Archive for June 20, 2012

42,000 Saved! 20.9 Million To Go

The U.S. State Department’s recent report on Human Trafficking is sobering: only 42,000 children and adults were rescued, leaving 20.9 million in forced labor. Of that 20.9 million, 4.5 million remain sexually exploited.

As reported, the offense of trafficking involves recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated, “… despite the adoption of treaties and laws prohibiting slavery, the evidence nevertheless shows that many men, women, and children continue to live in modern-day slavery through the scourge of trafficking …”

Think trafficking is uncommon in the U.S.? Think again. Akron, Ohio Police recently arrested a mother for prostituting her daughter. According to the report, the woman allegedly drove her daughter to different apartment complexes in their neighborhood and forced her to engage in sexual activities with men in exchange for money and drugs.  The activity went on for at least a year or more, mostly in 2007.  In October of 2011, San Antonio police arrested 44 year-old Sally Garcia for prostituting her daughter. Lastly, Upland, NE officers cracked a child prostitution case in which an Upland mother is suspected of forcing her 14- and 7-year-old daughters to have sex with seven men.

Slavery is also alive and well. For example, the International Labor Organization note that in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), most of the slaves are boys ages 12 to 16 who are trafficked from their homes to work on large cocoa plantations. Many of these boys come from the poorest of families, who are forced to beg for food. The slave traders offer jobs, which they accept, but then are forced to work long hours under extremely inhumane conditions for low pay. Most are barely better off than they were before. There are about 600,000 cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire, with about 15,000 slaves in total.

Across the world, many child workers have no opportunity for a decent education. Many of their parents suffer from illiteracy and do not understand the importance of education. Moreover, the high cost of education is another obstacle for these children. With the government shying away from the education sector to be replaced by the private sector many children have to work to pay for their school. But many schools serving the poor are of such abysmal quality that many children drop out of school in frustration.

The eight-fold path of Buddhist beliefs explicitly teaches against the trade in living beings. According to Buddha’s “Discourse to Sigala” in the Sigalovada Sutta, an employer should care for workers by assigning work according to ability, paying just wages, providing health care, providing perks and granting leave time. While the Buddha did not directly address slavery, it is impossible to imagine slavery surviving in any area where these teachings are truly followed.

We must remember that all of us are interdependent. I encourage everyone to consider their personal responsibility to larger systems such as the global economy, as well as in smaller systems such as one’s attitudes toward others. This holistic perspective prompts Buddhists to ask if they benefit from slavery and slave-tainted products, even if they aren’t personally or directly involved in trafficking and slavery.

According to the Dalai Lama, “Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individual and nations are free.”

Mark Krikorian, Executive Director for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) told an NPR Tell Me More audience “… we have something like 20 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed – and it’s especially a problem among young workers, less-educated workers – that we are now adding, you know, what, maybe 800,000, maybe a million or more workers, legal workers who will now be able to compete for jobs normally into that labor market. And they’re not farm workers. I mean, even though they’re not all Einstein’s, these are, generally speaking, they have to be people who finished high school. So this is going to have a serious effect both in the lower-skill and kind of the mid-level of the job market.”

I contrast the above position with that of local farmers in Alabama. If many recall, Alabama legislature passed a very aggressive illegal immigration bill.  Accordingly, as migrants moved out of state, Alabama farmers have had a tough time. The Associated Press wrote an article outlining the basic premise:

“…farmers must look beyond the nation’s borders for labor because many Americans simply don’t want the backbreaking, low-paying jobs immigrants are willing to take. Politicians who support the law say over time more unemployed Americans will fill these jobs. They insist it’s too early to consider the law a failure, yet numbers from the governor’s office show only nominal interest.”

Additionally, In February 2012, WKRG News in Mobile, Alabama recently reported:

“Many farmers continue to tell us they can’t find Americans to replace migrant workers left the state when the immigration law went into effect.”

History tells us that significant resources will be spent fighting Obama’s temporary suspension of deportation and / or the Dream Act, i.e., for those low-paying positions to which maybe … just maybe … a million or so immigrants will compete.   Think about that for a moment.  I mean really think about that.

What the argument misses is the estimated two-million or so manufacturing jobs offshored since 1983. By 2015, another 3.3 million service jobs will move offshore, including 1.7 million “back office” jobs such as payroll processing and accounting along with another 473,000 jobs in the information technology industry. And let’s not even think about the 7.9 million positions lost during the ‘Great Recession’ that will never come back. But ‘Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead’ on those million or so immagrants.

Some experts claim seventy percent of the U.S. economy is not vulnerable to offshoring because it is comprised of services such as retail, restaurants and hotels, health care and other services. But having worked in these industries, retail, restaurants and hotels employ vast numbers of workers who earn a smidge better than minimum wage. For most American’s, these positions will do little to provide a foundation for retirement. To those who think otherwise, I suggest reading author Barbara Ehrenreich’s work ‘Nickel and Dimed,’ detailing employement at poverty-level wages.

Moving on, we should not forget those immigrants who received little, if any fanfare: Asians. According to Pew Research, the number of Asian immigrants has held steady or increased slightly. Pew’s analysis of census data estimated that 430,000 Asian immigrants came to the United States in 2010, making up 36 percent of all new immigrants, compared with 31 percent who were Hispanic. The typically high education levels of Asians have often fit U.S. immigration policy goals.

Let’s face it, undereducated citizens do not have a rosy employment picture. The International Labour Organisation estimates that as many as 1 in 10 young people are not working. The real number of young people without worthwhile jobs is likely to be much higher, as many of the most vulnerable are forced into low-paid, informal, insecure work. Young people who already face disadvantages – because of where they live, their gender, poverty or ethnicity – have been hit the worst, largely because they lack the skills or education needed to compete for available jobs.

The true sadness of the current immigration argument is mostly all political posturing. In a very diverse, very connected world, education is critical and is no longer a United States, Republican, Democratic or Tea Party problem. It’s a world-wide crisis. Everyone, rich or poor, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, etc., will need continual access to higher education. Educational requirements are required for survival, yet the availability of education required cannot be achieved.

As a Buddhist, education is the principal tool of human growth. It is essential for transforming the unlettered child into a mature responsible adult. Yet everywhere today, both in the developed and developing world, formal education is in serious trouble. Classroom instruction has become so routinized that children often consider school an exercise in patience rather than an adventure in learning. School budgets and the number of good teachers are conitually cut by budgetary concerns.

The Buddha taught that all beings possess the same ability within to reach Complete Understanding of themselves and their environment, and free themselves from all sufferings to attain utmost happiness. We must strive to give everyone a solid competitive education. Education is the cure, but so little money and attention is given.

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