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Stop Child Trafficking: How to identify/recognize the warning signs


by Sumithra V.Ananthan


It had recently emerged that a day care center operating at two premises in Taman Tasik Puteri, Rawang and Kampung Nakhoda, Selayang had been the hub of a child trafficking syndicate. A police raid had uncovered 21 pregnant women and a newborn baby living in cramped conditions. Investigations discovered that over the past 5 years at least 50 babies have been sold illegally to childless couples.

Whilst we applaud the police force and the raiding party for their swift work in raiding this syndicate and rescuing the 21 pregnant women and infant, relevant authorities need to be reminded that it is the children, who are the victims. We must not re-victimize the children who have been trafficked and must always be mindful to have the best interest of the child and their psychological needs first. Children who have been victims of child trafficking may often display physical and mental signs that need be skillfully and professionally assessed and addressed.


What is Child Trafficking?

Child trafficking is the movement of children for the purpose of exploitation. Trafficking can affect children of all ages. However, research indicates that at the point of discovery, the children are usually 12 years or older. A child is described as anyone under the age of 18 years as defined in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The trafficking process has 3 distinct phases: recruitment, movement and exploitation.

Recruitment mostly involves deception, coercion, violence or being sold by a third party. Recruitment can also include cases where the child goes willingly with the adult or with the approval of the parents in the belief that they are off to obtain a better future for themselves. As long as the child is moved from one place to another and is used for the benefit of the other person and if there is intent to exploit them along the way or at the final destination, the child is a victim of trafficking.

Exploitation shall include prostitution, other forms of sexual abuse, forced labour or services, slavery or removal of organs, forced marriages, illegal adoptions etc.


Why are children vulnerable to trafficking?

The majority of children trafficked are already vulnerable due to lack of education, poverty, few job opportunities available to them or the loss of family support. They become easy targets for the traffickers who recruit them by making false promises of love, marriage, education or opportunities of lucrative jobs abroad.


Why can’t the children escape from their traffickers?

 There are numerous reasons why children do not escape from their traffickers, many are fearful for their lives or believe that their families would be harmed should they escape.

In order to control their victims, traffickers use physical and sexual violence as well as emotional abuse and neglect. Many are raped as an initiation rite or made to watch others being beaten or assaulted. Children are also frequently kept isolated, not able to talk to anyone, kept under neglectful or deplorable conditions, malnourished due to lack of food. Passports and important identification papers are removed from them with threats that they will be in danger if found by the authorities without identification. Furthermore, they may be in a foreign country where they may or may not speak the language.


The impact on the victims of trafficking.

The impact of this kind of violence in the child’s crucial and formative years should never be underestimated. The recent documentary by CNN and Jada Pinkett Smith titled Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking takes a raw look at the human trafficking industry and the lives of children caught in its web and those fighting back against this form of modern day slavery.

Many victims never fully recover from their ordeal and are severely traumatized, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and feel stigmatized for the rest of their lives. Many have hallucinations and believe that they are being watched all the time and feel that they are never truly free from their traffickers. Others may suffer from anxiety or depression and/or a range of physical symptoms.


How can  WE play a role in stopping modern day slavery?

This is a topic that many people find difficult to discuss, acknowledge and/or prefer to pretend that it does not exist in Malaysia but it does, in this country as well as almost every country in the world.

Airports are hubs for human trafficking where adults and children are transported into forced labour or commercial sexual exploitations. Victims are often flown to another country on the promise of a legitimate job, other times traffickers move their victims within a country, to keep them powerless and/or to avoid detection.

We can play a role in curbing this modern day slavery of buying and selling of human lives simply by being aware of the telltale signs that someone is being trafficked.


How to identify the warning signs?

CNN in its recent report highlighted 7 ways to spot if someone is being trafficked  and the signs are as follows:

  1. A traveller is not dressed appropriately for their route of travel.

Victims may be less well dressed than their companions, wearing clothes that are too small or too big for their size. They may not be dressed suitably for the climate they are traveling to and may have few or no personal items.


  1. They have a tattoo with a bar code, the word “Daddy” or a man’s name.

It is important NOT to be dismissive of tattoos simply because many people have   tattoos nowadays. Traffickers and pimps usually brand their victims  with a tattoo  as a sign to other pimps that they own the victims.


3.The victims are unable to provide details of their destination or flight information.

Traffickers employ a number of ways to carry out their crimes without raising suspicion. Traffickers are unlikely to inform their victims where they are being taken to and that way forcing the victims to stay with them especially since the victims would not have any cash or documentation on them to escape.


  1. Their communication seems scripted or there are inconsistencies with their stories.

A traveller who’s story seems too scripted or inconsistent may be trying to hide the real reason for the travel and may sound like they were coached to convey certain information or details about himself or herself.


5.They can’t move freely in an airport or plane, or they are being controlled, closely watched or followed.

Traffickers would usually guard their victims in transit. They will will keep close tabs to ensure that the victim does not escape or alert authorities.


  1. They are afraid to talk about themselves around others, deferring any attempts at conversation to someone who appears to be controlling them

Fear and intimidation are tools traffickers use to control people in slavery. Traffickers often prevent victims from interacting with the public for fear that they may trigger off alarm bells.


  1. Child trafficking

A child being trafficked for sexual exploitation may be dressed in a sexualized manner or seem to be under the influence of  drugs or alcohol. The child may appear malnourished and/or shows signs of physical or sexual abuse such as bruises, scars or cigarette burn marks.

It is important to remember that if you spot a number of these warning signs and suspect a person is being trafficked, do not confront the suspected trafficker or attempt to rescue suspected victims. You should however call emergency services such as Tenaganita’s Hotline number for Human Trafficking at 012-3350512.

Last year, Malaysia was downgraded in its annual “ Trafficking in Persons” by the United States Department of States to Tier 3 alongside North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe citing “limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime” and other problems. This year the United States had removed Malaysia from its list of the world’s worst offending nations for human trafficking. Malaysia has been upgraded to Tier 2 watch list despite opposition from human rights groups and 178 US Lawmakers who say that our country has done little to improve its record. Hence, our government needs to show greater political will in prosecuting human traffickers and protecting the victims if it wishes to remain in Tier 2 next year.

On the face of it, one may wonder, what role can a single person play in combatting a large syndicate of traffickers but at the same time we have also read or heard about success stories of how one person’s efforts was all that it took to save another. The truth of the matter is, no matter how paralysed or fearful we  may feel, we can still take small but bold steps of actually preventing someone from being trafficked. Once you spot the red flag alert signs, just take action. In the meantime, do save the hotline number, spread the message and help end this modern day slavery. The buying and selling of children has to end as we move closer to 2020.


Sumithra is  the Executive Director of Voice of the Children and an ex-lawyer.

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