Human trafficking is a global problem. Each year, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are exploited in human trafficking schemes. These victims are modern day slaves. They are trapped in lives of misery, often beaten, starved and forced to work as prostitutes or to take grueling jobs as migrant, domestic, or factory workers with little or no pay. It is a grave violation of human rights, and the victims that fall prey to traffickers can be shipped around the world, where they find themselves surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language without identification documents, fearing for their lives and the lives of their families. Almost every country is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or endpoint for victims.
What is Human Trafficking?
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
- Worldwide, there are 27 million people in modern-day slavery.
- 1 million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year.
- 80% of transnational victims are women and girls.
- 161 countries are identified as affected by human trafficking.
- The total yearly profit generated by the human trafficking industry is $32 billion, with $15.5 billion made in industrialized countries.
The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and Virginia Tech
The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program provides ten months of non-degree academic study and related professional experiences in the United States. Humphrey Fellows are selected based on their potential for leadership and their commitment to public service in either the public or the private sector. The Humphrey Program fosters a mutual exchange of knowledge and understanding about issues of common concern in the United States and the Fellows’ home countries. The Program offers Fellows valuable opportunities for leadership development and professional engagement with Americans and their counterparts from many nations. More than 4,000 men and women have been honored as Humphrey Fellows since the program began in 1978. Approximately 200 Fellowships are awarded annually. Eighteen major universities in the United States host Humphrey Fellows. These host universities are chosen for their excellence in the Program’s designated fields of study and for the resources and support they offer Humphrey Fellows. Fortunately, Virginia Tech has been a host university for many years, and it is because of this amazing program that we were able to meet with Hussein Hajj. To be selected for this program, Hussein was required to have an undergraduate degree, a minimum of five years of substantial, full-time, professional experience, limited or no prior experience in the United States, demonstrated leadership qualities, a record of public service in the community, and strong English skills. As a host university, Virginia Tech allows for the Fellows to partake in specialized non-degree, interdisciplinary programs for a diverse group of people, and this is why Hussein is at this institution. It offers him unlimited resources in order to research human trafficking throughout the world, and our university provides specific programs that allow him to further his knowledge. As a research institution, Virginia Tech not only offers specialized learning, but supplies a greater variety of assets that benefit Hussein and his research to create a universal definition of human trafficking and explore the infrastructure needed in order to prevent human trafficking in Lebanon. Simply put, Hussein is at Virginia Tech because the institution provides him with the necessary resources to further his knowledge about human trafficking while a majority of other colleges cannot. It is because Virginia Tech is so adept at fostering international relationships and recognizing the potential impact of the Humphrey Fellow’s research that Hussein believed our institution was the best place for him to learn how to combat human trafficking in Lebanon.
To learn more about the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program please visit the website at: https://www.humphreyfellowship.org/
Why We Care
In the United States, we are fortunate to have the infrastructure needed to battle this growing global problem. But in many countries, including Lebanon, this is not the case. Hussein Hajj, a Humphrey Fellow who works for the Interior Ministry and who we have conducted three different interviews with, has put his life on hold in order to research the definition of human trafficking and to figure out the most effective way to implement the resources needed in order to protect those that have been affected by this rising problem. His research has the potential to change the way human trafficking in Lebanon is defined and to change the way it is being combatted.
In 2008, a project was published by the Ministry of Justice in Lebanon, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and with the technical assistance of the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen the legal and law enforcement institutions in their ability to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings in Lebanon. The report assessed the trafficking situation in Lebanon and the adequacy of existing legislation on trafficking in accordance with its obligations under the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons. This assessment was the first in the country and is part of Lebanon’s anti-trafficking efforts.
The problem of trafficking in Lebanon is not easy to asses. The government of Lebanon has a poor record of prosecution of traffickers for domestic servitude or commercial sexual exploitation. While the Lebanese criminal code does have laws that pertain to each criminal activity in a trafficking situation, the country lacks specific anti-trafficking laws. While it is believed that trafficking crimes are prosecuted under various statutes, enacting legislation to create a criminal offense for trafficking may not change the behavior of the judicial system unless sufficient training is conducted to demonstrate the process and benefits of using the new criminal provisions. Additionally, the current law does not define the victim of trafficking in persons, does not consider the acts which he or she was obliged to commit as nonpunishable, and does not mention any special measure in order to protect the victims of trafficking in persons and the witnesses.
