At Abolishion we say that we “Break the systems that keep people in sexual slavery.” That's not just spin but a carefully worded phrase that represents what we believe.
I've seen how systems don't work. Like the time I went to Moldova and talked with a government department about orphans. There is a UN directive that no child should grow up in an orphanage, here: UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Rather the children should be placed in an approved family home and institutionalized care is only used as a last resort for special cases. The reason for the directive was for children to grow up in a family environment where they could learn normal interactions in society and exhibit attachment disorder.
One of the symptoms of attachment disorder is where a child is willing to attach to anyone who shows them interest. You see this evidenced when volunteers go to an orphanage in a place like Africa and the children hug and hold hands with everyone that comes to visit. Children growing up in a normal home would more likely hide behind their mother when a stranger comes to visit until they know they are a safe person. Children growing up in an orphanage situation usually grow up without any filter of who they can trust and who they can’t, making them prime targets for traffickers.
Most countries in the world have agreed to this directive with Moldova being one of them. But on the ground this looks very different. Moldova has over 12,000 children living in 59 orphanages. After talking with the government department I soon realised that they didn’t have any orphanages anymore. Instead they had 59 boarding schools. In order to meet the directive they had simply changed the name from “orphanage” to “boarding school”. The directive was met but the reason for it is not. Whether it is called a boarding school or an orphanage, nothing has actually changed for the life of the child growing up in this institution. The system wasn’t working.
Insufficient systems don’t just happen in poorer countries like Moldova. It also happens in places you wouldn’t expect, like France. France has agreed to the EU directive on Trafficking in Human Beings to provide benefits for survivors of human trafficking. Yet, according to a social worker at a shelter I spoke with, no one has yet to receive these benefits. To get these benefits is a long arduous process with most survivors opting to go down the route of refugee status to get help instead.
Then there is the problem of who has to pay for the restoration of a trafficking victim. Should it be the country she was found in or the country she is from? The survivor gets caught in a money war that she never intended on being in and often ends up with nothing. Aside from that the court systems are generally not geared to the benefit of the survivor. There are cases where a survivor has been rescued and restored only to find that 5 years later they are still having to recount their painful story over and over again in legal proceedings. By this time she simply wants to move on and leave this difficult past behind her, however the systems in place cause her to relive these memories over and over again.
Justice is much more than having a court system or policies in place. It’s more than having the best intentions. It’s about having systems that actually work. Each of these countries above had things in place to make them look just, but for the person at the end of those policies there was either no change or the situation got worse.
I’m sure that when the UN created these statutes that their intention was not for us to create systems that look good but don’t actually achieve their intended goal. The intention was that the poor and needy would get help that would actually help them. I understand that every system must start somewhere and that it usually begins with a stated intention or policy. We need to make sure we don’t just leave it there and think the job is done. There are people in dark places who need those systems to work.
Looking at systematic change to bring justice can seem huge or impossible at times. That’s why we created a free 30 day email course on how to fight human trafficking. It’s available at www.abolishion.org/how in a number of languages. It will give you an understanding of the issues that cause human trafficking to continue and I hope, a place to start in your own journey to fight for justice.
I focus my time on working with the prevention of human trafficking and ensuring survivors get what they need. But the implication of unjust systems looking just happens everywhere and in many settings. What systems have you encountered that look like they are providing justice but in reality are not? What could you do to bring change and make your community livable again?