The first Asia Region Anti-Trafficking Conference is underway. 200 people from 17 countries.

Chad Dai’s Helen Sworn opened the event with the reminder that the coming days are an opportunity to learn from one another, to share how we have succeeded and where we failed in the fight against human trafficking. At the core of the opening evening was the reiteration of the importance of collaboration and partnership. Alone, no single body will end human trafficking. Only together do we stand the chance of making change happen. 

The four keynotes speakers of the evening explored the role of three vital stakeholders: governments, international organisations and legal frameworks and law enforcement. 

Octavia Borthwick (Deputy Head of Mission) and Michael Odgers (Co-Director of the Bali Process), from the Australian Embassy to Bangkok, spoke of the part Australia and Indonesia have played in establishing and co-charing the Bali Process. Founded in 2002, the Bali Process is a regional forum for cooperation on issues of human trafficking and people smuggling. 42 countries and 3 international organisations have made a voluntary commitment to work together in a state driven effort to reduce the trade in human beings. One practical toolkit they have been collectively developing over the past year is the Money Policy Guide, to trace financial transactions that may be tied with international criminal activity. 

Speaking on behalf of international organisations, Kaori Kawarabayashi, UN-ACT Regional Project Manager, explored both the value of collaboration across the Greater Mekong Sub-Region and the challenges that are still to be faced. Ms Kawarabayashi talked about the definitional issues surrounding what constitutes human trafficking in one country and people smuggling in another, urging everyone to put the needs and human rights of people first. Exploring the drivers of human trafficking across the region, she talked of poverty, gender, cultural acceptance and non-acceptance, the gender imbalance in China, and the lack of regulation of industry, particularly the fishing industry that leaves migrant workers unprotected. Working under UNDP, UN-ACT works to support to governments through COMMIT (Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking) and civil society organisations, as well as partnering with the private sector and increasing the evidence based on human trafficking across the region. 

The final keynote speaker, Dr. Shantanu Dutta from International Justice Mission India, addressed the legal frameworks that are needed to disrupt human trafficking and the role of law enforcement in ensuring its implementation. Dr. Dutta is working with the Indian government to consolidate the existing laws aimed at protecting communities vulnerable to exploitation and at preventing trafficking into one comprehensive piece of legislation. He aims to change how human trafficking is viewed, particularly by those responsible for federal enforcing law at state level. In India, labour trafficking and forced marriage are prevalent, both of which can be culturally engrained and not always viewed as criminal by law enforcement. Dr. Dutta offered the example of bonded agricultural labour which many view as tradition and would not consider human trafficking. As 90% of the trafficking in India occurs internally, Dr. Dutta stressed the importance of a comprehensive legal system, supported by state governments, the police and law enforcement officers, that works to reduce the adverse social, economic and health impacts of human trafficking. 

The resounding themes repeated by all three players in the fight against human trafficking were collaboration and partnerships. STOP THE TRAFFIK’s Fuzz Kitto cited a previous UN-GIFT statistic: 1 million NGOs globally are fighting human trafficking. It is time to work together. Fuzz reminded us that central to all this are people. People are the backbone of every society and only by respecting each as a valued human being can we find a common language for addressing human trafficking.