Measures introduced to fight the coronavirus pandemic have inadvertently helped fight another global epidemic — human trafficking. Captivating International founder Andrew Colquhoun said border closures — implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19 — have made it harder for human traffickers to conduct their activities. Still, the recent easing of restrictions is cause for renewed concern.
“The border closures would have at least slowed the pace of human trafficking significantly,” said Colquhoun, a member of Gold Coast Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in Queensland, Australia. “Even traffickers would be concerned about their safety, not wanting to catch COVID.”
But, as lockdowns are easing, Captivating staff are bracing themselves for a surge in activity over the next six months as the trade in human life resumes.
“Here in Australia we are all struggling, but the government introduced the JobKeeper program — there’s nothing like that in developing countries; people are on their own,” Colquhoun said. “People don’t put themselves out to be trafficked; they do it because they have no choice.”Back in the early 2000s, Colquhoun and his wife, Julie, were working in the corporate world, with good incomes and a beautiful home in Sydney. But in 2006 they took a step of faith and decided to change course, vowing to dedicate the rest of their lives to help those trapped by poverty and injustice.
Captivating International started in China, supporting at-risk girls in remote parts of the country. The charity then expanded its operation, focusing on human trafficking, to Nepal and the Philippines, where the numbers are truly staggering. In the Philippines, it’s estimated that more than 60,000 children will be trafficked and exploited this year, while in Nepal, around 20,000 women and girls will suffer the same fate.
Captivating International works with local partners in Nepal and the Philippines to save these girls from a life of misery. “If a girl is trafficked, she’ll be lost; you’ll never hear from her again,” Colquhoun said. “The girls can be as young as seven, but the average age is usually in their teens up to around 19 or 20 — that’s a marketable age for a brothel owner.”
In Nepal, the charity operates 11 monitoring stations at the Nepalese-Indian border, where the staff conduct “interceptions” with the support of the local police. This is where a girl is interviewed by staff, and it’s determined that she’s most likely being trafficked. She will be refused access across the border, and her family is called to collect her. On average, a girl is being intercepted every 90 minutes.“But it’s not just about interceptions; it’s about prevention as well,” Colquhoun said. “Until we put in programs to reduce the desire of people to migrate to find better employment, trafficking will always be there. With the government and education departments, we are rolling out education programs to target children in poverty areas that are at higher risk of getting attention by traffickers. We hope these children will become ambassadors for anti-trafficking. We are pretty confident that we can change this space over the next decade as this becomes part of the curriculum of every school.
“We have also started a micro-finance program called ‘My Business, My Freedom,’ and that’s all about finding women who we believe are in danger of being trafficked. By working with them to increase their family income, we aim to help these women in situations where they have a choice.”
In August 2020, Captivating International is encouraging support for its “Stop Trafficking 5K” initiative, which helps raise funds for the charity’s anti-trafficking work. Participants are encouraged to run or walk as many kilometers or miles as they can during that month. Colquhoun has set himself a goal of running 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). There is also an opportunity to sponsor participants, he said.