Friday 24 July 2009

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Human Trafficking a local concern
By Ron Evans, Grand Chief

The sexual enslavement of women and children is a global human rights issue in our own backyard. Manitobans and Canadians need not look to countries notorious for human trafficking for sexual exploitation, like Thailand, or developing countries, they only need to look at the streets of Winnipeg and other cities, especially those in Western Canada.

The "Stop Sex with Kids" campaign web site explains "sexual exploitation" as "the exchange of sex for food, shelter, drugs/alcohol, money and/or approval. Sexual exploitation is not a lifestyle choice - it's child abuse." Statistics at that site paint a picture of the extent of this abuse on the streets of Winnipeg and Manitoba: there are approximately 400 children and youth being sexually exploited on the streets of Winnipeg each year; 13 years old is the average age that children reported their first experience of being exploited; most (85-90%) of sexually exploited children/youth are female; 70-80% of adults involved in the sex trade were first exploited under the age of 18; most (70-80%) of the children and youth exploited in Manitoba are of Aboriginal descent; and about 72% were in the care of Child and Family Services.

There is probably less understanding of what human trafficking is, and the full extent to which it is occurring in Canada. There is no universally accepted definition of human trafficking, but essentially it refers to the recruitment, transportation and harbouring of a person for the purposes of forced slavery, including the use of threat of force, deception, position of vulnerability, committed without the free and informed consent of the trafficked person. Human trafficking is often referred to as the modern day slave trade, and it is now viewed as a fundamental human rights issue.

A February 2009 United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons found that the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. That same report found that victims are predominantly women and girls; most trafficking is national or regional; and that the Americas are prominent both as the origin and destination of victims in the human trade.

U.S. and Canadian federal departmental reports document that Aboriginal women and girls are at greater risk of becoming victims of trafficking within and outside Canada for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Other research confirms trafficking between Canadian cities, especially those in the west, including Winnipeg, where there are networks.

It is time for Manitobans to become aware of this growing national problem. How many missing women and children are victims of human trafficking?

In Manitoba, the provincial strategy on youth and child sexual exploitation was launched in 2002. At a November 13, 2008 Stop Sex with Kids Awareness Campaign event, and at a Roundtable on Sexual Exploitation of Youth and Children, both hosted by the Province, myself and AMC representatives expressed the need for this strategy to reach on-reserve and for immediate federal action on this issue.

While most of Canada's efforts have been on punitive approaches to those caught human trafficking, public awareness is essential in protecting our most vulnerable citizens from modern day slavery.

I urge all young people to be aware. Human trafficking is not just something that happens overseas. It is here in Canada, and it usually starts with someone you trust, someone who promises you a better life, a new job, a new start. They'll find you in the city and even in a First Nation community. Be suspicious of anyone making you promises that sound too good to be true. Thoroughly check out anyone who approaches you with job offers that are vague-- if you have access to the internet, google their company; get a phone number to call; or quite simply, ask people you know if they know anything about that company. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call the police.

There are ways to protect yourself and those who you love from becoming victims. A growing awareness of human trafficking is critical in the overall effort to preventing human trafficking and stopping sexual exploitation.

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