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Anti-trafficking measures can increase exploitation

June 03, 2004

Attempts to prevent human trafficking are making conditions worse for voluntary migrants, argue researchers in this week's BMJ.

Their concerns are based on studies conducted between 2000 and 2002 among child migrants in Mali and Vietnamese sex workers in Cambodia.

A survey of close to 1000 migrants in Mali found that only four had been deceived, exploited, or not paid for their labour. Rather, young people voluntarily sought employment abroad to experience urban lifestyles, learn new languages, and accumulate possessions.

In interviews and discussions with 100 Vietnamese women, only six reported having been "tricked" into sex work. Most knew before they left Vietnam that they would be engaged in sex work and some showed clear ambition to travel for economic incentives and an independent lifestyle.

In both Mali and Cambodia, intermediaries often assist safe migration, yet anti-trafficking policies do not distinguish between a trafficker with intent to exploit and an intermediary who facilitates a young migrant's journey and search for work.

These measures force migrants to rely on corrupt officials and use of clandestine routes, increasing their risk of harm and exploitation, say the authors.

"We do not dispute that in both settings migrants have suffered hardship and abuse, but current anti-trafficking approaches do not help their problems," they write. These studies show that a more flexible and realistic approach to labour migration among young people is required, they conclude.


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