Shameful human traffickingA stunning discovery was made last week in the scenic crystalline salt fields that stretch across South Jeolla and are home to the region’s prized salt production: modern-day slavery. In rescuing two handicapped workers who had been working under horrific conditions in one of the 1,000 saltern islands off the coast of Sinan County, the Guro District police in Seoul cracked open a human trafficking and slavery ring.
When the owner of the salt farm was asked why he tried to prevent the workers from leaving after enslaving them for more than five years, he bluntly said, “If dogs leave home, I must go out to find them.” We are dumbfounded that such a brutal and inhuman example of slavery exists today.
The police should be ashamed of the case. The workers at the farm did not dare look for help even though there was a police outpost near the area. The local police said they could not imagine that such criminal activities had been taking place in their jurisdiction. One of the workers posted a letter seeking help and his mother reported the case; the local police, residents and government had either been kept in the dark or stayed silent about what was going on at the salt farm for years.
Human trafficking cases in the area have been sporadically reported in the media since 2006. The isolated area and the close ties of the village people involved in the salt-farm industry helped keep cases under the radar. Local communities are hardly equipped to deal with a complicated and dangerous criminal problem like human trafficking on their own, nor can such cases be resolved only through cooperation and voluntary campaigning from local residents.
The government must not leave human rights issues entirely up to district officials. It must, first of all, crack down on unlicensed job brokerage services and ensure that workers are not exploited. It must also investigate why the local administration and police were not aware of the breaches in civilian and human rights. It must seek out and eliminate any shady deals between employers and law enforcement officials. Modern-day slavery must not be tolerated at any cost.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 10, Page 30
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