Tell-tale signs of human trafficking onboard

Saturday November 11 2017

Sad child

Reading the emotional connection between a minor and the adult they are travelling with can be a slippery slope. FOTOSEARCH 

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With only a few weeks remaining to the end of the year, the holiday season, by default is also the peak travel time for families is here.

Reports show that the holiday travel spike provides the perfect cover for human traffickers.

According to Airports Council International, air transport is the preferred mode of transport by human traffickers.

Sub-Saharan Africa for instance, ranks very high in the incidence of child trafficking.

According a the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report on trafficking in persons, up to 64 per cent of trafficking victims from in East Africa are children.

A good number of victims end up in forced labour, sex slavery or organ harvesting schemes.

Despite the high figures, most countries in the region do not keep statistics. Even where the numbers exist, records paint a grim picture; South Africa, for instance reports over 30,000 children trafficked into the country annually for the underground sex trade, hence the very stringent travel documentation requirement by their Department of Home Affairs.

Unfortunately, most sub-Saharan Africa countries do not have legal measures to control child trafficking.

Emotional connection

Beyond border control, airlines and other industry regulators have recognised that cabin crew can play a vital role in identifying trafficking victims on their flights and are training them.

However, vigilance on such a weighty matter cannot be left to service providers and security organs alone.

As a frequent flyer, what are some of the indicators you need to be awake to in case a victim of trafficking is with you on the same flight?

A seemingly normal and healthy adult not carrying or keeping his own passport and boarding pass would appear odd but this may not necessarily mean much.

But if an attempt at a conversation with such an adult draws no response or a look of panic while seeking approval of a third party before responding, something could be amiss.

More often than not, such a victim will not be aware of their flight itinerary and keep to themselves within the airport and avoid conversations with other passengers while in the aircraft.

Victims of trafficking often tend to have inconsistent or conflicting stories about themselves in an attempt to stick to the “script” given to them by their handlers.

While it may be easy to notice adults who are oddly dressed or “travelling very light” even on long flights, it may not be easy to notice the same about children.

But a closer look may reveal not just a quiet child but a scared one, not willing to answer questions or make eye contact. Sometimes you could notice bruising and other injuries, indicators of deeper issues.

Unfortunately, there have been cases of minors being transported while intoxicated or under the influence of mildly subduing drugs.

Reading the emotional connection between a minor and the adult they are travelling with can be a slippery slope, but where something is off, it may be hard to ignore.

Despite observations you may make as a traveller, it is not advisable to intervene directly unless it is to stop physical abuse underway in plain sight.

It is recommended that you share your concerns with the cabin crew, ground staff or airport authorities for your own safety.

In any case, some of these indicators as mentioned above could just be circumstantial.

Michael Otieno is an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz; E-mail: [email protected]