Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Abduction and Trafficking of the World’s Most Vulnerable

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market", said the leader of the extremist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram linked a video declaring their intention to sell the 276 school girls they abducted on April 14th, 2014 in the Nigerian village of Chibok. The school girls were taken from a secondary school at gun point. The kidnapping of such a large number of school girls shocked the world.

However, what shocked the world even more was the Boko Haram’s proclamation of their plan to sell the young girls on the market. Reports have begun to circulate stating that some of the girls have already been sold to the soldiers of Boko Haram as brides for a price of $12. Other reports state some of the young girls were taken and sold in neighboring countries. If these reports are true, some of these young girls may be sexually exploited, or forced into domestic servitude, while others may be forced into indentured servitude and forced labor. People all over the world are calling for the return of the girls before any more are sold.

Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. It can often be perpetuated by systems and countries that do not have frameworks in place to appropriately identify or respond to human trafficking. According to the 2014 Trafficking in Person Report (TIP), 156 countries out of 188 do not meet the minimum standards set forth under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Out of these 156 countries, 23 countries do not put forth any efforts to comply with the minimum standards under TVPA[1]. These countries’ lack of compliance and action allows human trafficking to persist and remain profitable. Nigeria is considered a Tier 2 country; its government does not fully comply with the TVPA’s standards, in part because the government refuses to pass legislation that require traffickers to receive prison sentences. The government does not address labor trafficking and it does not implement formal training and procedures for the recovery and reintegration of victims. Nigerian gangs often abduct and subject large groups of women to forced prostitution, domestic servitude, and forced labor. Boko Haram is just one example of an organization that has abducted and sold a large number of girls.

Traffickers often abduct the most vulnerable populations, especially those who tend to be forgotten by society at large, such as orphans. Orphans are often targeted because they do not have families. They are often lured with dreams of a better life, a life they often never end up seeing. Instead, they are forced into a life of prostitution and forced labor.

While working for an organization that specialized in assisting incarcerated youth, I came into contact with young orphan girls who were forced to become drug mules or prostitutes. Their captors were violent and merciless. The girls were often beaten, raped, or threatened with abuse. Without family or a support system, they did not have anyone to trust or turn to in times of need.

These children without family ties or support systems possess vulnerabilities that make them susceptible to human trafficking. In some cases, orphans without family ties are sent to an orphanage, but even this safe haven can be exploitative. The Department of State’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report gave various examples of abuse and exploitation that occur within orphanages. In one case, children at an orphanage in Albania experienced sexual abuse by the operator of the orphanage and were trafficked out to pedophiles.

“Scam orphanages” are also becoming increasingly popular in tourist locations. These orphanages house and exploit children by forcing them to pretend to be orphans in order to receive donations from tourists. Parents send their children to these orphanages, unaware of the scam, in hope of a better future for their children. However, the children receive little education and are required by the operators to appear sad and destitute. Scam orphanages take finances and attention away from orphanages that need help. Government corruption tends to be prevalent in areas where most scam orphanages are located. Corruption further allows for these young people to be forgotten and left even more vulnerable.

As a result, orphans – both true orphans and those handed off to pose as them – are often recruited by pimps, gangs, and criminal organizations. Sometimes, it is their caregivers who exploit them. In a world where children are being taken and sold by the dozens, we cannot afford to let a single child go unnoticed and unprotected. As I intern for IOFA, I realize increasingly why advocacy and training on the issue is valuable. It is important to advocate for changes within systems that directly address trafficking prevention and response while providing staff at child-serving agencies with training to help identify the signs of human trafficking and be equipped to appropriately respond.

-Sausha Cutler, IOFA Program Development Intern

[1] Note: While the Tier 2 and 3 rankings indicate that a country does not meet TVPA standards to address human trafficking, the ranking does not correlate to the prevalence of human trafficking in each country.

Cited sources:

“Trafficking in Persons Report : U.S. Department of State Publication 11407”, Office of the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs and Bureau of Public Affairs (June 2007).

“Trafficking in Person Report: June 2014”, Office of the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs and Bureau of Public Affairs (June 2014).

“A Profitable Enterprise”, Retrieved from:

“Boko Haram Could Make Good on Threat to 'Sell' Nigerian Girls”, Mike Brunker (May 2014). Retrieved from:

"Cambodia's Booming New Industry: Orphanage Tourism", Morgan Hartley and Chris Walker (May 2013). Retrieved from:

"Cambodia's Scam Orphanages", Poypiti Amatatham and Thomas Fuller (June 2014). Retrieved from: