective.

A number of recent TIP Reports up until 2014  also stated that the demand for commercial sex, involving possible victims of trafficking in Djibouti City, is being sustained by the presence of foreign militaries. In the 2015 report, this sentence has suddenly been deleted in the near identical passages of the texts. This brings us to what the TIP Report does not mention about the human trafficking situation in Djibouti.

What is missing?

Curiously, information which shows the gravity of human trafficking in Djibouti and the way this is combatted (or ignored) which is reported by other departments within the U.S. government cannot be found in the 2015 TIP Report. For instance, a report also originating from the State Department on human rights practices states that there are ‘credible reports of child prostitution on the streets and in brothels’. A report on child labor published by the U.S. Department of Labor uses even starker language stating that children in Djibouti are engaged in child labor, including in street work and commercial sexual exploitation.

In the 2015 TIP Report these facts are diluted, stating how “some” migrant women and girls “might” fall victim to forced prostitution, and “some” street children reportedly act as pimps for younger children. But the severity and pervasiveness of child prostitution is not as clearly stated as in the other publicly available reports.

Djibouti’s anti-trafficking efforts are very limited as there is no real procedure in place to recognize victims of trafficking. Police officials are sometimes even part of the problem by exploiting vulnerable migrants who might have been trafficked by keeping them incarcerated until they pay for their release with sex or money. The round-ups of street children and other undocumented migrants are mentioned, though the complicity of government officials in the exploitation is not.

Also peculiar is the sudden omission of the influence of foreign military bases on the sex industry in Djibouti City in the latest report. Since the number of foreign soldiers in Djibouti is increasing as more foreign militaries are settling in Djibouti and the U.S. itself is also on an expansion course with their own base. The influence this significant foreign -and overly masculine- presence has on the sex industry in Djibouti City you can read in our previous blog.

Could it be politicized?   

The TIP Report uses a classification system to rank countries’ efforts of combating trafficking divided in four “Tiers.” In the 2015 report, Djibouti “has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human traffickers,” and  “Tangible efforts to prevent trafficking were minimal overall.” Still, Djibouti is placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth year in a row. However, according to the federal laws that mandates the TIP reports, Djibouti should have been automatically downgraded to the lowest Tier: 3. But the country received a waiver from this downgrade because ‘the government has written a plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.’ Remarkably, in the 2014 report Djibouti was granted a waiver for the exact same reason despite taking no action to implement the plan.

Being downgraded to Tier 3 can have real ramifications for a country’s relationship with the United States: trade deals could be obstructed and financial aid halted. This is also what was most likely behind the controversial upgrade of Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List. If Malaysia would have been assigned to Tier 3 again, the country would have been barred from being part of Obama’s prestigious Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

Maintaining favorable diplomatic ties with the Djiboutian government is equally essential for the United States. Djibouti is America’s main hub in the War on Terror, their military presence there is of great strategic importance for counterterrorism and intelligence efforts in the region. The State Department website characterizes Djibouti as ‘a key U.S. partner on security, regional stability, and humanitarian efforts’ in the Horn of Africa, and it is emphasized that the country supports U.S. interests. These close relations can also be seen in the implementation of the Djibouti First initiative in November 2015, which seeks to give preference to Djiboutian companies to win goods and services contracts at the Camp Lemonnier base.

When confronted, the TIP Office neither denies nor confirms the statement that its report is politicized. Though the US embassy in Djibouti has assured us that it is working hard in cooperation with the Djiboutian government to improve the Tier ranking of Djibouti since this year, Djibouti cannot receive a waiver for an automatic downgrade anymore. It must either be upgraded to Tier 2 or downgraded to Tier 3. We are very curious to see how Djibouti has, or has not, improved in the past year and how this will be reflected in its Tier ranking in the 2016 TIP Report to be released this summer.

Photo Credit: Sanne Terlingen

The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC.


About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.

 

Note: There is a print link embedded within this post, please visit this post to print it.


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30 years ago, bad policies, drought, and the resulting famine led to mass starvation and the deaths of at least 400,000 people in Ethiopia.

Today, as parts of Africa face a new drought, we have the opportunity to put in place a good policy that could help prevent another worst-case scenario.

Learn about the bill that’s in Congress right now and what you can do to help.

I will never forget that sound as long as I live.

It woke me from a dead sleep at 5 a.m. In a half-dream state, it sounded like an air-raid siren had gone off, and I momentarily thought of diving under my bed for safety. As I clamored to consciousness, I realized it was a cacophony of noises mingling together, floating away across the predawn fog in the Northern Ethiopia town where I had passed a fitful night.

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Families around the world that make a plan to space out their pregnancies improve the health of both the mothers and children.

Today on International Day of Families, meet two moms in India who chose the best plans for their families to help ensure productive futures for their kids!

“I explored, I understood, and I chose.”

These are the words of two women I met in India in February 2014. Neha and Ashrit both live in villages in the Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh, India. Neha lives with her husband and two children—Chandan who is four and 18-month-old Naitik. I was on a trip for World Vision and visited several homes.

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By Rex Hamaker, Director of Marketing and Communications

Bottom line

The goal of the film is to raise awareness and money to fight trafficking. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably sufficiently aware that minors are commercially sexually exploited.  Instead of buying a ticket, donate directly to anti-trafficking organizations rather than support media that is often irresponsible with its representations of trafficking.  

While the film is indeed raising awareness on the issue of minor sex trafficking, there are a number of issues with the film’s content (not to mention production) that should give potential viewers pause.  

