Trading Women: Dispelling the MythsAngelina Jolie, Goodwill Ambassador to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Dr. David Feingold, International Coordinator for HIV/AIDS and Trafficking, UNESCO; John Miller, Office for Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State
Remarks to the Secretary's Open Forum
May 25, 2004
Opening Remarks and Introduction
When I was invited to work on "Trading Women," I admittedly knew very little about this subject. I had experience in Cambodia, but I was less familiar with the problems in the highland minorities. In the course of working with David Feingold and Dean Slotar on the film, I became more aware of the complexities of the trafficking problems in Southeast Asia, in particular the underlying issues of human rights and economic development.
The threat is not only to girls and women directly involved, but also to the cultural and physical survival of societies as a whole. And my work as ambassador for UNHCR has allowed me to see first hand the vulnerabilities created by war, depression and economic displacement. Under such conditions, it is easy to see how women and children are the most exposed and vulnerable to exploitation.
While working in Thailand, I had the opportunity to visit the Thai-Burma border displacement of persons camp. These camps hold Karen refugees, but many of the others -- the Shans, Aka and Lahu who had fled fighting and forced labors were outside of these camps. And these girls are in groups that are more likely to be trafficked. As many in this room know better than I, the problem is not limited to hill tribes or even to Southeast Asia. Human trafficking, whether it's sex, sweat shops, agricultural slavery or domestic servitude is a worldwide problem. And my work with UNHCR has taken me to refugee camps all over the world, and it's easy to see how displaced persons find themselves victims of trafficking. Their communities have been broken, they are separated from their families, and their overall desperate living situations leave them just so open to being victims of traffic.
Last month I visited a detention center in Arizona where asylum seekers are being held in the U.S. I learned that many of them had been victims of trafficking. And I guess in some strange way, ironically, they are the lucky ones, because even though they are not detained in prison-like situations, and going through a very complicated legal process, many of them without the benefit of a lawyer -- so I don't know how they even get through it -- they may have actually, even through all that, that they're going through now, they've escaped possibly something even worse, which would have been their life as a trafficked woman.
But I wonder if under the U.S. law, designed to protect these victims of trafficking, we cannot develop better solutions that do not, as Carol Bellamy said in the film, hit the victims twice. Trafficking survivors should not have to then become survivors of our system as well. Moreover, internationally we must not fall prey to this notion that the civilized only care about their children. We are fortunate in this country. We have found freedoms for ourselves. We can stand up and demand that our human rights are not violated. And many people do not have those freedoms, and this lack of freedom and opportunity is what forces people to make these choices that they should not have to make.
Traffickers frequently do horrible things for which they should be prosecuted. The trafficking will not be stopped simply by putting these evil people in jail. If we truly want to end the cycle of abuse and exploitation, I am sure that is what all of us in this room certainly want to do. We must attack the underlying causes. We also must not limit our concern to sexual trafficking. And here let me try to not cry, and make a personal observation based on my experience in Cambodia.
According to research by the U.N., the majority of trafficking from Cambodia is not sex, but children for begging. And those of you familiar with Bangkok may have seen these kids on the streets, and they're sitting on the steps in their sky trains, and they're begging for coins, sitting in the heat and the population. They're exposed to health risks as well as physical and sexual abuse. And I think I'm particularly aware of these children because many of them are the same age as my son, who is not yet three. But -- and I also by some accident of fate -- he is safe, but he could easily, easily been one of these children. And clearly I'm sick of the thought.
But there are also those people that believe that only the children of bad parents end up like this. But there are good and bad parents in Cambodia, as well as America. Many of these kids are orphans from broken homes, their parents have died of and HIV/AIDS, they come from extreme poverty where the parents are simply, if they are alive, unable to give them any food or any shelter. There is this other horror: young boys trafficked onto fishing boats, enslaved for two years or more at sea, and according to international research mortality runs a rate of 10 percent. Commercial deep-sea fishing is dangerous -- especially if you're young. However, there are reliable reports that children who fall ill and are not easily treated are thrown overboard.
So what can we do? I have a voice that I will actively lend to this cause, but the real experts are sitting in this room: the government, the United Nations, the NGOs. You're on the front lines, and we're relying on you. I think we should all want to make sure that at the end of the day we have done with our lives what we could to secure human rights around the world, to know that we have done what we could to stand up against injustice. And today we have a chance to do that. And I'm looking forward to hearing all of you speak, and learning more about what I can do. Thank you very much. (Applause.)