“A nation is never really defeated until it sells its women” (Oswald Spengler)
International family law is an emerging area of scholarly interest, policy interest, and legal practice which transcends national borders and deals with such complex issues as domestic violence, child abduction, child support, child labor, human trafficking, child custody and visitation, inter-country adoption, partnerships and marriages, grounds for divorce, property distribution, reproductive rights, abortion, immigration, and complications involving incapacitated family members. It is a relatively new and fast-growing field of international law. There are about twenty-some multilateral conventions governing international family law questions, most notably UN Conventions regarding the rights of women and children, but also of significance are many Hague Conventions (the Hague Conference, formed in 1893, being the preeminent organization for resolving conflict of laws in private international law). A conflict of laws situation is one in which it must be determined which country’s domestic law is to be relied upon, and the Hague Conference still has a long way to go toward harmonization or establishing any kind of worldwide uniform system. As things stand now, most private international cases have their procedural component tried in the state where the legal action is brought (lex fori), but the substantive aspects of the case may be tried by the laws of another jurisdiction (lex causae).
International family law is somewhat weaker than international human rights law, although there are exceptions. Maritime law, for example, is fairly well-developed, mostly due to age-old standards on piracy (which also happen to fuel much of modern anti-terrorism law). Genocide law is also notable for its standards which involve quantitative or formulaic aspects. Human rights anti-slavery laws have also been one of the first things (if not the first) that international organizations have worked long and hard on. Yet, there are many areas under development, or shall we say, nascent (only recently coming into existence), like the fields of refugee law (Musalo et. al. 2001), sex workers’ rights, human trafficking, and child labor. It is probably safe to say that there are more words (symbolic action) than action dealing with these pressing social problems. It is the purpose of this lecture to shed light (and hopefully some organization) on this complex subject area and the complexities of law therein.
Before we get to the most pressing problems, let’s start with the well-known case of Elian Gonzalez. This affair, which occurred in 2000, illustrates well the basics of private international law in terms of immigration, child abduction, parental custody, and the concept of asylum.
The Elian Gonzalez Case
Elian Gonzalez was a Cuban six-year old child at the heart of a custody battle in April of 2000 between his wishes of his mother (who died in the crossing) and the Cuban authorities who demanded the boy be returned to Cuba to the care of his father. Although the case had political refugee overtones, courts ruled that Elian was too young to file for asylum, and in an unusual example of American repatriation-by-force, the Attorney General ordered an INS Swat team to take the boy away from the fisherman who found him (pictured) and return him to his father in Cuba. Relatives within the U.S. could not get the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Cuban claim that only international law could settle the case prevailed on the basis that only the father had legal standing to speak for the boy.
The most pressing issues involve “what” or “where” is the law? They seem like basic questions but are surprisingly difficult to answer. As Stark (2005) points out, “international” family law needs to be distinguished from “comparative” family law. The reason is because a comparative approach is nice if you want to gain insight into seeing how other cultures and societies do things, but an international approach is necessary if you want to uncover the shared or agreed upon norms that everyone sees fit to enforce. Accomplishing the international approach is no small task. There are many societies, Islamic ones for instance, where family law has been basically put in the hands of religious authorities. In other societies, the U.S. included, family law has been basically put in the hands of states, provinces, or sub-national authorities. Still other societies prefer to handle matters such as child support via bilateral treaties. Overall, family law is looked upon as a “private” matter, but it is increasingly having global implications, and globalization is the factor most affecting family law. As any sociologist will tell you, almost everything having to do with families is subject to the widest cultural variation possible, and anthropologically, myths about the family often provide the deepest taboos and customs in a culture. In law school, a family law course is usually mandatory, and many lawyers make their living from it, but few lawyers have any training in international family law, and there is a real shortage, possibly for the pragmatic reason that practice in this field is usually an invitation to lawsuits and malpractice claims. The fields of criminal justice and criminology have regretfully made few inroads into the related problem areas. There is the occasional interest shown in such things as international sex trafficking, but zero to no interest in expanding the corpus of research, say with domestic violence, toward the international context. It is fortunate, however, that there are many private organizations and NGOs involved in this area, and many do exemplary work, especially in the absence of adequate governmental help. On this note, it used to be that international family law was considered a part of “private” international law — the law governing conflicts or disputes between individuals or corporations — but with the rise of the international human rights movement, the lines have eroded and “public” international law — the law of rules and norms governing disputes among nation states — is just as important.
