World Day Against Human Trafficking: Must-Watch Documentaries

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Millions of men, women and children are trafficked across borders or within their own communities every year. They work in households and on farms, in factories and on boats, in mines and on the streets, providing cheap labour for mining, agriculture, food, entertainment, and commercial sex industries. They may also be subject to abuse, forced into crime, or recruited for conflict.

Human trafficking has become a multibillion-dollar industry, affecting nearly every country in the world.

Those most targeted for trafficking are female – 72 percent of victims are women and girls, according to the UNODC – while sexual exploitation remains the most detected reason for trafficking. Between 2004 and 2016, the number of child victims more than doubled, the UNODC says.

To mark the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we revisit some of our best documentaries to shed light on the issue. We speak to victims and go undercover to investigate their perpetrators, exposing complex webs of poverty, greed, and corruption.

Malaysia: Babies for Sale

A lucrative, illegal trade is openly advertised on Malaysian social media: Baby-selling.

Malaysia is a hub for it, with buyers able to choose their own baby based on gender, race and skin colour. Some babies are bought by couples desperate to start a family. Others are sold to traffickers and forced to become sex slaves or beggars.

In this 101 East film, we investigate the web of agents, doctors, and corruption that drive the trade.

Lover Boys

A Dutch-Moroccan social worker named Ibrahim is tackling the high incidences of sex-trafficking of young Dutch girls by their so-called “boyfriends”, the Lover Boys, the majority of whom are Dutch-Moroccan.

It is a taboo subject, but Ibrahim and his allies, including a local sheikh, are determined to remove this stain from their community.

This Witness film introduces us to the perpetrators and the victims of this branch of internal sex-trafficking in the Netherlands, one of the biggest human trafficking hubs in Western Europe.

India’s Slave Brides

Decades of gender selection favouring male babies have left some Indian states with vastly more men than women, creating a lucrative and growing market for traffickers.

In the patriarchal and feudal state of Haryana, where there is a shortage of women to marry, it is normal for men to buy young girls who have been trafficked from other states. Known as “paros”, a term implying they can be purchased, they are regularly raped, forced into marriages and made to work as bonded labour.

Their uneducated families are often tricked into agreeing to send them away, lured by the idea of a happy marriage for their daughters. But tragically, there is no “happily ever after”.

Trapped in Yemen

Since 1991, after the collapse of the Siad Barre government, a civil war in Somalia triggered a steady exodus from the country. Somalis regularly flee to Yemen on what they call “boats of death” and are at the mercy of people smugglers as they make the gruelling journey.

An uncertain future awaits them in Yemen: They often live in poverty, struggle to find work, face discrimination and can fall victim to human trafficking. For those who want to escape Yemen for Saudi Arabia, people smugglers will try and intervene and have been known to abduct and torture refugees.

In this 2015 Al Jazeera World film, we hear the stories of refugees at Kharaz refugee camp and others in Sanaa trying to start a new life in the city. We speak to the agencies and officials and confront the smugglers exploiting human lives for profit.

Seafood Slaves

In 2015, evidence of slavery on a massive scale surfaced in the remote islands of eastern Indonesia.

Illegal fishing in Indonesian territorial waters had risen to an extreme level, but many of the Thai fishing boats responsible for this, harboured a worse secret on board. Over the course of a year, more than 2,000 men came forward – they were enslaved on Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters, working for as long as a decade without pay.

Fault Lines travelled to Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand to trace the hidden costs of cheap seafood.

The Organ Traders

Governments around the world have tried to suppress the sale of human organs for transplants. But desperate recipients, cash-strapped donors, and international crime syndicates have kept this illegal multimillion-dollar industry going.

In 2007, police raided a private hospital in Istanbul to find medical staff performing illegal organ transplants. Despite a 10-year prison sentence in 2012, the owner and principal surgeon of the clinic, Yusuf Sonmez, evaded arrest.

In this film, People and Power investigate a network of illegal organ trading in Kosovo, Turkey, and Israel and try to find out why authorities have long struggled to stop the crime.

Brides and Brothels: The Rohingya Trade

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya girls and women have fled Myanmar to escape a military crackdown that started in 2017. Thousands survived rape and the slaughter of their families.

Now, in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, they thought they would be safe. But inside the tents that house almost a million refugees, women and girls are being bought, sold and given away.

In this film, we meet vulnerable Rohingya women and investigate the dangers they still face as people seek to exploit them.

Argentina: Cross-Border Trafficking

The long frontier between Bolivia and Argentina is crossed by thousands of people every day, not all of them following official rules.

The loosely-controlled border allows drugs, goods and people to cross without authorisation, and at night it becomes a no-man’s land, with fewer controls to stop smuggling. False travel documents are also used to help travellers pass through police controls once on the other side.

Minors taken across the border risk exploitation, sometimes going missing as their parents are subjected to forced labour or abuse.

Nigeria’s Baby Farmers

In Nigeria, childless marriages are sometimes seen as shameful – or even troubled by witchcraft. At the same time, single mothers are frowned upon and abortion is illegal. This has helped give rise to some sinister trades.

One is bogus medicine, in which non-certified doctors offer consultations and fertility treatments to childless couples.

But a far more harmful practice is “baby farming”, in which clinics and orphanages sell unwanted newborns to childless couples for cash, skirting formal adoption processes.

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