Human Trafficking, Armed Conflict And The Demonisation Of Young Boys and Men

When we think of modern slavery, we think of Hollywood blockbusters such as Taken or 12 years a Slave, which use certain aesthetics to appeal to their respective audiences and their emotivism. The indisputable significance of media entertainment surely bridges a gap of information literacy by attracting people who might want to find out more about certain social justice issues of the past and present. However, complications arise when the media’s illustrations of social justice issues are not as nuanced as reality. For example, in part thanks to the media, we associate “victim” with women and girls just as often as we make associations of “offender” with men and young boys, yet men and boys can also be victims. These are some of the implicit biases or underlying stereotypes that hinder our society from achieving equality. Modern slavery is a common threat within our global community — not only by way of the crime’s obvious violation of human rights, but also via the additional threat it poses when it comes to national security and the international crimes of terrorism and armed conflict.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) reminds us that in 2016 an estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children were trapped in the cycles of modern slavery. We are confronting an epidemic that sees the lives of those in the human trafficking industry devalued in a gruesome manner. However, despite the crime’s pervasiveness, we still fail to understand the in-depth causes of the crime.

Understanding transnational organised crimes, such as human trafficking and the extensive role it plays in defining victimhood, would mean understanding their hybrid relationships with terrorism networks. According to the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Security Council Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), human trafficking as a terrorist tactic is practiced by various militant groups to achieve strategic objectives. The objectives are aimed to decimate certain communities as well as institutionalise sexual violence — like, for example, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’s targeting of the Yazidi.

Militant groups have used human trafficking to forcibly recruit children and further the legacy of their representative organisations. As the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Security Council Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) confirmed, victims are usually trafficked, recruited, indoctrinated, and trained to fight alongside terrorists who have more experience in the group. Young boys and men account for a high number of child recruitments in terror organisations, in which they find themselves used as child soldiers, suicide bombers, human shields, cooks, and messengers. Young girls and women are often forcibly recruited alongside their male counterparts.

Sexual violence, similarly, is a rising concern among boys and young men trapped into these circumstances, as highlighted at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Sexual violence, whether targeting male or female victims, is usually centered around the empowerment of the offenders and the disempowerment of the victims. Victim-centered approaches to combatting trafficking therefore play a significant role in how we deal with victims of human trafficking.

Legal frameworks, media, and society rarely recognise boys and men as victims. Instead, male victims are met with stigmatisation from communities and entities involved. Ian Bradbury, Founder of The Lost Boys of the 21st Century, an organisation that addresses the reintegration of male youth victims from conflict areas, spoke about the importance of rehabilitating young boys and men from traumatic experiences. Bradbury emphasised in his TEDx video that male victims are often rejected from post-conflict rehabilitation programs that are centered around the wellbeing of girls and young women. It is because of such a phenomenon that the cycle of violence continues, and the weakened male victim is more likely to become a perpetrator at a later stage. The burden of not recognising young boys as victims and perpetuating stigma is detrimental to progress in the field of human rights and equality-centered approaches.

There is a growing recognition of male victims caught between the nexus of human trafficking, terrorism, and sexual violence; however, more needs to be done to implement measures to ensure gender bias is not prevalent in our fight for equality. Evidence indicates detailed consideration for both genders needs to be at the center of our approach. Data surrounding the prevalence of human trafficking, sexual violence, and terrorism in the context of young boys and men remains underreported and misunderstood. Therefore, resources need to fill the current disconnect that permeates the fight for human rights.

Written by: Thobeka Gigaba

Published: Human Rights Pulse



Thobeka is a South African Human Rights Peace Activist. Featured in NewsWeek, Norwegian Human Rights Fund, Womens March Global, PRI

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Thobeka G.

Thobeka is a South African Human Rights Peace Activist. Featured in NewsWeek, Norwegian Human Rights Fund, Womens March Global, PRI