“Arbat” or the walking Boulevard is a popular pedestrian road in the center of the city which is filled on a Friday evening with young people frequenting the restaurants or just sitting on the benches enjoying the vibe.
This is the perfect place for our Operation Mercy Anti Human Trafficking team to approach groups of young people and start conversations about human trafficking.
Often young people to have no idea that sexual slavery exists in Kazakhstan. They name many cities in the world where they think slavery occurs, but they are surprised and at times unbelieving when they hear that Almaty is a hub for human trafficking.
One young man was very angry at the idea that some of the women in prostitution could be under sexual exploitation and he didn't believe that it was happening. However, by the end of the conversation, he realised what was going on and even offered to help extend our reach by contributing to our social media efforts.
Many young girls were visibly shocked, and their faces grew pale when they were asked if they had ever received incredibly good job offers as nannies or other work from overseas. This is so often how young women are lured into trafficking situations. Some of the girls we spoke to had received such offers and were seriously considering applying for them when they were made aware of what they really would be getting into.
Another group of young men were asked what they thought the definition of slavery was. As the conversation progressed, two of the men said that they were planning on “stealing” their brides. This is a common practice in Central Asia and the more modern Kazakh situation where the couple decides together that they will do it like that rather than paying for a big wedding.
Through these outreaches we continue to learn about the complexities that lead to trafficking in Central Asia and we are constantly challenged by how critical awareness and prevention is.