MAJOR SOURCES OF INTERNATIONAL FAMILY LAW
The Hague Conventions on Private International Law (www.hcch.net) comprise the most significant source of law in this area. Since 1951, conferees, consisting of diplomats, plenipotentiaries, and extraordinary diplomats, have adopted 35 international Conventions, and some of the most important ones deal with handling conflicts of law in family law between nations. Convention passed by The Hague Conference are technically treaties, and therefore a source of private international law, but they enter the public arena and become enforceable when each nation-state implements legislation ratifying some domestic law and introduces further legislation to implement a convention’s suggestions. Under international law, a state is also legally obligated to a convention if it has ratified it but not yet passed any domestic law implementing it. From time to time, Special Commissions are held at The Hague to monitor compliance with the Conventions. There is a Secretariat and Permanent Bureau which engages in ongoing research and other administrative matters, and normally a worldwide assembly is held every four years.
Other treaties exist between nations either in bilateral form or multilateral form. For example, the U.S. prefers to handle child support maintenance issues via bilateral treaties with specific nations. Bilateral treaties have as much binding force as the four Hague Conventions dealing with this same subject. Court cases arising from such treaties are to be tried in domestic courts as if the cases involved domestic law, but theoretically, disputes could ascend to hearings in the International Court of Justice. Multinational treaties are typically human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) ratified by the US Senate in 1992 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), ratified by the US Senate in 1977. There are seven major human rights treaties besides these two Covenants (the other five dealing with racial discrimination, discrimination against women, torture, the rights of children, and the rights of migrant workers) as well as numerous other “instruments” in various stages of ratification. All such treaties have as much binding force as each participating state wants to give them. Some states, for example, ratify multilateral treaties with “Reservations” attached. Islamic states, for example, usually ratify such treaties with everything involving “women” exempt.
Another source of law in this area is customary international law. Norms which play a large part here include opinio juris (the conviction or perception that some behavior is or ought to be required or regulated by some law, as opposed to habit or being left to good will) and various conceptions of jus cogens (some higher law which cannot be ignored) involving prohibitions against torture and slavery. It may be significant to note that this source of law is the least recognized source of international family law since many nations simply refuse to see or admit any connections in this regard with torture and/or slavery issues. Enforcement of customary international law is typically a U.N. responsibility involving relatively toothless yet principled declarations, but more enforceable Vienna Conventions exist on many matters which theoretically can throw the matter in the realm of the International Court of Justice.
Finally, there are Regional Conventions which are relevant, most notably three: (1) a European Convention pushing for the rights of gays, lesbians, and transgendered persons; (2) an Inter-American Convention concerned with the rights of innocents during massacres; and (3) an African Charter aimed at combating early marriage and forced child marriage. Regional Conventions are considered part of public international law, and in that sense, call upon the same authority as the U.N. does. Several regions have set up U.N.-like organizations and their own court systems. They add an additional and interesting layer to the structure of international law, and are beset by common problems, most of which involve the scope of territorial powers, or in some cases, conflicts with other aspects of international law. For example, Africa has tried to restrict intercountry adoption whereas a more open approach to this is the thrust in other places.
