Visitors from three nations visited The University of Texas-Pan American as part of a tour throughout the United States to learn what the country is doing to fight human trafficking. They also shared their experiences of battling the dilemma in their homelands during a panel discussion at UTPA on Monday, Oct 25.
Three human rights activists - from Nigeria, Zambia and Kuwait - came to the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program to study how the country fights trafficking domestically and internationally.
They were invited by UTPA to speak about their perspectives on human trafficking based on their work supporting human rights in their countries. Their visit to the University was facilitated by the World Affairs Council of South Texas, of which UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen is a Board of Trustees member.
"I think it is an incredible opportunity for the UT Pan Am community to meet people who are leaders of the international community and combating human trafficking," said Dr. Sandra Hansmann, associate professor of rehabilitative services at UTPA and the moderator of the panel discussion. "It's really a chance for us to interact with emerging international leaders, but it's also a chance for emerging international leaders to experience the citizen diplomacy we offer here. We at Pan Am are also home to emerging leaders."
During their visit to the Rio Grande Valley, the visitors met with law enforcement agencies, humanitarian groups and others who work with victims of trafficking.
Adesina Adefolahan, a focal person of the Ogun State of the Women consortium of Nigeria, said he and the other activists who traveled to the United States plan to take back what they learn and perhaps incorporate some of the strategies being used here in their countries' efforts to combat human trafficking.
Adefolahan and Eugenia Temba, a campaign consultant from Zambia for Red Light 2010 Anti Human Trafficking Women and Law in Southern Africa Education and Research Trust, spoke to the University community about what their countries are doing to stop the illegal activities with the hope that more people will become aware of the situation globally.
Temba, of Zambia, quoted the United Nation's International Labour Organization, saying about 12 million people are in trapped forced labor all over the world.
She also said about 800,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, and of that one in five is from Africa, four in five are female and one in two is a child.
"(Human trafficking) is highly feminized," Temba said. "Mostly women and girls are affected ... and women are primarily recruiters."
Many times women and girls are trafficked for forced marriages, domestic work or child laundering, in which victims are impregnated repeatedly and their children are taken away from them for adoption, she said.
And in many cases family members are the ones who traffic their relatives, she said.
Zambia has taken several steps in combating human trafficking, including passing laws that increased penalties for people convicted of trafficking people, training people - including hair stylists and bus station employees - who may come into contact with victims and smugglers to detect possible trafficking, and forming partnerships with surrounding nations and other countries to battle the crime, she said.
Like Zambia, Nigeria has a network of law enforcement, human rights groups and other organizations that work together to fight trafficking, Adefolahan said.
Martha Calderon, a UTPA senior majoring in criminal justice, said she found the panel discussion very informative, since she is researching the effects of sex exploitation on children.
"It brings awareness to the community and college students about human trafficking," said Calderon, who plans to incorporate what she learned at the event in her research. "It provided me with a global perspective."