Human Trafficking in Fiji: Blindly Fighting the Shapeless Monster

Every year, the U.S. State Department releases a Trafficking in Persons report which rates countries on their efforts to combat human trafficking.  Each week, I’ll be providing a brief glance at human trafficking in one of those countries, based off the 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, with my own (often snarky) analysis added.  This is just a snapshot of what’s going on in the country.  For more information, you can check out the full text of the 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report here.

This Week’s Country …  Fiji

Basic Info

The U.S. State Department ranks Fiji on Tier 3, meaning they wouldn’t know a trafficker if he sailed up to their shores on a massive luxury yacht having public sex with children he bought for prostitution (which, incidentally, actually happened when I was working with an NGO based there). Fiji isn’t working to prevent trafficking, protect victims, or prosecute traffickers, and they aren’t making an effort to change their ways. In fact, Fiji wasn’t even ranked for the first several years the State Department was producing their report because of the complete absence of any information coming out of the country. Because of the general lackadaisical attitude of the government, Fiji is a source and destination country for trafficking victims, both internationally and internally.

So does Fiji have the political and economic stability to truly tackle trafficking? Saying Fiji is a small country with limited resources is like saying Gilbert Arenas waving his gun around in the locker room wasn’t his best career move. But similarly resourced countries have found ways to at least indicate their desire to work on the issue. Lots of places, including the U.S. government, give capacity-building grants. But first Fiji has to prove it wants to end trafficking, despite what may be a tiny economic dip.

Who Are the Victims and What Are They Doing?

As with many poor countries with large tourism sectors, children are Fiji’s largest population of victim. Fijian children are trafficked into the commercial sex industry, sometimes by family members. Hotel staff, taxi drivers, and nightclub staff have all been known to procure children for prostitution. In Fiji, poor families will often informally adopt their children to wealthier families living near good schools. This tradition leaves those children vulnerable to both forced domestic servitude and sexual abuse. Adult women are also forced into the commercial sex industry in Fiji. To a lesser extent, men and women may be trafficked into Fiji for factory work.

Where Are They Coming From and Where Are They Going?

While a significant portion of trafficking in Fiji is internal, Fiji is a destination country for women trafficked from China, Thailand, and India, mostly because of the large tourist population. Women migrating voluntarily from China and India to Fiji have also found themselves forced into sweatshops and other labor sectors.

What’s Gotta Happen?

Fiji needs a whole lot of work at the most basic levels. First of all, they need a national understanding of what trafficking is and how to fight it. Right now, Fijian NGOs and the few people working on anti-trafficking efforts are blindly fighting a monster whose shape that have yet to define. It’s a battle that can’t be won. Additionally, Fiji needs to develop a strategy to identify trafficking victims and perpetrators. They then need to enforce the existing laws against those perpetrators. Fiji also needs to address the rampant sex trafficking which takes place in the tourism industry and the child sex tourism that surrounds it. No one has the right to buy a child for sex, even if that person is a rich tourist staying at your hotel.



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