IGOs and NGOs (International Government Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations) play a large role in international family law. IGOs (sometimes called IOs) are typically U.N. or UN-related organizations like UNIFEM, INTERPOL, or WHO. It is technically correct to use the term “international organization” (IO) for intergovernmental organizations only. International organizations must be established by treaties providing them with legal recognition, and therefore are subject to international law and capable of entering into agreements among themselves or between states. They can be distinguished from mere groupings of states, such as the G-8, which carry no legal authority. NGOs, such as the Red Cross, OXFAM, and Amnesty International are funded by private donations, by international organizations, by governments themselves, or some combination of these. Certain quasi-autonomous NGOs (QUANGOs) may even perform governmental functions. Most NGOs remain strictly apolitical, while others exist solely to lobby governments. NGOs are not legal entities under international law, the exception being the International Committee of the Red Cross which is considered a legal entity because it is based on the Geneva Convention. IGOs and NGOs represent a significant influence on public policy as well as a fast-growing area of employment. U.N. organizations and IGOs have recently gotten in the habit of hiring NGOs as outsourced “contractors” to do their work. Some NGOs are quite wealthy in terms of their budgets, the AARP and Children’s Defense Fund, for examples, but these organizations are restricted to the concerns of U.S. citizens only. Amnesty International and/or Human Rights Watch are perhaps the most well-funded groups operating internationally.
There is much more to the complex area of international family law. For now, we turn, rather abruptly, to the related SOCIAL PROBLEMS which can be seen as pressing and urgent. These involve challenges likely beyond the capabilities of most family lawyers, and in all fairness, have baffled the minds of many authorities, experts, and scholars also. Nothing is implied by the order of presentation; few good policy prescriptions can be mentioned, because there aren’t many; and a non-moralistic attitude should be taken throughout a reading of the following.
MARRIAGE FRAUD PERPETRATED BY TERRORISTS AND CRIMINALS
The first social problem area to be discussed is marriage fraud. Nobody knows exactly how big this problem is, but the scheme normally involves a non-existing marital partner (sham marriage) or multiple partners (bigamy), and is usually accompanied by fraudulent marriage and birth certificates, financial statements, business plans, organizational charts, fictitious resumes, and college transcripts. Since the 1970s and up to the recent creation of ICE task forces, there has been a steady stream of facilitated fraud marriages employed by aliens who circumvent the immigration laws to enter the United States. This sort of fraud has national security implications, and most often involves organized “marriage arrangers” in countries close to the U.S. like Jamaica, Vietnam, and Ghana. Crooked lawyers are also not above getting rich from immigration fraud. The criminal penalty is only five years, if convicted. Terrorists, as well as organized crime groups, have been known to use marriage fraud to embed themselves in a country, and to hide in plain sight (many of the 9/11 hijackers, for example). Once an alien succeeds in acquiring a fraudulent marriage, they are on a fast track to naturalization and may even be able to obtain a sensitive job someplace. Marrying a U.S. citizen is the quickest way to gain the temporary legal status conferred by a so-called green card. According to a GAO Report on Immigration Fraud, each year, about 5,200 immigration benefit applicants are identified as potential national security risks because their “profile” triggers “flags” in other databases. The Center for Immigration Studies has extensive reporting about this problem. Marriage fraud rings exist throughout the world, including the U.S., in most major cities. It is a very lucrative business, with “arrangers” charging fees of about $50,000 per case, and the more organized “arrangers” making millions of dollars a year. As previously stated, ICE task forces are just now (in 2006) addressing the problem. Time will tell exactly how big the problem is.
ANCHOR BABIES, CHAIN MIGRATION, AND BIRTH TOURISM
A second social problem, even discussed, runs the risk of sounding nativist, but is deserving of mention. It’s the problem of anchor babies and chain migration. An anchor baby (sometimes called a “jackpot baby”) refers to a child born in the United States to illegal immigrants or other non-citizens. Under U.S. law (which some scholars say is a faulty interpretation), such a baby instantly becomes a U.S. citizen regardless of the citizenship of the mother and father. The word “anchor” refers to the child’s role in facilitating “chain migration” under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965. The baby becomes the “anchor” of a chain by which the whole family may start receiving benefits from social programs, and by which the family’s members themselves may eventually seek citizenship. The phrase “birth tourism” refers to children deliberately born to women who are only in the U.S. on temporary visas where it is apparent the child’s birth was specifically intended to obtain citizenship. It is a violation of U.S. immigration law to misrepresent one’s reasons for immigration; however, it is not illegal for a woman to come to the U.S. to give birth.