Synopsis

The film portrays Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl trafficked from Nepal to a brothel in India played by Niyar Saikia.  After a failed attempt by a local shelter/ school to raid the brothel and to find the minors, Lakshmi manages to escape.  Sophia, a photographer played by Gillian Anderson, initially sees and photographs Lakshmi.

It’s a textbook example of how NOT to photograph victims ethically

The only considerations with when and how Sophia took photos were around the safety of the aid workers.  She violated a number of ethical principles espoused by groups such as International Organization On Migration, the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking, and the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking.  Never seeking consent, which is complicated in the case of minors, Sophia claimed ownership of survivors’ narratives through her photography, an approach that is hardly victim-centered or trauma-informed.  

To quote at length from the IOM principles, there are a number of problems with the use of cameras in the film:

  • Do not treat the survivor as an object.
  • Refrain from treating them as ‘victims’.
  • Try and avoid taking pictures of faces of the survivors.
  • Try not to ask the victims questions that violate their dignity.
  • Try not to take them (on a mental recap of their actual journey) to the brothel.

It raises awareness on the issue with the most awareness

In media representations, the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children is by far the most covered.  While there can and should be more awareness around trafficking, coverage of female sex trafficking often comes at the expense of labor as well as men and boys. This also assumes there is a clear divide between labor and sexual exploitation and makes assumptions on behalf of survivors what kinds of exploitation were most harmful to them.

Didn’t note the danger of wearing religious garb to go undercover

Infamously, the CIA used a vaccination program in an attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.  Not only was the measure unsuccessful, but it caused a backlash in local populations in Pakistan, some of whom banned aid workers from coming to administer polio vaccinations in their regions, predominantly for women and children.  The CIA has since apparently decided to stop using that tactic.  

In the film, Sophia, dressed as a Catholic nun, went into the red light district to take pictures against the advice of local aid workers.  While the work of the Catholic Church and specifically Mother Theresa in particular is not uncontroversial, jeopardizing the safety and ability of people willing to deliver services to those in need is not clever.  It’s irresponsible.

The movie and website misuse statistics

After the film fades to black, it (misre)presents the statistic that 5.5 million children are trafficked.  Juxtaposing that number and 97 minutes of film about commercial sexual exploitation gives the distinct impression that all of those minors are sex trafficked when the statistic actually represents both minor labor and sex trafficking victims.  As high and disconcerting as that number is, the same report estimates the number of adult victims to be five times higher.

Based on the research and writing of author Patricia McCormick, the movie brands itself as fiction grounded in fact.  The film’s website, however, claims that End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) “estimates the global average age of a trafficked child is thirteen.”  No link is provided for this statistic, and multiple searches of ECPAT’s website revealed no such statistic.  However, it sounds reminiscent of the frequently cited myth that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13.  

Redeeming elements

The film highlights some of the complexity involved in the lives of the commercial sex industry in India and the tough choices people make for their own survival.  It also shows the need for comprehensive care for people getting out of commercial sexual exploitation, which wasn’t always a focus of past “raid and rescue” operations.  Even though Sophia often did not heed the advice of the local organization she was working with, the film does show it is necessary for foreigners to work with and strengthen local institutions.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC

Image via Matson Films


About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.

 

Note: There is a print link embedded within this post, please visit this post to print it.


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Blogger Daily Baez was born in the Dominican Republic, and remembering her childhood, writes: “World Vision has given me hope.”

Two weeks ago, Daily returned to her homeland with our bloggers to visit that hope in person. Today, see the DR through Daily’s eyes.

Leerlo en español también!

A beautiful giving! I heard somewhere that life is a series of baby steps along the way and if you add up these tiny little steps, you can achieve your goal. My goal was sharing my journey and having a community in which we share the same passion and struggles. Sometimes those baby steps toward your goal show you that along the way, it is not about the destination itself, it’s more about the journey.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Last week, Elayna Fernandez—The Positive Mom—joined our World Vision Bloggers in the Dominican Republic, where we met an amazing mother: Milagros, or “miracles.”

Meet this miracle mom with us and see her journey from hardship to being positive about having HIV.

She kept saying “I’m so grateful,” and she couldn’t stop smiling. I was instantly inspired by her sense of pride and the light that radiated through her beautiful brown eyes.

I think it is no accident that her name, Milagros, means “miracles.” That’s what you experience in her presence.

I couldn’t help but stare at her and just soak it all in. She is a loving mom, an entrepreneur, and an inspiration to many.

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“As Christians, we smile.”

Our writer Kari Costanza is in Iraq right now. Just the other night, she had dinner with a mother, Rajaa, and her family who have been displaced by conflict.

Meet this family with Kari, hear about their journey, and see what it’s like to be a mother away from home.

My mother is wonderful—smart, beautiful, and interesting—but she has a problem.

She cannot resist chocolate.

In high school, I brought home Mozart chocolates from Austria as a souvenir, a beautiful round candy, wrapped in gold foil with a picture of the young composer.

I didn’t plan to eat it. I just wanted to keep it as a reminder of a spectacular trip.

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For the community of Gwembe in Zambia, a reliable source of clean water provides the cornerstone upon which all of this flourishing community’s transformation rests. 

See what life used to be like for Veronica and her family and neighbors, and how far they’ve come today. 

I’ve known for years that when water flows into a community it can lead to transformation, but I’ve never seen this more clearly than during my visit to the community of Gwembe in Zambia.

Veronica the gardener | World Vision Blog

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