I recently threw up a question to my friends online:
“On your travels or while living abroad, have you ever experienced bribery/corruption?”
Here are some of the responses I received:
“When living in Greece, where bribing is very commonplace, our daughter’s medical insurance plan covered up to 1000 euro to bribe the doctors (to do a better job, basically). It was on the official list of services.”
“When adopting our son in Bulgaria, we had decided not to accept bribes, but it would have made things happen much more quickly. We didn’t want to ‘buy’ a baby, we wanted to provide a family for a child.”
“The worst instance of corruption that I witnessed personally was skimming of money from sponsor children by an influential local church leader. The Canadian company which distributed the funds did so through the hands of a certain organization using USD. The leader then exchanged the currency at a black market rate and reported the exchange back to the Canadian agency, and the children received the funds at a bank rate. The rest was presumably pocketed, leaving the children to receive about 50% of what they would have gotten had the money been exchanged in the markets.”
“Border guards, traffic cops or security guards asking for a few cents ‘for tea’ in order to do you a small favour … opening a gate, waiving tickets or allowing you to cut a line up … I find it best to refuse to pay these bribes because of the statement it’s making. It’s saying the rules don’t really matter as long as you have a bit of cash. I think rules are important to the functioning of modern society, and although cutting a lineup won’t ultimately destroy it, the leaders of the two warring armies are using that same modus operandi of rationalizing why they don’t have to follow the rules.”
Considering that in many places bribery is so commonplace for ordinary things like getting medical care or acquiring a visa, it’s no surprise that criminal ventures, like human trafficking, also require the wheels of greed to be greased by cash. In fact, UNODC suggests that corruption is simply a cost of doing business, a critical piece of a trafficker’s budget line:
“Corruption is central to the success of traffickers and therefore criminals consider it a necessary investment. Corruption is possibly the main cost factor for traffickers.”
Corruption, often in the form of bribes or special favours, takes places through the whole trafficking chain, and sometimes a bribe in a non-related industry inadvertently triggers vulnerability in a community.
So what does this look like? Here’s a chain of potential events, and at each stage corruption can play a role. While this is not the story of one trafficking victim in particular, I’ve come across each of these scenarios in my research. Often they flow into one another.
CHAIN OF CORRUPTION
- A factory inspector receives a bribe for not reporting high pollution levels, leading to increased toxicity in a nearby river.
- Local villagers whose livelihood depends on the river notice the fish population dwindling, eventually pushing them to pursue other methods of income for survival. Smelling desperation, traffickers begin targeting the poorest of these families, promising their daughters good work in the city.
- A teenager from the village, Chariya, decides to say yes to the job offer, promising her family she will send money back. A government official is bribed by the traffickers to draft up travel documents for her.
- At the border, Chariya is told to stand in a specific line. The border guard lets her through without incident.
- Once she crosses the border, she realizes the promise is a sham. She is forced to service several men a day in a brothel, but has no idea where she is. One day, a police officer comes into the brothel and has tea with the owner. The brothel owner lets him have sex with any girl he wants in exchange for tipping him off when a raid is about to happen.
- After a year of abuse, Chariya manages to run away. She finds help at a shelter for trafficked youth. The criminal investigation begins, and with the prompting, counsel, and encouragement from the shelter staff, she bravely testifies in court. Unbeknownst to her, the judge is a regular customer at a different brothel, owned by her trafficker’s brother. The perpetrators get off with a fine, and she receives no protection.
- Fortunately, Chariya is allowed to stay at the shelter until she turns 18. But a few months later, a new kitchen staff member is hired on the compound. He discreetly collects information on the girls and sells it to a local gang.
- The moment Chariya is released from the compound, she is picked up by the gang and re-trafficked, this time into domestic servitude.
Corruption is generally defined as the act of abusing public power for private gain. Human trafficking involves the exploitation of vulnerability. It’s no wonder these two go hand-in-hand.
Who is most vulnerable to accepting a bribe? A UNODC survey on corruption in relation to human trafficking asked a group consisting of criminal justice authorities, law enforcement agencies, NGOs and academics this question. Here’s the breakdown of how they answered:
When asked why border service officers were most vulnerable to accepting a bribe, it was perceived that:
“…there is a lot of room for discretion and a lot of one-one of communication, not necessarily supervised.”
EFFECTS OF BRIBERY ON ANTI-TRAFFICKING EFFORTS
- Bribery diverts much-needed funding and resources from legitimate NGOs and government initiatives to individuals that use that money for selfish gain.
- Bribery places people above the rules, and where the rule of law is compromised, human trafficking thrives.
- Bribery makes it difficult for victims to trust law enforcement, because they assume all police are corrupt. This makes it extremely difficult for them to report their abuse, attempt escape, or testify in court.
- Bribery breaks down trust between citizens and their government, and places the poor in an even more vulnerable position for being exploited.
At the root of bribery is greed, and greed is ultimately an issue of the heart. A changed heart is the most effective antidote to corruption, so we must find ways to foster selflessness and integrity all around us if we are to create a sustainable anti-corruption movement.
Are there areas of your life where you cut corners, at another’s expense, for your own gain? If you’re in a position of power – whether it arises from your formal position, wealth, or influence – what safeguards are in place to keep you from abusing that power? Do you ever feel like certain rules shouldn’t apply to you? What could be some unintended consequences for your greed?
Let’s pray for a world in which people in all positions of power reject greed, and urge our leaders to form the right partnerships so that no one is trafficked because of a bribe.