Human Trafficking v. Smuggling

August 23rd is an anniversary. In 1791 riots took place in Saint Domingue, today’s Haiti, which are said to have launched the abolitionist movement against slavery. While slavery as a legal institution no longer exists, it is not dead and 217 years later it thrives under the practices of human trafficking and smuggling. There is general consensus that trafficking is evil, smuggling is seen as being less so. To an observer like me, there isn’t much difference between the two, yet what does distinguish them is creating a snag in legislating further measures, in knowing what laws to apply when arresting suspects or when taking action against alleged perpetrators. The U.S.has been very active in the fight against human trafficking. For the past 8 years it has been mandated by law to engage in a many fronted struggle at home an abroad. While there are some in Washington who believe efforts should escalate, there inevitably are those who disagree. But the greater problem comes from the Council of Europe convention on trafficking. It went into force this year and 17 countries ratified it, yet it has now stalled because not everyone can agree on the difference between trafficking and smuggling. Smuggling implies consent in some cases, although how informed that consent is is moot, and some say it may not be given were the conditions awaiting the individuals really known. Some smuggled people have their passports taken aways, are paid much lower wages than promised and are forced to work under harsh conditions. Meanwhile, as the war of semantics continues, laws and enforcement are not as strong as they need to be. And yet, one must recognize that as long as trafficking and smuggling are understood as problems, then progress is possible.