Under the rules of many countries (mostly Asian, some southern European, and a few Middle Eastern countries — see Wikipedia Entry on Multiple Citizenship), both “anchor” and “tourist” babies have dual citizenship until they reach age 18, at which point they must choose one nationality. The holding of dual citizenship is popular for several reasons. One, it tends to sound elitist, and two, it helps the person avoid compulsory military service, if one of their countries has that. Once an anchor or tourist baby turns 21, they become eligible to petition for a grant of permanent residency for their parents. While anchor or tourist babies are coming of age, they are not held to the stricter international student rules for attending U.S. universities and colleges. The infamous terrorist, Yaser Esam Hamdi (of Hamdi v. Rumsfield fame) was an anchor baby born to Saudi parents who were working in the United States on temporary work visas.
CUSTODY, ABDUCTION, AND THE MISSING PRETTY GIRL SYNDROME
Custody, defined as the post-divorce or post-separation living arrangements of a minor, is the area of international family law with the most cultural variation. Not every nation of the world agrees with the Western approach toward joint custody nor the Western concept of “best interests of the child,” nor the Western “tender years doctrine.” Under Islamic law, a divorced mother is typically entitled to custody of boys until age 7 and girls until age 9, and the father is generally considered the custodian of older children. Adoption is generally prohibited in the Islamic world, but is quite common elsewhere, and contested adoptions can be a source of custody disputes. Another interesting cultural variation relates to children born out-of-wedlock. In this kind of case, a custody dispute will usually involve attempting to obtain an acknowledgement of paternity. Some nations, like Sweden, for example (where about 60% of the children are born out of wedlock), have centralized acknowledgment of paternity bureaus. In most nations, however, it is safe to say that many parents avoid custody court battles because it is an area of law where courts judge adult behavior, and nobody wants to be universally condemned as an “unfit” parent.
Thousands of women and children are abducted every year, but the ones who seem to generate a media frenzy (at least in the U.S.) are those who apparently fit media stereotype (the missing pretty girl syndrome) of what constitutes hard news. The abduction of foreign exchange students seems to fit this pattern, but more broadly, the problem of international child abduction is of even more significance. The basic problem is that the laws of each nation are different in critical respects, especially those dealing with the enforcement of foreign child custody orders. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (signed by the U.S. in 1988) attempts to provide a mechanism for recovering children abducted to another country by a parent or family member. The Convention applies only to children under age 16, and attempts to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before any wrongful removal, “wrongful” being defined as without the consent of both parents and “status quo” meaning the place of habitual residence. However, it is extraordinarily difficult to win a case under this Hague Convention, and most parties rely upon diplomatic pressure instead. For example, the case of Yasmine and Sara Pourhashemi in 2004 was only resolved after prime ministers got involved in reaching a compromise between strict, father-friendly Iranian law and strict, mother-friendly Belgian law. Regarding the problems of custody and abduction, the trend in international family law is toward regional conventions. Mediation, or out-of-court counseling and settlement, is also growing in popularity, especially on the subject of child support.
HONOR KILLING, ACID BURNING, AND DOWRIES
It’s probably best to introduce this topic by pointing out the vast range and scope of domestic violence worldwide. It is a global problem which only recently has been recognized internationally as a crime against women (i.e., the 1993 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women). The trend in international family law is to treat domestic violence as a human rights violation, but at the same time, there is ongoing resistance to this trend. Nations, such as Bangladesh and the Sudan, for instance, severely limit the rights of women. Hindu nations, like India, still practice the convention of Satī (also called suttee) where a widow is supposed to throw herself on her dead husband’s funeral pyre. Further, in countries like Jordan, Pakistan, and India, honor killings are somewhat common (a good reference is Wikipedia Entry on Honor Killings). Traditionally, an honor killing blames the woman, not the man, if she gets raped and/or brings dishonor to the family. An “honor killing” may involve different things other than death; e.g., stove burning or acid throwing, but in most cases, it generally involves a matrimonial dispute. To explain, a “stove burning” is typically used by a husband against a wife he no longer wants as a bride. Due to the notorious unreliability of oil cookstoves, it is fairly easy to make a deadly flame-up or cooking fire look like an accident. By contrast, an “acid attack” is typically used by a spurned suitor against women who refuse sexual advances or offers of marriage. The most common substances used are hydrochloric acid (widely available in many countries as toilet cleaner) or sulphuric acid from batteries. Acid attacks are frequently inflicted upon mistresses. The attack usually occurs in public.
