Calls for media to boost coverage of human trafficking cases

Iman Ereiqat, head of the International Organization of Migration in Kuwait. (Al Arabiya)

The Arab media must boost its coverage of human trafficking abuses, a problem exacerbated by ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq, according to the head of the International Organization of Migration (IoM) in Kuwait.

Iman Ereiqat called on the Arab press to boost its coverage of trafficking, which often involves crimes such as forced prostitution, child abuse and hard labor.

“The conflicts in Syria and Iraq unfortunately allow an environment to encourage the traffickers,” Ereiqat said.

The regional press doesn’t currently devote enough attention to the issue, she added. Ereiqat urged the media to “focus more on the humanitarian issue, especially with the conflicts happening in this region.”

She was speaking at the close of an IoM conference in Kuwait entitled ‘The Role of Media in Combating Human Trafficking’.

The conference is “the first step to enhance, educate and build the capacity of journalists in this region in their coverage of human trafficking issues,” Ereiqat said.

The IoM made a series of recommendations to help media combat human trafficking. These include increased coverage of the issue, training sessions for journalists and calls to ensure media freedom.

Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, said media devoted substantial coverage to the issue. “[Trafficking] is one of those words that attracts media attention,” he said.

Some media outlets “prefer to focus on the sexual aspect of trafficking” rather than other issues such as abuse of laborers, McGeehan added.

Other commentators agreed that labor abuse is an issue that should be given more attention in the global media.

“Much of the coverage today focuses on sex trafficking, when the U.N. International Labor Organization estimates that forced prostitution is only 22 percent of global slavery and 78 percent is forced labor,” said Terry FitzPatrick, communications director at Free the Slaves, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that campaigns against modern-day slavery.

“It will take sustained coverage to bring slavery to an end,” he added. “Compelling coverage means more than shocking and voyeuristic exposes, it means letting people know that they are often personally tied to slavery through products they buy - such as cars, clothing, cell phones, computers and chocolate.”

Sarah Craggs, the regional migrant assistance specialist for the IoM office in Cairo, said there was some confusion about the definition of ‘human trafficking’, with some media confusing it with people smuggling.

Many people can fall victim to trafficking, Craggs said.

“Human trafficking is not just limited to women, it’s not just limited to children. It is really a global phenomenon. It’s not just poor people, it’s not just those who are less educated that can fall victim,” she said.

Saeed al-Ghafli of the UAE’s National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking said that the needs of the victims should be prioritized when it came to the media’s coverage of human trafficking.

Al-Ghafli told the IoM conference in Kuwait that the UAE has a series of guidelines for media interviewing victims of human trafficking when such cases are going through the legal system. Guidelines include when and where such interviews can take place, and the right for the victim to withdraw their statements prior to publication.

“We do not restrict the freedom of the press, but we have a main priority of protecting the victims and their families,” al-Ghafli said.

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