First, they must be aware of the lack of consensus on the definition of human trafficking. An IOM report in 2000 acknowledged the lack of an exact definition of trafficking and how it should be applied. This could lead to difficulties in collecting comparable data. Another problem in defining human trafficking is that some leaders might see the problem as merely a migration issue, thus giving a false perception that trafficking victims are illegal migrants. This could result in “double victimization,” with victims being treated as a national threat, criminalized and not given the necessary protection they deserve. There are also multidimensional ways of seeing trafficking, for example as a human rights, employment or human security issue. We argue that a more united and consensual view must emerge within the region so that the response to the trafficking scourge is more effective.
Second, at the national level, many Southeast Asian countries have not been applying necessary legal and judicial frameworks to deal with human trafficking. Many of them might have signed the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, but few have ratified them and made them part of their national regulations. Also, rarely mentioned in the fight against trafficking is the lack of law enforcement in these countries and the high levels of corruption.
Third, even though there are various international, governmental and nongovernmental actors involved in the countertrafficking efforts, there remains a lack of concerted attempts and synergy among actors. Given the multidimensional, cross-cutting and cross-boundary nature of the trafficking issue, awareness, support and teamwork are vital. On the national level, for example, a government’s policies must go hand in hand with the work of civil society in combating trafficking. The transborder nature of trafficking networks makes interstate cooperation and coordination inevitable, and as such regional frameworks are essential. Internationally, there is also a need to establish firm goals and encourage leading nations such as the United States to assist other countries in combating trafficking.
Fourth, it is inescapable that more synergy and concerted efforts in the region require strong leadership, especially from within the region itself. A natural leader, or primus inter pares (“first among equals”), in Southeast Asia would play a significant role in guiding coordinated efforts.
Leadership is important