Kidnapping and human trafficking – the seamy side of globalisation

By Leah Germain, International News Services

Globalisation has created new opportunities for the transfer of people and products across borders, and broadened the scope of many businesses around the world. But it’s not all good news of course: one of the seamier sides of growing international commerce is the abduction and trafficking of human beings. 

The problem is getting worse. Just over a year since the collapse of the global market, countries around the world have reported a significant increase in cases of the exploitation of people for monetary gain. While cases of kidnapping and ransom continue to be common in African and Latin American countries, such as Nigeria and Venezuela, the majority of organized human trafficking cases are actually in Europe.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced that the number of human trafficking cases has increased dramatically since 2006. In Europe alone, its report estimated there are 270,000 victims of human trafficking, but authorities fear it is only a fraction of unreported cases. The majority of these victims are women who have been forced into prostitution.

Yet the most shocking statistic released by the UN is an estimate that only around one-in-100,000 traffickers are actually convicted for human exploitation. “Perhaps police are not finding the traffickers and victims because they are not looking for them,” said the UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa. “Lives should not be for sale or for rent on a continent that prohibits slavery and forced labour, and prides itself on upholding human dignity.”

Even though most human trafficking cases are in Europe, human abduction and kidnapping have also become a significant problem in Latin America. Recently, Venezuela became the continent’s latest hot spot for kidnappings, with abduction rates higher than both Colombia and Mexico. The country’s most recent surge of kidnappings have been in Barinas, in west central Venezuela, where the abduction rate is 7.2 people per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the country’s interior ministry, the national average is much lower – roughly two kidnappings per 100,000 inhabitants.

Across the Pacific, Nigeria has also witnessed a spike in kidnappings with more than 500 people kidnapped so far this year – a statistic that is up nearly 70% from last year, said a Nigerian federal minister. The majority of the kidnappings occurred in the southeast and Niger Delta regions, probably Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry centres. 

And then there are political abductions. In the Middle East, Islamic extremists have not only made kidnapping for ransom a business model, but in 2008 it was codified it in one group’s unofficial constitution. According to article 18 of the Pakistan Taliban‘s shadow constitution, a “holy warrior who detains a foreign soldier, journalist or aid worker has the right to ask for money or exchange them for Taliban prisoners.” In August, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report detailing the Taliban generates the majority of its funds through criminal activity, with kidnapping being a major source. Of course the public brutal treatment doled out to many victims, such as beheadings on the Internet, only serves to raise the effectiveness of kidnapping in terms of raising money. If such medieval killings are a real risk, then ransoms are more likely to be paid.