The main areas of recruitment in Lebanon for human trafficking involve employment, where employment laws make migrant workers, female artists, and children most susceptible for this crime. Migrant workers who come to Lebanon must sign a contract with an employment agency in their country of origin and sign a second contract in Arabic, a language that they do not understand. Because they must sign this contract in order to stay and work at their new position, they may be under duress. Additionally since they do not understand Arabic, the second contract may not contain the same conditions as the first. This second contract is considered valid and binding in Lebanon. While the sponsor has obligations regard the domestic worker, the employer is able to control the domestic worker’s freedom of movement. Secondly, female artists from Eastern European countries who are poor, underprivileged, range from 19 to 28 years old are lured to the country with promises of higher incomes through modeling or dancing contracts. Then these women do not work as they were intended, working in nightclubs, massage parlors, and other adult clubs. Thirdly, children who are poor, influenced by the economic growth that has resulted in an increased demand for cheap laborers, are vulnerable to human trafficking. The poverty these children are experiencing creates a desire for a better life. Combined with the lack of education opportunities, overcrowding, and family disintegration, many children, particularly in rural areas, take jobs at a young age to help in household expenses. Poor children seek employment in industries, which often puts their safety at risk. Moreover, girls who seek domestic work are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.
Talking with Hussein Hajj
Hussein Hajj’s main goal in becoming a Humphrey Fellow is to research four specific factors that combat human trafficking and allows for the Lebanese government to start developing detailed human trafficking laws. He stated that the most important factor is not only constructing a definition for human trafficking, but understanding the details of these definitions. Hussein said that every country has a different definition for human trafficking. He gave us an example of what this entailed, using organ selling as an instance in which the definition of human trafficking becomes important. If a person is alive and selling their organs, is it human trafficking? Are they doing it freely or are they under force? If it is not considered human trafficking in a particular country, does it mean that it should not be included in the description of human trafficking? Therefore, the definition of human trafficking on a universal scale becomes necessary in order to get rid of ambiguity. The second issue Hussein is studying is the implementation of civil associations, which are defined as the aggregates of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens. Hussein is studying how these associations work, what is their foundation, how did they get this foundation, how they protect victims of human trafficking, and what is the relationship between the associations and governmental departments that deal with human trafficking. By understanding how civil associations function, Hussein will be able to propose a structure that will further progress Lebanon’s mission of combating human trafficking and protecting its victims. Thirdly, Hussein is studying the feasibility of establishing health clinics specialized in treating victims of human trafficking. According to Hussein, Lebanese doctors have no experience treating these victims. Therefore, he is attempting understand what types of training methods should be used in order to treat these victims, how such a clinic would function, what would be the cost of such an institution, how the clinic should be run, and what the relationship between the clinic and the government should be. Finally, Hussein is researching how the police should act and investigate cases of human trafficking. Currently, Lebanon does not investigate the crimes of human trafficking, and therefore, victims have no place to turn and doctors, when they have experience in treating victims, have no place to report the abuse they see. Hussein, stating that the development of police training is the second most important aspect of his work in the United States, will be traveling to St. Paul, Minnesota in late July to early August to gain hands on experience and learn what training would be necessary in order to accurately prepare Lebanese police in dealing with human trafficking.
To Hussein, these four specific areas of research are important because Lebanon is unequipped to deal with this rising global problem. The Lebanese government does not have any departments that handle human trafficking, and due to the lack of anti-trafficking laws, the government does not do anything about these issues. Hussein states that one of the main reasons the government is unwilling to stop human traffickers is because they have no place to put the victims if they were to rescue them. Lebanon’s lack of infrastructure means the country does not have orphanages, clinics, and women’s centers that could help victims recover from their traumatic experience and provide them with the resources they need to recover and be well cared for. Therefore, the government is reluctant to help the victims and invest in these necessities because the Lebanese governmental structure would have to be overhauled and remade. Not only would the governmental structure be restructured, by the court system would have to reflect this government renovation. Hussein described that in the past two years the government has arrested between ten and twenty people total for human trafficking compared to the United States arresting one hundred and eighty-five. However, the court system did not punish these people for their crime. Hussein says hopefully his research can change the way human trafficking is handled in Lebanon because something needs to be done about it.
Additionally, Hussein explained that not only migrants, female artists, and children are at a greater risk for becoming victims of human trafficking. He explained that in Lebanon, housemaids are also extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. Hussein states that in the Lebanese culture, many people have maids from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh that live with them and help run the household. Under Lebanese law, employers are obligated to allow the housemaid to have one day off. However, many times the employers do not authorize the maids to take time off and therefore; she is subjected to forced labor. Moreover, because she is surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and does not speak the language, she does not know how to obtain assistance, nor does she know how to report her subjugation to the police. She is extremely vulnerable and unable to receive the help she needs.
