By KRISTINE DE LEON and B.TUNGALAG
For many of the young girls out on the streets — confused, terrified and trapped in dysfunctional relationships — getting out can be a matter of life or death.
The UB Post recently published a striking report of human trafficking cases in two cities along the Mongolian-Chinese border. The human trafficking network is a protracted, ugly human tragedy. The director of Talita Asia, an anti-human trafficking NGO, who works directly with victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, describes the stories of individuals who were forcibly kept from using protection during sex and acquired an assortment of infectious diseases. Given aliases by their authoritarian pimps, young women become anonymous, indistinguishable to their clients.
According to N.Tserenchunt, the director of Talita Asia, “Human trafficking is one of the most dangerous crimes currently, and it is not necessarily about selling human beings abroad.”
In N.Tserenchunt’s opinion, “Human trafficking is slavery, and human trafficking and prostitution are inseparable issues,” which is why their organization doesn’t like to use the term “prostitute” to refer to women who use their bodies in order to earn money.
“In general, human trafficking is smuggling people, but it’s totally different from smuggling. We met lots of victims of human trafficking. People think perpetrators smuggle women for sex service. There is violence behind human trafficking and all the crimes against human rights related to human trafficking,” the NGO director added.
“These women didn’t choose to be prostitutes voluntarily. Women who become victims of sexual violence during childhood are selling their bodies because they think that their bodies were violated and [abused] already — that’s why they think prostituting is an easy way to make money,” she explains.
Women, men, and children are all equally likely to become victims of this crime, through various means.
“Girls aged between 18 and 25 have the highest chance to become victims. Also, we are aware of many girls that come from the countryside to Ulaanbaatar in order to study in university that become victims. Also women and girls, whose family facing economy crisis, have become victims because they need to do a job for the family and started seeking a job.”
“People can be victims of human trafficking and prostitution though social media, especially Facebook,” N.Tserenchunt warned. “We don’t know who is behind a Facebook user. We don’t [know for sure unless] that person puts his/or her actual name of profile picture on Facebook. Lots of girls became victims of human trafficking through Facebook.”
“Some girls are being sent to mining towns, especially in Govisumber Province. There are so many male workers in mining towns. I heard that there are so many girls prostituting themselves in mining town in Tsogttsetsii soum. Some of those girls go there voluntarily and some are forced. Girls also get transported abroad,” she explained.
In her opinion, “Traffickers are smuggling girls to local customers more than foreigners.”
Talita Asia longs to reach out to those who are still imprisoned in the revolving door of sexual exploitation. They are one of the few NGOs that are willing to tear down the walls of silence and offer these victims the hope of freedom that can break them of their shackles. By working directly with victims of human trafficking, Talita Asia is a place where victims can slowly begin to heal, trust, and reinvent themselves to return to society to make positive contributions.
The massive complicity of the country’s elites is equally jarring. N.Tserenchunt claims that immigration, customs, police, army and even foreign embassies are part of Mongolia’s human trafficking network.
“Traffickers or perpetrators can sell one person as many times as they want and prices are different. They earn so much money. I don’t know exact numbers. According to research, perpetrators can earn more than one million USD from human trafficking in one year. But I think they can make more money than this.”
While the National Policy Agency and the United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report – Mongolia has provided some statistics on the human trafficking in Mongolia, according to N.Tserenchunt, “We don’t really have any statistics in Mongolia. In fact, I don’t believe in the statistics. I think the statistics are not true. There is a lot of hidden human trafficking business in Mongolia and all over the world.”
Over the last several years, a national advocacy community has emerged to combat the abuses N.Tserenchunt describes.
At first, the movement against human trafficking grew reluctantly. In 2007, Damien Dawson, the British photojournalist and filmmaker who previously wrote for The UB Post, was one of the first to publicize the crime of human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in Mongolia in “Graves of the TV District”. Despite the public attention, the dividends of anti-trafficking advocacy are unclear. More and more countries criminalize trafficking, but these new laws have led to relatively few convictions, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the international agency that monitors global trafficking trends. Anti-trafficking campaigners attribute these results to insufficient resources. To disrupt trafficking networks, advocates caution, national and local law enforcement need more staff, better technology, and better intelligence.
“In Mongolia, the human trafficking business is becoming more organized,” said N.Tserenchunt. “Groups of people do business together, forming networks.”
More worrying facts are what she described next. “There are so many influential people and high-position people behind this business,” she says.
If such corruption in Mongolia is the case, defending human rights is a resource-poor practice, and anti-trafficking efforts are no exception. The results gap, however, may have as much to do with how we think about trafficking as with the resources we invest in combating it.
International policymakers often refer to perpetrators of human trafficking as a mechanism that thrives in the criminal shadow of society’s formal institutions. At its best, human traffickers are leeches, picking up the scraps of an already-broken host. At its worst, they are parasites drawing resources and, when persons are trafficked, life away from a vibrant society.
“It is hard to get out of this, if you already became a victim. Only few percent of victims manage to escape. Police have to check people at the border of Mongolia when they try to leave the country. They have to check everyone in order to prevent human trafficking,” N.Tserenchunt said.
“After escaping from human trafficking business, [the victims] feel shame, depression and guilt. Some police departments contact our organization and give us victims of human trafficking. For example, I am telling you one of the common crimes: teenage girls who were sexually abused by their stepfather. This case is a regular thing. Victims often hide their past lives,” she said, as victims often feel shame and emotionally traumatized.
There is a lot of stigma against persons of trafficking. This rejection often leads victims to “start prostituting again in order to make money, or they also become perpetrators later on.”
There are some glimmers of hope, though. In many trafficking zones, local initiatives work to empower survivors — to restore their livelihoods, assist their mental health, and reintegrate them into their communities.
Even amid these positive developments, however, trafficking networks will likely remain. They are more than the sum of their participants, creating a resilient economy that thrives despite the disappearance of traffickers, the prosecution of perpetrators, the suffering of victims. That is Mongolia’s tragedy — for pimps, everyone is dispensable.
The biggest tragedy, however, is that “most victims can’t report their perpetrators.” According to Talita Asia, “Victims feel shame, that’s why they don’t report. We have to give victims the understanding that Mongolians still care about them, and that they still exist. Law enforcement organizations, state organizations, and NGOs have to work together in combating human trafficking. We have to establish more shelters.”