Honor killings and “honor-based violence” (Gill 2006) can take many forms, including early and forced marriage, sisters and daughters being sold into slavery, mutilation, and the deprivation of freedom, education, or friendship. There is no adequate cross-cultural definition of the phenomenon. The crimes are generally unenforced by law enforcement in host countries where internal family matters are involved, and the crime looks accidental or suicidal. There is growing recognition, however, that acid attacks are most definitely a form of violence, as well as clitoridectomy, a common practice (especially in Africa) of cutting or mutilating the female genitalia to control sexuality and prevent the possibility of masturbation. Another area of growing recognition involves dowry crime. A “dowry” involves payments to a man by the bride or bride’s family. Dowry is a custom that exists throughout the world, especially in China and India, but also in parts of Europe. When a wife’s family falls behind on their dowry payments to the husband, the custom is that the “honorable” way out of such a marriage is for the man (or more typically, the man’s mother) to douse the wife with kerosene and set her on fire. The crime often goes unenforced especially if it happens in the context where “blood money” is involved, which is money paid as a fine to the next of kin. IGOs and NGOs have been at the forefront of drawing more attention and recognition to these problems.
The extended family system which exists in much of the world has also given rise to problems. Marrying or even dating outside of one’s familial network can bring down violence at the hands of family members. Pakistani courts, for example, have upheld the rights of fathers to kill their daughters in the name of honor if they date a man unapproved of. It is important to emphasize, however, that honor killing is not fundamentally Islamic, although it tends to occur with some alarming regularity among South Asian countries (Abraham 2000; Almosaed 2004), and so far, no international organization has stepped up to the plate to do anything about it. Further, the Muslim argument that womanhood needs to be protected is a barren argument since not only do some Muslim fathers sell their daughters, but prostitution is on the rise in many Muslim countries.
In places like India, Pakistan, and China, being born a girl can be a death sentence. Female offspring are so negatively valued that families go to great lengths to avoid them. For example, newborn abandonment is common in some countries, not necessarily of the indeliberate kind like the chokoras in Kenya and Somalia where both parents have died of AIDS and the children grow up as orphans, but of the deliberate kind where the parent kills the female baby, or as is the custom in India, Pakistan, and China, to employ a hired baby girl killer. Hospitals and doctors in India, Pakistan, and China regularly help out in keeping the baby girl population down by performing (for families) amniocentesis and ultrasounds to identify the gender of the fetus so that the family can then carry out what is called “female-selective abortion.”
LOAN BRIDES AND FORCED MARRIAGES
Narcoterrorists do the silliest things. Take the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example. They rely on drug money to fund their operations, but coalition forces have been trying hard to wean Afghanistan off opium production. Yet, the tribes there continue to harvest poppies (which produce opium) because it is the national cash crop. Farmers in Afghanistan could, if they wanted to, grow wheat, corn, or pistachios as well as tap into significant deposits of copper, iron, gold, and precious gems, but the situation is such that farmers would starve in the harsh winters without stashes of opium easily stored and sold for cash at any time. So, poppy cultivation of opium is part of the survival culture, and the Taliban exploits this by loaning money (about $2000 for every 24 kilos) to farmers in advance of their future crop production. Such “loans” are legal, of course, and include the usual lien against the farmer’s land, but what also occurs is that when the farmers fall behind on their payments, Taliban fighters forcibly marry their daughters as “loan brides.”