Hussein also explained that women and children are the biggest victims of human trafficking. Hussein explained that many women in Lebanon are being lured, captured and forced into commercial sexual exploitation and prostitution. Traffickers trick women by offering them employment opportunities in Lebanon. Then, once they are in the country, they are forced into modern day slavery, becoming prostitutes against their will, and being used as sexual objects. He also said that the biggest issue in Lebanon in terms of human trafficking is the exploitation of children. Hussein claims that the civil war in Syria is leaving hundreds of children orphaned and alone. This abundance of children, with no place to house them to ensure their safety, protection, and well-being, makes them extremely vulnerable to traffickers. Hussein states that commonly, traffickers hurt the children, such as blinding them or breaking bones, in order to get disability payments by the government. Traffickers not only hurt children for disability, but also to ensure that those children who are handicapped have a better chance of receiving more money when they are begging in the street. Not only are these children exploited and abused, they are also forced to perform sexual acts and enter into the world of prostitution in order for traffickers to receive more money from the exploitation of their parentless young victims.
Hussein’s goal is simple, he wants to gain knowledge about the practices and departments that are in place in the United States to prevent human trafficking, learn about other non-governmental institutions that work in order to combat human trafficking, and to create a universal definition of human trafficking. When he returns to Lebanon in a year and a month, he hopes to create the infrastructure needed in order to help the victims of human trafficking and help reduce its prevalence in Lebanon by creating orphanages and clinics, and by training police to handle human trafficking related crimes. While the Lebanese government states that human trafficking is a small problem, Hussein argues that the only way human trafficking is small is if the government ignores it. By building these safe-zones for victims and ensuring their safety, on top of introducing proper training to doctors and police officers, he hopes to resist human trafficking and protect Lebanese citizens from its traumatizing effects. Hussein’s research has the potential to redefine the way human trafficking is being managed and operated in Lebanon.
The world is a big place, and there are a lot of people in it. Every one of those people has an impact on the world as a whole, and every one of them has a slightly different perspective. Unfortunately, humans do not always take the time and effort necessary to understand the perspectives of others. If we do, these efforts are often focused on individual pockets of culture. However, history helps us understand that cultures impact one another and what one group does will affect another. There should be, then, an effort for individuals as members of this world to become educated about the inhabitants with whom we share it. This type of education has incredible value as we have really begun to understand following our own exposure to it. By meeting with the Humphrey Fellows and Hussein in particular, our understanding of the world and how to learn from it has grown. This experience has expanded our knowledge of language, culture and world interaction.
Because the Humphrey Fellows program is for the purpose of improving the fellows’ English, we were expecting for communication to be difficult. This proved true to an extent, but it actually was more rewarding than anything else. Speaking with Hussein helped us be more aware of what and how we were speaking. Being able to understand what someone else is attempting to communicate is the first step in learning from them. For all of us, it took more diligence and care to communicate effectively. However, Hussein was also very proficient in speaking English because he had already learned it previously and his wife is an English teacher. In addition to his native Arabic and English, he also speaks French and a little Spanish. This multi-language ability is something that his nation embraces. This ability to communicate with many different people is an important ability when attempting to understand the world. It would be wise for all of us to take the time to learn new languages so that we might improve our understanding. The significance of understanding languages is certainly one of the most important takeaways of being able to meet with Hussein and the other fellows.
Another significant part of this experience was the opportunity to learn about culture. It was a lot of fun just discussing aspects of American culture that are different and similar from Lebanese culture. For instance, Lebanon has many of the same fast food chains as the U.S. but according to Hussein the taste of the food is different. Also, the sport of basketball is very commonly played in Lebanon. An interesting difference came up when talking about career paths. Hussein joined the Lebanese security force because it was his dream since childhood to be like his father. He found it strange that, even though Chris’s father was in the military, he did not want to do the same thing. For us, learning even just a bit about the culture or the geography of Lebanon from Hussein was new. But for Hussein, this type of cultural exchange was normal as many Lebanese go to the United States and share their experiences and the culture they learn with those in Lebanon. This is a model that many in the world would do well to follow and one that I found very rewarding.
The final and main takeaway from this experience was learning more about how the world interacts. Hussein is in the United States so that he can learn more about how to stop human trafficking and then implement his learning in Lebanon. This effort is a clear demonstration of how different peoples are coming together to help influence the world as a whole. Acknowledging this is important to fostering even more world interaction. However, the point at which this becomes real is when we actually put this interaction into practice. For Hussein, this has meant committing to studying in the U.S. as well as traveling around the world whenever he has the opportunity. For us, the first small step was in speaking with Hussein and learning a bit more about a big world.
Obtaining the opportunity to better understand how the world works and how best to interact with its people is important. Even just a little knowledge about another culture or individual is useful as we found out with Hussein. Learning about how to approach language and culture through conversing with someone of a different language and culture was interesting and important. Learning about how the world interacts was an important step towards being a part of this interaction. Being able to meet Hussein has been an incredibly valuable experience. We have learned much about how the world works. While the world may be big, reaching out and interacting with our fellow inhabitants helps us to better understand and shape it for not only ourselves, but the future generation.