Not surprisingly, modern day slavery is extremely hazardous to human health and life. Many children who are trafficked into slavery do not survive to adulthood.
Sex Trafficking and Health:
For people enslaved for sexual exploitation, major health concerns include HIV/AIDS and other STDs, Tuberculosis, malnutrition and traumatic injuries such as burns and scarring resulting from physical abuse and violence.
From Harvard Public Health Review, Fall 2007 issue: “Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Associate Professor Jay Silverman was struck by both the horror and the global health implications of sex trafficking. In the age of HIV/AIDS, he realized, forced prostitution is often tantamount to murder. Many victims, compelled to service dozens of men per week, were contracting HIV and radiating the infection. Upon rescue or escape, critically ill women and girls were returning to their homelands, bringing the virus with them”.
“On August 1, 2007, an HSPH-led team that included researchers from Boston University, University of California, and a child-oriented network of NGOs called ECPAT International published a study of Maiti Nepal’s human trafficking survivors in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Of women and girls trafficked between 1997 and 2005, the researchers found that 38 percent had HIV. At greatest risk by far, they discovered, were children—those who fetched the highest prices, perhaps because of their presumed virginity. One in seven study subjects had been sold before her 15th birthday. More than 60 percent of these children were HIV-positive.. men [are] willing to pay a premium for sex with a child. Some brothel customers believe a virgin can thwart or cure an HIV infection; others equate youth with purity and freedom from disease“.
According to Mahua Sur Ray, Director of our partner Apne Aaps’ Kidderpore red light district programs, the major health concerns of women in the red light district are “sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV etc. And for high risk women and children from slums and shanties, then other diseases like diarrhea due to poor sanitation and other menstrual hygiene related problem they usually face“.
The children in Made By Survivors programs who are growing up in red light districts often suffer from malnutrition, depression and anxiety from watching their mothers abused on a nightly basis, and skin diseases such as scabies and ringworm resulting from poverty, stress and cramped, unhygienic living conditions.
For people enslaved for labor, there are different health risks. According to Kailash Siddartha, whose organization BBA has rescued tens of thousands of Indian children and adults from labor slavery, children trafficked into carpet weaving factories often suffer from skin diseases because in the unventilated workshops, tiny carpet fibers become embedded under the skin. Extreme stress compounds the problem, and many children end up with scars on their face and neck similar to acne scarring. Children in carpet weaving factories are also routinely (and often deliberately malnourished) as their small size adds to their value for tying the smallest knots.
In August, I visited seven villages in Northern India, whose residents have been rescued from bonded labor slavery in quarries and agriculture. Many had been enslaved for decades and children in these communities were born into slavery. In the more recently freed villages, children showed signs of malnutrition, including kwashiorkor – in which normally dark hair becomes red and brittle, and skin diseases such as scabies.
Many adults trafficked for labor are forced to do hazardous work without safety equipment of any kind. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of slave labor is that it is typically ‘dirty, dangerous, or degrading’ (Kevin Bales, founder of Free the Slaves and one of the world’s foremost researchers on modern day slavery). For example, slaves in brick kilns sometimes are burned to death, or permanently disfigured when they fall into brick kilns, or the kilns collapse while they are loading the bricks. According to Bales, today’s slaves are cheaper and thus more ‘disposable’ than at any time in human history. Whereas it cost about $40,000 (equivalent) to buy a slave in the 1800’s, a slave can be bought today for $80 in some parts of the world. Thus there is no incentive for slave-owners to keep slaves healthy or even alive.
Thankfully, many people are rescued from slavery in raids or interventions by local and international agencies. Health is one of the first priorities in aftercare programs, and all of our partner agencies provide health care to survivors. At AFESIP Cambodia, health insurance is provided to all the human trafficking survivors, so they can get top quality health care. Rescue Foundation in India (site of our new jewelry program) provides anti-retroviral treatment (AIDS cocktail) to all the survivors with HIV/AIDS, and is soon to open the worlds’ first AIDS hospital for human trafficking survivors. Made by Survivors contributes to health care costs for survivors in our programs and children in our school sponsorship programs, including – whenever possible – necessary surgeries and medical emergencies. Right now we are raising funds for hand surgery for Chiri, a 21 year old in our Calcutta jewelry program. You can click here to donate for survivor health care.
Next month I will highlight mental health issues of survivors.