An unfortunate social reality in the Asia-Pacific is that it accounts for the lion’s share of the world’s human trafficking: according to the United Nations, 56 percent to be exact. Globally, the number of victims is around 2.5 million people, mainly women and children.
In an effort to stem this human rights atrocity, MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking), an award-winning freedom and human rights multimedia campaign linked to the global music giant, announced yesterday that it will soon air Butterfly, an “edutainment” program that will shine a light on this dark spot of the region’s underbelly through that perennial television favorite: Korean drama.
“The reason we selected a Korean drama as a format for a human trafficking awareness program was due to the massive popularity of that format across Asia,” MTV EXIT Director Matt Love told The Diplomat. “In almost every country in Asia, Korean dramas are among the highest-rated programs, so it’s an excellent medium to reach a large number of young people with key safe migration messages.”
Enlisting celebrated Korean drama director Jun Ki Sung and producer Hyun-Good Shin, the organizers have spared no expense to make sure the message gets out to Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia (the hardest hit region) for a start, with the rest of Asia also slated to receive the transmission.
MTV EXIT has joined forces with some impressive partners, from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Australian Government’s Agency for International Development (AusAID) to Walk Free: The Movement to End Modern Slavery and the Korean Committee for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The program has also been endorsed by the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and received support from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This roster speaks for itself, with a message that is loud and clear: this issue is pervasive and urgently needs attention.
According to Love, the three most common forms of human trafficking affecting Asia today are forced sex work, forced domestic work and child trafficking. While many associate human trafficking most closely with prostitution, the reality is more complex.
“People can fall victim to trafficking for many different reasons, and it’s not just about sex trafficking,” Love said. “Many people are trafficked into forced labor or domestic work, or in the case of child trafficking, begging is a big issue… Poverty is a huge driving force behind many trafficking victim stories.”
Today, human trafficking is the third most profitable criminal activity worldwide after trafficking illegal drugs and arms. In total, criminals rake in about U.S. $10 billion annually through the buying and selling of human beings.
The impacts of this trade on the victims are profound: from emotional abuse and rape to threats against self, family and death. Ultimately, however, slavery has broad implications for the health, safety and security of society.
To illustrate the multifaceted nature of human trafficking, Butterfly is told in three parts, each an interlocking story that explores a different way that people become enslaved.
“The stories are told through three main characters who only dream of having a better life for themselves,” Love said. “There are many push factors that make people vulnerable to trafficking. Butterfly looks at some of the most common push factors.”
There are two more parts to this 75-minute series, with each story exploring this complex social ill in a different light. In one of the stories, titled “Rose,” a character named Jang Mi is lured from her village with the promise of becoming an actress (only to become a sex slave). In “Hwaja,” a woman is forced to travel to Korea where she becomes a domestic worker because she cannot afford to take care of her children. And in the third tale, “Butterfly,” Jin Young is abducted by a child trafficking ring near his family’s home.
In a sense, for viewers of the show, it is a call to action, Love explained. “The series shows the importance of reporting a suspected case of human trafficking to the police. Everyone has the responsibility to act if they suspect someone is being exploited.”
For those who doubt that a television program is sufficient to combat human trafficking, Love had this to say: “I think drama is a great vehicle for educating audiences on a variety of issues, from health to social to economic issues. With good narrative, compelling characters and an important social message, there is potential for big impact and positive behavior change.”