- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

Raman was forced to work as a brick-maker to pay off a debt incurred years before by his grandfather. For years, he was paid 3 rupees (2 cents) for a bag of bricks. If he didn’t work hard enough, he was beaten with a stick.

Michael, 15, was kidnapped to serve as a combatant in the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army. During that time, he was forced to kill another boy.

Over the last 10 years, globalization has triggered an unprecedented demand for unskilled and low-skilled laborers. Employers from countries with booming economies in Europe, Asia and the Near East scour the globe in search of willing bodies to work in construction, manufacturing, agriculture and domestic service.

Because working conditions are often grim, employers frequently tap the most vulnerable segments of the population. In some cases, women and girls are caught up in prostitution rings. In its worst form, a desperate parent sells a child into modern-day slavery. Like young Nayla of Azerbaijan, ransomed by her mother to traffickers, who was then shipped to Dubai to work as a club prostitute.

No one knows the extent of human trafficking around the world, but many believe able-bodied males are the most vulnerable. A recent UN report, “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns,” noted, “It is men especially who might be expected to be trafficked for forced labor purposes.”

A report issued in June by the U.S. State Department notes that in several parts of the world, boys are forced into pick-pocketing gangs. In West African countries, men posing as Muslim scholars lure young boys away from their parents with the promise of teaching them the Koran. Once removed from their parents’ custody, the boys are turned into common street beggars.

In the Middle East, 2,000 young boys from Bangladesh have been taken away from their families to become camel jockeys in the Persian Gulf states. These boys are highly sought-after because they are the lightest possible riders for races. And when civil conflicts flare up in Africa and Latin America, boys as young as 12 find themselves pressed into military combat.

There are those who would have us believe the misfortunes of women are somehow more compelling and therefore more deserving of human rights protections. That became apparent in 2000 when the U.N. passed its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. What about men?

That bias is also found in the legislation of many countries. According to the Trafficking in Persons report, “In many countries, the laws relevant to human trafficking are restricted in their application solely to women. … In addition, many service providers limit their support and protection only to female and child victims. Thus, exploitation through forced labor is often quite unlikely to come to the attention of those dealing with victims.”

Once human trafficking is defined as a crime that only affects women, statistics become meaningless. U.S. authorities have said up to 2 million women and children are trafficked each year across international borders.

But a 2002 report from the D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute exposed the flaw behind that claim: These “numbers are widely regarded as very conservative because they do not including trafficking within countries, nor do they take into account the trafficking of men.”

Janice Shaw Crouse wrote an article for National Review titled “No Tolerance for Human Trafficking.” Despite its high-minded invocation of the human-rights issue, she devotes not one word to male victims of human trafficking.

Mrs. Crouse makes no mention of the laborers with calloused hands and broken hearts whose passports are removed by their employers and told to work ever harder. No comment about the men ordered to never report the abuses perpetrated against them. Nothing of the millions of Ramans and Michaels around the world forced into lives of destitution and involuntary servitude.

It is high irony that some segments of a movement that purports to advance human rights would deem half the world’s population as less worthy of attention and concern. That stance, morally repugnant and intellectually indefensible, undermines the very notion of human rights for all.

CAREY ROBERTS

An analyst and commentator on political correctness.

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