The demand of “loan brides” is usually accompanied with the threat of death hanging over the entire family as an alternative, yet even that doesn’t breach terms of contract according to local Sharia law councils, where tribal elders don’t find any problem with reimbursing creditors by giving up daughters. The practice is very similar to the custom in many countries of a dowry being paid to a bride’s father by the bridegroom’s family. Most dowries in Afghanistan usually range between $3000 and $8000, so in the eyes of local law, the price is about right as repayment of a loan with interest. However, there is a big difference between “forced marriages” and “arranged marriages.” Both practices are based upon a rejection of Western notions of love and romance, but a forced marriage is done without consent, and an arranged marriage is done with the consent of both sets of parents. Forced marriages, and particularly the Taliban’s loan-sharking twist on it, are rapidly finding their way into poor migrant communities around the world as a means of economic survival. Already present in much of the world where tribal law reigns supreme is something called “compensation marriage” (known variously as vanni, swara and sang chatti). It involves the practice of forced marriage to resolve tribal feuds. Forced marriage as loan repayment goes way beyond that.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SLAVERY
The U.S. State department annually names several nations to a human trafficking blacklist. Around sixteen (16) nations in all are designated by what the U.S. calls “Tier 3” status which makes them subject to economic sanctions. An additional thirty-two (32) nations are in “Tier 2” status for having made improvements enough to get off of Tier 3 status. Tier 2 status is essentially a watchlist which carries no sanctions, but with Tier 3 nations, the President can cut economic and military aid. The complete list of “Tier 3” countries in the 2007 report include: Algeria, Bahrain, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. Some Tier 3 nations claim their designation as such by the U.S. is politically motivated, and an additional critique against the U.S. involves pointing out that U.S. military bases around the world tend to be attraction points for the trafficking of low-wage laborers, including prostitutes.
Illicit trade in prostitution is a big problem. Naim (2005) estimates that the “underground economy” in the international sex trade generates about $2 trillion a year. It’s a $28 billion a year business in places like Tijuana alone, where women forced into sex work service, on average, 30 customers per day. Sex slaves make up only about 4% of all slaves (of any kind) in the world, but they still constitute a big number (some two and half million). According to sources like the Crime, Inc. TV show, about 18,000 sex slaves are imported into the U.S. every year. According to current international law, the U.N. prohibits any sex worker from being under the age of 18, but the pimps and scoundrels behind the illegal sex trade have gotten very good at producing fake birth certificates and fake ID cards.
Illicit trade is slave labor is a big problem, even in developed countries. Three industries top the list: agriculture; manufacturing; and hospitality or tourism. Agricultural (migrant) workers are the focus of much debate in the immigration arena. The chocolate industry is almost entirely driven by child labor, as is much of the mining for precious metals and the manufacture of designer knock-off clothing. However, it is with hospitality and tourism (the big hotel/motel chains as well as country clubs) where slave labor rears its ugly head. The way it works is that labor brokers or staffing services are hired to find, say, 10 workers for $50,000, for the resort motel or country club. These brokers then go to places like the Philippines or India to recruit workers, obtain temporary (H2B or H2A) visas for them, and then sell them to the place of employment back in the U.S. However, these brokers don’t let go, as they charge exorbitant fees for travel, care, housing, and the costs of recruitment for many years after “placing” them into jobs. Added to the fact that the employers usually short-change them on wages, a worker is lucky to keep maybe ten cents on every dollar earned. There is little that international law (or even domestic law) can do about this problem because the workers are brought into the country legally. The slave labor problem exists by avoiding the attention of immigration authorities.
Trade in humans is third among the top four of illegally trafficked items: drugs, arms, humans, and counterfeit goods. Human trafficking is rapidly becoming the preferred business for international criminal syndicates. The way a trafficker sees it is that this commodity, unlike some of the others, can be “sold” several times. Bribery and corruption often accompany this problem, and victims are often tricked or lured into it, which makes it different from regular smuggling operations where the victims voluntary know what they are risking. Smuggling, by definition, simply involves payment to someone for moving people unlawfully across borders. Human trafficking involves three legal elements: (1) the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of a person; (2) by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability, giving or receiving payment or benefits to achieve consent of a person having control over another; and (3) for the purpose of exploitation. The second element, according to international law, is not relevant in the case of children. The third element, exploitation, usually takes the form of prostitution, although other forms of exploitation exist, such as forced labor, slavery or servitude, and removal of organs (Coonan & Thompson 2005).
