November 22, 2017 / 7:04 PM / a month ago

Treat trafficking as a health problem to break cycle of abuse - academics

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The debilitating scars left by modern slavery, ranging from depression to lost limbs, often fuel the exploitation of survivors’ children, academics said on Wednesday, calling for human trafficking to be tackled as a global health problem.

Victims who cannot work may instead force their children into abusive or dangerous jobs, from producing palm oil in Indonesia and mining mica in India to farming tobacco in the United States, said a study in the journal PLoS Medicine.

“Approaches to tackling human trafficking need to go a step beyond seeing it as just a violation of human rights, and consider the global health burden ... (and) the cycle of generational harm,” said lead author Cathy Zimmerman.

“We have to start seeing human trafficking as preventable, rather than just responding to survivors,” Zimmerman, a social scientist and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The root causes of human trafficking - such as a lack of work and the marginalization of migrants - must be addressed, as with other global public health problems like violence against women, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse, according to the study.

Yet there is little collaboration between global health and anti-slavery actors, or analysis of the links between trafficking and health, while data is scarce, Zimmerman said.

Work-related injury and illness cost the world an estimated $2.8 trillion each year in lost output, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization (ILO), yet this figure is very unlikely to include most victims of trafficking, experts say.

About 40 million people were living as modern slaves last year - either trapped in forced labor or forced marriages - according to the ILO and rights group Walk Free Foundation.

“In terms of broad public health, some 40 million people are excluded not just from healthcare, but also inclusion into public health measures,” said anti-slavery expert Kevin Bales.

With proper training, hospital staff could play a big part in identifying and helping victims of trafficking, U.S.-based legal experts and activists said this week.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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