Human Trafficking and HIV/AIDS
With approximately 40 million people living with HIV globally, there is an immediate need to address the causes that heighten the vulnerability of women and girls to trafficking and HIV. The twin problems of trafficking and HIV are influenced by the same set of factors - such as poverty, discrimination and unsafe mobility, especially in the context of gender and human rights.
Vulnerability: Though there is not necessarily a direct causal correlation between trafficking and HIV/AIDS always and everywhere, once a person is trafficked they generally face a new and powerless situation in an alien environment which increases their vulnerability HIV/AIDS.
Being female: The susceptibility of a trafficked woman to HIV/AIDS is certainly higher than that of a person who engages in sex work out of choice. The reason is this. In addition to being exposed to forced and unsafe sex with multiple partners, victims may be injected with drugs to increase their compliance, or they may choose to inject drugs as a coping mechanism. Victims may also receive medical and/or surgical treatment which may have included forced or voluntary pregnancy terminations, in unsanitary conditions, by unqualified practitioners, using contaminated instruments and/or unscreened blood supplies. There is therefore a risk of trafficking victims becoming vectors of HIV - as they drift back into their communities or move onwards to a new destination - without knowing their HIV status. Women who are living with HIV have less access to health care as compared with men. They generally also have less free time to access whatever facilities are available. They tend to have less money at their disposal and cannot afford medical care. The clandestine status of trafficking victims, makes them invisible and further reduces their access to health services, particularly those that focus on HIV/AIDS.
Most victims of human trafficking are poorly educated. Their knowledge of HIV risk factors is therefore likely to be low. With the exception of the very young, most victims of trafficking for the purpose of forced labour are of an age grouping which is likely to be engaging in sexual behaviours and/or experimenting with drug use, exposing them to HIV infection through these routes.
Evidence base: Until recently, there was lack of scientific evidence that validate a clear linkage between HIV and human trafficking. Though this recent research is starting to demonstrate conclusively that forcing trafficking victims into unprotected sexual acts with multiple partners is a significant factor in the spread of HIV, there is still a need to strengthen the evidence base.
Tackling the twin issues: It has been recognized that both HIV/AIDS and trafficking are development issues. They require an integrated response to reduce the dual vulnerabilities of women and girls. Although much is being done to address the issues of HIV and trafficking, there are still no integrated approaches that view the linkages between the two issues.
While every effort to prevent human trafficking should be supported, regrettably the crime is likely to continue for at least the short to medium term. And that means, we will continue to have people vulnerable to human trafficking who are put at increased risk of HIV. This in turn means that we need to be able to provide timely HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services to people vulnerable to human trafficking.
People who are trafficked are at an increased risk of contracting HIV. This is why it is important to stop human trafficking. At the same time, the increased risk of HIV infection as a result of human trafficking should be minimized at all stages during the process of human trafficking (e.g., pre-departure, transit, arrival, exploitation, identification, rehabilitation repatriation, reintegration). It is imperative, therefore that these factors be borne in mind, while developing a comprehensive response to address Trafficking and HIV/ AIDS.
Human Trafficking and other issues