Besides poverty, global conflict drives the problem. Women in war zones are often forced into sex slavery by combatant forces, or sold to international gangs (Castles & Miller 2003). Estimates are that one million people are trafficked into the sex industry each year (Farr 2004). Women are the majority of victims, and their numbers include underage girls, whereas boys are generally forced to be child soldiers although there is a sexual exploitation market for boys (Davidson 2005). Such children often come from Asia, Africa, and South America. U.S. State Department estimates are that 80% of trafficked humans are female and 50% of the whole amount are underage minors. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but the U.S. is not immune from it since estimates are that about 14,000 Americans are trafficked every year.
There is a terrorism connection. Traffickers in human flesh often utilize the same routes and networks that terrorists use. From Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur to Sarajevo to Tirana to the brothels of Dubai, prostitutes are often in near-constant contact with terrorists. A terrorist may spot a prostitute, one likely to pass for a European or American, and recruit her to become a suicide bomber. Other times, the terrorist will operate as a pimp. Terrorists as well as intelligence agencies often use prostitutes in deadly games of espionage. Drug addiction is also usually high where prostitution is present.
Traffickers mostly target developing nations where families are desperate for jobs and so poor that they cannot afford things like food and health care. A deteriorating economy, high unemployment, and declining birth rate are all correlates of the problem. Prostitution is a kind of psychic suicide, a death wish if you will, which plagues failed or collapsed states where women have chosen to abandon the traditional role of motherhood. A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women. The French sold their women to the German occupiers; the Japanese to the Americans after WWII; and Russia today plays a key role as both a major source of women trafficked globally for sex purposes and a significant transit country for trafficked persons routed to other countries, such as the Gulf states, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. Iranian prostitutes constitute the latest wave of this phenomenon. The majority of child prostitution occurs in Asia, primarily Burma and Thailand, where some estimates are that at least a third of the prostitutes are children. Glover (2006) reports child prostitution is growing in Latin America, in places like Honduras and Costa Rica (where possession of child pornography is not illegal), Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Cuba. The typical child prostitute is between the ages of 12 and 16, and the average income from just one child sacrificed to the world of child prostitution can support an entire Latin American family.
Sex slavery is a subtype of human trafficking which involves involuntarily becoming a sex worker in a brothel, a bar, or a private home. It is possible, although not common, for a sex slave to simply be a household servant. More typically, it is an entry point or pathway to full-fledged prostitution; i.e., “forced prostitution” although that term is subject to some dispute since not a small number of prostitutes who voluntarily entered the profession claim they were forced into it one way or another. Most illegal brothels in the U.S. are set up to look like normal houses in normal neighborhoods, and the women work there only in daytime or afternoon shifts.
Child sex tourism is a phenomenon that many nations have tried to address, at least all but the two who didn’t sign on to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The pattern here is that “tourists” (usually via organized pedophile organizations) arrange “tours” of impoverished countries (like Cambodia) where children have been “cultivated” (by pedophiles there) to provide sexual services (often for as little as $5) as a means of economic survival. There have been some attempts by a small number of nations (mostly the U.S. and Australia) to criminalize such “tours,” but when the cases go to court, problems develop in getting the child witnesses to testify as well as in obtaining evidence from overseas. There is currently no recognized crime of encouraging the sexual abuse of children overseas, and other than a few high-profile attempts at prosecuting organizers of such tours, there have been few successful prosecutions. UNICEF estimates that there are at least one million child prostitutes in Asia alone. Glover (2006) points out that a common misconception is of the average customer as a pedophile, while the reality is that most customers are simply prostitute users, not pedophiles.
The social problems here have primarily been addressed by nations getting tougher on border controls and tweaking asylum policies, in some cases, providing asylum more easily but in other cases, taking strict action to deport such people, even children, back to their home countries. The United States has issued tough words, but like other countries has yet to even come close to the minimal standards outlined in such U.N. documents as the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been strongly critical about governments are not doing enough. From time to time, the news media will also broadcast critiques. Raising awareness about the many social problems related to international family law seems to be the wisest course of action, but action is also urgently needed.