By Selena Ain
Some time ago, as I was scanning Twitter, I came across news of a 19-year-old who had returned to Malaysia after being trafficked to Cambodia for three months.
The boy said he had been abused and exploited and had suffered beatings on 10 occasions.
Other victims of a human trafficking syndicate in Cambodia revealed they were trapped in a slave camp, with many others, including a number of Malaysians.
I was horrified.
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While researching for my final year university project on human trafficking, I was shocked to discover that, though many youths are aware of human trafficking issues in Malaysia, hardly any of them are actively involved in any initiatives to tackle the issue.
“I was aware of this issue but not to the extent of how severe and intense it was,” said Davina Kho, a masters student in gender studies.
Her coursemate Atiqah Farhanah chipped in: “I have not been involved in any human trafficking issues despite being aware, as there’s no open channel for me to voluntarily participate.”
This is concerning, considering that there are over nine million youths in the country who might be able to take part in local initiatives to create awareness of human trafficking and promote safe migration.
Youths have tremendous potential to contribute to the fight against human trafficking. They can extend support to victims, generate widespread awareness, and champion enhanced legislation and policies aimed at preventing trafficking and safeguarding the rights of those affected.
Youth awareness and participation is important, as most of the victims of human trafficking in Malaysia are youths themselves. Living with poverty in a nation where prices have skyrocketed over the years has resulted in many youths taking drastic action – even if it means doing the unimaginable.
Merely to survive
It is important that we focus on youth-to-youth initiatives, as young people have what it takes to improve the situation in the country.
Kazakhstan’s youth have set a standard for Malaysia, as they have raised awareness of human trafficking to their peers across their nation.
To mark the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, Kazakhstani youth took part in a video to share their knowledge about forced labour and human trafficking and provide instructions on how to report cases.
This may be a small step, but a journey of a thousand miles has to start somewhere.
Unlike the Kazakhstan government, the Malaysian government does not provide a similar platform for youths to spread awareness and be part of a team to prevent human trafficking. There have been no platforms or initiatives by the government to rally youths to make a change.
Malaysia has been grappling with the issue of human trafficking for a long time, yet little has been done to implement significant measures or policy changes aimed at reducing the number of victims.
This persistent problem is underscored by Malaysia’s placement in Tier 3 of the US State Department’s annual human trafficking report in 2021 and 2022.
This situation has far-reaching implications for Malaysia’s security, law enforcement and political landscape. The question arises: how much longer must people in Malaysia wait for the government to take decisive action and prioritise the urgent and grave problem of human trafficking within the country?
By inviting the younger generation to take an active role in this battle, a seismic shift occurs – a ripple that will lead to a tidal wave of change.
Empowering the youth is not just a slogan; it becomes a strategic imperative. Their fresh perspectives, boundless creativity and unyielding commitment will inject new life into the fight against human trafficking.
The Malaysian government has disappointed its people from way before I was born.
However, we can change that if we listen to the younger generation. By bringing youths together and creating new policies, by implementing the youths’ ideas and strategies, the government will emerge in a stronger position to fight this tragic battle.
It is time we listen to the ‘kids’ and give them a chance to lead the charge in making Malaysia rise back up and fight human trafficking. Their fresh perspectives, energy and passion can help to shape effective strategies, implementing comprehensive education programme and drive societal change.
By empowering young leaders, we can harness their creativity and dedication to develop innovative solutions, raise awareness, and advocate for stronger laws and enforcement against human trafficking.
Together, let us uplift the voices of our youth, support their initiatives and work together to build a Malaysia that stands tall against this grave injustice.
Selena Ain Mohd Ridzwan, 21, is an undergraduate student in international relations and strategic studies at the University of Malaya. In the course of her studies, she found herself confronted with the human trafficking crisis and now feels compelled to do her bit to fight it.
She wrote this piece at a writers’ workshop “Writing for Change” organised by the Department of International and Strategic Studies of the University of Malaya, the university’s International Relations Society, and Aliran