June 21st, 2011
01:38 PM ET

Kristof: 'We see these girls as criminals, rather than as victims'

One of the strongest voices calling attention to human trafficking has been that of New York Times columnist and author Nicholas Kristof. He talks to CNN anchor Jim Clancy about why the problem has gotten worse.

NICOLAS KRISTOF: Obviously, it has been around all along, but it has indeed actually gotten worse, and I think there are few reasons for that.

One is that we've seen a general shift to market economies, for example in eastern Europe, and as everything else became a commodity, so did young women in countries like Romania, Belarus.

Then, we've also seen in a lot of countries a growing internationalization, growing urbanization. And so you get these, you know, village girls who go to the cities to work as maids, to work in factories, and they tend to get tricked by recruiters who offer them jobs as maids and then lock them up in brothels.

CLANCY: They end up in the brothels and when there's police enforcement, they're often the target, they are the ones who are arrested. And that's not solving the problem at all, it actually perpetuates it.

KRISTOF: That's right. I mean, there are a couple of problems. One is that the whole issue of trafficking is hugely fed by corrupt police.

In Cambodia, I once marched into the very worst brothel ... where they were keeping underage girls locked up in cages, and I marched in with a camera, and - huge chaos.

A moment later, a car rushed up and a policeman walked up to me and handed me his card and said, I'm the owner of this brothel, may I help you, and he ran the criminal division of the local police. And in a number of countries, that is the pattern, that there is real collusion between traffickers and the police.

But the other problem, as you say, is that the pattern is that we see those girls as criminals, even if they're 13, 14 years old, rather than as victims of trafficking. And I think that is just a complete misapprehension of what goes on. I mean, the notion that a pimp is a business partner of a 13-year-old girl on the streets is a complete misunderstanding of that relationship.

CLANCY: There are lessons, aren't there, being learned right now about how you handle these cases, about what is the way forward?

KRISTOF: Look, nothing has worked very well. No policy is perfect. But there seem to be two strategies that really do make a difference.

One is that, the traffickers are businesspeople and they respond to incentives. You throw some of them in prison, you erode their profit margins and they steal cars instead, they pirate videos instead.

And in a number of countries I've seen, including Cambodia for that matter, you've actually seen a drop in the worst kinds of trafficking because the police have begun to throw a few people in prison.

CLANCY: There's also a problem with forced/coerced labor, people held – you know, they're given a small loan, maybe less than a hundred dollars, an entire family could spend 10 years working it off, they never get it paid off. These people are serial victims. Is there a way out for them?

KRISTOF: Well, again, and this is a huge problem in India and Pakistan, for example. And the problem is that society just looks the other way and averts it's eyes. And the moment you do go in and have police rescue those laborers and allow those kids to go to school, for example, it completely transforms the picture.

CLANCY: So many young people around the world are involved in combating this because they say they see themselves as the victims. Young people that have hopes and dreams and cross borders hoping to for that job, they are misled. Do you see something optimistic on the horizon here? Where do we stand today that gives you hope?

KRISTOF: Well, look, you know, in the 19th century, people were able to abolish a form of slavery that was deeply embedded in the global economy, and these days I think it is actually rather more easy to make a difference.

And you look at Thailand, for example. Thailand used to have a vast problem. There is still forced prostitution in Thailand, but it's much more likely, especially involving Thais, to be voluntary. You've seen some improvement in Cambodia - there are a lot fewer 13-year-old girls locked up in back rooms there.

And so, this is an area where it really does seem to me we can see improvement if we just keep that spotlight on it. And I'm just so impressed by young people all over the world who have taken on this issue and figured that it's time to have an emancipation for the 21st century as well.

Topics: In The News • Voices

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Worked in Asia

    Want to very quickly put a huge dent in the global demand for human trafficking/sex trafficking? We should shame the companies in Asia who freely hand out gifts of sexual services to their business guests. Of course, the receiving party's employers deserve public scrutiny as well, especially since a very large number of them are American and European companies wanting to do business in Asia.

    Most of the sexual providers involved are young girls (and boys) and because many of these Asian companies are rapidly trying to globalize, the sex traffickers they depend on can expect a very steady, and growing, source of demand.

    June 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Rgurung

      According to you sounds like Asian companies are the culprit.
      How about the people, pastors sexually abusing US/European kids in their own soil? Don't blame on globalization. Sex trafficking, kidnapping is rise in Europe, Do you think Asian countries are involved in that one too?

      June 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Reply
    • shovelingSNw

      TIME to boycott made in China, and tariff their goods. Until they give up the trade war.

      June 23, 2011 at 10:52 am | Reply
  2. john wiede

    Best idea I've heard of yet: -establish group homes for daughters of prostitutes,it costs only $3 / day to maintain and educate them (in Central America ).You have to remove them from the arena of potential clients !

    June 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  3. Adriane Reesey

    We have much work to do right here in the United States.
    Corruption and collussion with, and of, law enforcement agencies is not the issue here, but instead the lack of education and awareness. These legal entities are the "rescuers", they are the first responders, and they need to understand the issues involved with the complexity of human trafficking victimology.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  4. Linda in Bangkok

    I disagree with Mr. Kristoff on one point: Who, exactly, sees these girls as criminals? Of course these girls are victims. Many, if not most, prostitutes of all ages, everywhere, are victims. And most of these women are misguided, at least for awhile, by viewing their pimp as a lover and protector rather a cold and callous businessman who looks at them as saleable property. The younger the girl, the more vulnerable she can be to a man who preys upon the insecure. By the time the women realize the truth, I would guess that they feel trapped in that life, do not know who to go to for help and cannot visualize life beyond prostitution.

    June 23, 2011 at 2:10 am | Reply
    • Alyssa

      I think there are, unfortunately, people who still see the prostitute as a criminal and not a victim. Prostitutes still get arrested everyday. As you said, most women wouldn't want to be prostitutes if given a choice. It's usually a path they've been lead to through a mixture of force, coercion, and desperation.

      June 29, 2011 at 9:48 am | Reply
  5. Linda in Bangkok

    I should end by saying this seems to become a vicious cycle. By the time a girl or woman wants to leave or escape the odds seem insurmountable.

    June 23, 2011 at 2:15 am | Reply
  6. Songjae Pi

    human trafficking is the serious problem that must be eradicated. plus, i'm so surprised for the fact that human trafficking and modern day sex slavery are so prevalent in 3rd world countries like Cambodia, Nepal and India, etc. however, i got a huge question mark after i read this article. what are the girls, girl's family and human trafficking owners gonna do if they caught up for what they are doing, sex slavery so they can't run that business anymore? the reason why they end up for doing that business should be because they can't do anything other than that. once again, i'm not defending them. however, i think their country should creat more 'clean' jobs for their people so they don't have to end up for doing human trafficking business. i think that should be the number one solution for eradicating this mordern day slavery.

    June 23, 2011 at 7:26 am | Reply
  7. SarahPalin

    If we end sex slavery, where are all my rich republican friends going to have sex with children then?

    June 23, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
    • BT

      Why is that a republican problem? We just saw Weiner, a democrat, engage in internet chats on sex with minors.
      It is a global problem and not a party specific issue.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am | Reply
      • Alyssa

        Weiner did not have sexual chats with minors. He had sexual chats with adults (perfectly legal, if not immoral). He did converse with a minor, but it was not sexual, and that has been corroborated by her parents.

        June 29, 2011 at 9:50 am |
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