Human trafficking is not unavoidable. This statement, which might seem trivial at a first glance, is the grounding principle of the Trafficking in Persons Report, published last month by the US Department of State. “The fight against this modern form of slavery is a battle we can and must win,” said Secretary of State John Kerry during the presentation of the Report, which – he said – is the result of a joint research and investigation conducted by US in collaboration with the governments of other countries around the world.
Italy – the Report reads – is a country of destination, transit and origin for sex trafficking and labor exploitation that affects women, men, and child. The victims of trafficking and violence are mostly from Nigeria, Morocco, Eritrea, China, Albania, and Romania. Children sold to orcs on the streets, often disguised as respectable or even decent people. According to estimations, there are at least 3 thousand children in this situation. The number of children forced into begging escapes calculations. Over 5 thousand children have disappeared, including illegal immigrants who had landed on our shores from overcrowded boats, especially from Somalia, Eritrea, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Afghanistan.
According to data collected thanks to the cooperation of volunteer and non-governmental organizations engaged in reception activities, especially belonging to the Catholic Church, the increase in migratory flows has been accompanied by a growing number of victims of trafficking and exploitation. Asylum seekers are the ones most at risk. In 2015, almost 3 thousand of them were Nigerians. Over 150 thousand people arrived irregularly over the last to Italy and more than 60 percent of them were housed in makeshift facilities. As a consequence, their condition made them vulnerable to abuse and crimes. At least 18 thousand of them were unaccompanied minors.
The “luckiest” children work in bars, restaurants, bakeries, or work in the fields for hours with no rest at all, just like adults, to pay the debt contracted to cross the sea and to send money to their relatives left in their country of origin.
The traffickers in human beings (many of whom are children) are often Italian. Perhaps our neighbors, dressed in suits, apparently nice and polite. Among “normal” people hide those who run the human market and organize sex tourism in Brazil, Thailand, India, and in African countries. The much loved “tools” for the “games” of certain adults are innocent lives, destroyed forever. Hundreds of thousands of children, girls who die every year because of injuries caused by violence. And every year, around the world, according to UN estimates, more than one million children fall victims of prostitution. It is an insult to our indifference, disguised as naivety. We do not see, because we are more comfortable not seeing. We do not know, because we prefer not to know.
Many women are forced into prostitution after being allured to the Beautiful Country with the promise of a job, as waitresses, nurses, dancers, or models. They are immediately deprived of their documents upon arriving to Italy, and are at the mercy of their captors.
Italian law enforcement agencies and judiciary are among the most highly qualified, on an international level, in the fight against human trafficking. However, as stated also in the US report, economic resources allocated for prevention and repression have been significantly reduced in Italy, thanks to the efforts of the NGOs, among other things, funding for which has been reduced. Currently, the funds are 8 million euros.
Among other things, the report “suggests” Italy to take the following measures: improve the identification and registration of illegal immigrants, so as to be able to look for the possible victims of trafficking, especially in reception and expulsion centers; potentiate structures specialized in helping victims, mostly children (including males); find a job for the regular asylum seekers, even before the bureaucratic procedure of application acceptance is completed; establish coordinating services between public authorities and non-governmental operators; invest in sex tourism prevention, discouraging demand among other actions; implement activities and communication campaigns to raise awareness on a national level.
The Italian government can do much more in terms of prevention. A figure responsible for coordination among governmental and non-governmental actors on a national level with the aim of combating trafficking. The relevant victim assistance office received about 3,600 information requests, 610 of which are directly linked to human trafficking. Educational endeavor and the discouragement of the demand for paid sex are certainly a way to prevent and contrast this phenomenon. But it seems that the government is not committed enough on this front, particularly to repressing sex tourism abroad, which affects and causes pain to children. Similarly, more should be done also to fight exploitation and slave labor.
The Report shows a higher number of criminal convictions in Italy over the last two years, but also less commitment of the government to activities of investigations and inspections. Trafficking in persons is a crime punishable under Articles 600, 601 and 602 of the Italian Penal Code. It is different from smuggling, as a crime against the person and not just against the state. There were almost 4 thousand “suspects” in 2013 and less than 3 thousand in 2014. Besides, in 2014, 169 people were sentenced for human trafficking, and the condemnation of 184 traffickers was confirmed in the Court of Appeal.
According to a Directorate General of Statistics and Organizational Analysis of the Ministry of Justice report, an average of 200 complaints of crime are recorded every year in Italy, in the registers of the Judge for preliminary investigations, and 30 more in the registers of the Senior Criminal Court. More than 70 percent of them concern enslavement.
At present, the data available to the Italian law enforcement agencies make no distinction between sexual exploitation and forced labor. Nearly 2 thousand agents have been trained on purpose. The Department for Equal Opportunities assisted 800 victims in 2015, an almost equal number to that of the previous year. Adults have had a six-month extension of a residence permit, if enrolled in training programs. Minors were provided with a residence permit valid until their coming of age. 324 temporary residence permits were granted for the victims of exploitation in 2015. Yet, it seems that despite the fact that the law protects those afflicted by abuse and violence, many migrants who had fallen into the traps of trafficking, unidentified, were treated like illegal immigrants.