Friday, February 8, 2019

Modern-Day Slavery, Human Trafficking and What You Need to Know

By Bandak Lul*

"A person might be forced to marry through physical, emotional, or financial duress (dowry, for example), deception by family members, the spouse, or others, or by the use of force, threats, or severe pressure."

Photo Courtesy of the author
In September 2018, INTERPOL ran a vivid story of modern-day slavery in Sudan. In that operation, one hundred victims of human trafficking and smuggled migrants were rescued from criminal networks involved in child labor and exploitation and forced begging in what INTERPOL dubbed “Operation Sawiyan. Many of the victims were coerced into intensive labor, including working in gold mines. Fourteen suspected traffickers were arrested, including twelve women and two men. The victims rescued during the operation, which included 85 minors, were of diverse nationalities, from Eritrea, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and The Sudans (North and South).

And in February 2018, Reuters ran a story of South Sudanese children who were driven away by the civil war, family break-ups, abuse, polygamous practices and neglect onto the streets, into work. Many of these children spend days at one of Aweil’s brickmaking sites, carrying clay cubes up a hill to dry in the sun for less than one dollar a day. The work site is the size of two football fields. The site operator, a 28-year-old Aweilian, stated that the factors that contribute to many of the children working or living on the streets are the conflict and lack of food at home.

Finally, allegations surfaced in February 2018 of the United Nations peacekeeping police unit from Ghana stationed South Sudan having “transactional sex” with local women living in the protection of civilians site. Contributor, Sam Mednick, published the story in Devex media platform in March 2018 illustrating the persistence of continues sexual exploitation in South Sudan by the U.N. peacekeeping police unit, despite the U.N.’s “Zero tolerance” on sexual exploitation and abuse. Although the U.N. stated that the allegations against the 46-member peacekeeping police unit were isolated cases, and that there were no indications that the behavior of the unit is more widespread within the mission, several prostitutes in Juba said that many of their paying clients, “Johns”, live on U.N. bases. Sexual exploitation and abuse are also perpetrated by Aid agencies and staff members.

All three cases illustrate the reality of contemporary slavery, human trafficking. Many people have a limited understanding of the issue of human trafficking due to the hidden nature of this egregious crime. Human trafficking is a pervasive and important global problem. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), about 40.3 million men, women, and children are in forced labor, trafficked, forced marriage, held in debt bondage or work in slave-like conditions today. 

Victims of human trafficking find themselves in situations where they cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. The U.S. Department of State defines the major forms of human trafficking as forced labor, bonded labor/debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and child sex exploitation. None of these forms of exploitation require the movement of the victim for them to be considered a victim. Movement is not necessary as any person who is recruited, harbored, provided, or obtained through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, forced labor, or commercial sex qualifies as a human trafficking victim.

Forced Labor: Involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work.

Bonded Labor or Debt Bondage: Includes, but not limited to, traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed, wittingly or unwittingly, as a term of employment.

Forced Child Labor: Some indicators of forced child labor include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires the child to perform a work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving.

Domestic Servitude: Includes, but not limited to, work in a private residence that creates unique vulnerabilities for victims. In these situations, the domestic worker is not free to leave his/her employment and is abused and underpaid, if paid at all.

Child Soldiers: Involves the unlawful recruitment of children through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Such unlawful practices may be perpetrated by government forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups.

Sexual Exploitation or Sex Trafficking: Includes women and men who have involuntarily entered a form of commercial sexual exploitation, or who have entered the sex industry voluntarily but cannot leave. It also includes all forms of commercial sexual exploitation involving children.

Child Sex Exploitation: The commercial sexual exploitation of children is trafficking, regardless of circumstances. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under the international rule of law. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Terms such as “child sex worker” are unacceptable because they falsely sanitize the brutality of this exploitation.

Forced Marriage: Refers to a situation where persons, regardless of their age or gender, have been forced to marry without their consent. A person might be forced to marry through physical, emotional, or financial duress (dowry, for example), deception by family members, the spouse, or others, or the use of force, threats, or severe pressure.

How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones both in South Sudan and abroad?

We can start by educating and organizing vulnerable communities. Citizens of South Sudan need to be made aware of the menace and the risks involved in situations of human trafficking. Communities need to understand their rights and the risks of trafficking. By understanding their role in the fight against human trafficking, they will be able to organize anti-human trafficking coalitions. Stronger laws against human trafficking, law enforcement trainings, journalistic trainings. 

Legal protection and liberation by the government of South Sudan also need to be considered. Citizens, communities and anti-human trafficking organizations need to advocate for better laws and improved enforcement. The Government of South Sudan and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) need to train police and relevant government officials, as well as journalists so that they can better report on human trafficking. In addition, legal services should be provided to survivors so they can pursue restitution and agitate for prosecution of perpetrators.

If you are living abroad, in North America for instance, you can find more information on how to educate yourself and your community here

The Office of Sex Trafficking at Arizona State University aims to become a central source of research on domestic human trafficking which will inform the decisions made by those who contact victims and perpetrators of human trafficking including law enforcement and prosecutors, educators, medical services and social services.  

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*Bandak Lul is a refugee advocate and human rights activist. He’s a research project director at Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. He may be reached at
Editors Note: The views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not reflect the views of THE PHILOSOPHICAL REFUGEE. For the veracity of the claims in the article, please contact the author.

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