In times of war, human exploitation takes on many forms, the most common being: forced labor, domestic servitude, child soldiers, and sex trafficking. The vulnerable are always the target, but the perpetrators vary. Factors such as: military size, duration and stage of the conflict, the condition of the economies and the greatest needs of the involved parties, largely determine who has power to abuse and who it is used against.
As governments and functioning society break down, rebel groups rise up. Rebel forces such as ISIS have kidnapped and sexually exploited and enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and children. The women and girls were typically forced to become wives and domestic servants of the militants, often forbidden from leaving their homes and frequently pregnant. The Yazidi men and boys were often forced to become militants and suicide bombers. In times of conflict and economic distress, it is also not uncommon for people to be sold in exchange for weapons and goods. Rebel groups bring a criminalized version of law and order to the most vulnerable people around them.
Some of the most vulnerable people in every country are IDPs, internally displaced persons. As of the beginning of 2021, there were a total of 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide – the highest level of displacement on record. When people are forced to flee, they leave behind more than just their jobs and homes. Being away from their familiar surroundings, they often lose their community support networks and end up being socially and culturally isolated. Without employment, they face poverty, a lack of access to basic resources and livelihood opportunities, and the temptation to seek out unlawful means to support themselves and their family. These and other factors contribute to making refugees and other forcibly displaced people an easy target for traffickers, who will often make false promises of financial relief in order to entrap and in debt their victims.
Third country nationals (TCNs) are another highly vulnerable group during times of conflict. Most of the US military's non-military labor is subcontracted out to outside agencies. These outside agencies then further sub-contract out the military’s labor needs. The result is a high volume of foregin workers on the US military base working as cooks, cleaners, construction workers and the like. The majority of workers are from low-income countries like Fiji, the Philippines, Nepal, Ukraine, and Bulgaria and are looking for better economic opportunities. The recruiters charge excessive fees, which increases the risk of debt bondage and ultimately, labor and sex trafficking. In 2012, a presidential executive order issuing a zero tolerance policy was made for government contractors who violate human trafficking laws. However, over the last decade, little impact has been made.
When armed conflict escalates, human trafficking does as well. When evil seems to be running rampant, it can be hard to believe in good. When human life is deliberately targeted, it can be hard to continue to fight for human rights. However, knowing evil exists is not a reason to give up, instead, it is a reason to give all that we have in raising awareness to see real change. The first step is raising our own awareness, followed by raising the awareness of our communities; thank you for taking the first step.