Some wives worried that their husbands had spent money frivolously, not worked hard enough or had relationships with other women while abroad. Another tension was when men had spent time ‚Äėin prison‚Äô (i.e. in detention as irregular migrants abroad).
Children too were affected by their father‚Äôs absence. Most men struggled to maintain contact after they entered into exploitative employment. Not being able to remit money meant ‚Äėfailing‚Äô in the paternal role. One man described a broken relationship with his children because of that he was irresponsible and had not sent money home to raise them: ‚ÄúThere was a time when my relationship with my children was broken. ‚Ä¶ They only heard one side of the story from their family or the community surrounding them … that I am the kind of person who does not take responsibility, or I am a bad person.‚ÄĚ
Men also suffered for having failed to remit money to parents, to provide them with support, particularly in old age. One man broke down in tears over his failure to help his parents: ‚ÄúI was migrating because I wanted to seek money for my parents‚Äô medication.‚ÄĚ Many men spoke about their parents‚Äô profound sadness and distress when they returned home ill, thin, depressed and stressed. One man said, ‚ÄúSometimes my father looks so sad looking at me, as I went home skinny‚Ä¶, they despaired and sometimes they cried.‚ÄĚ In some cases, ‚Äėfailure‚Äô seemed to have lessened men in the eyes of their parents. As one man explained, ‚Äú[My] parents now see me as incapable, undeserving. I no longer feel part of the family.‚ÄĚ Some parents thought their son was a criminal. They equated detention of irregular migrants with their having committed a crime, which, as one man explained, led to his rejection: ‚ÄúThey knew I came from prison. Only my wife still accepted me ‚Ä¶ even my own biological parents did not want to accept me at all. ‚Ä¶ And other relatives did not comfort me. They stayed away from me.‚ÄĚ
The impact of trafficking ‚Äď being stressed, traumatised, physically unwell ‚Äď also meant that men acted and reacted in ways that upset family members, creating further distance and amplifying resentment. ‚ÄúMy feeling was like getting fed-up, annoyed,‚ÄĚ one man said. ‚ÄúWanting to get angry but at whom, I asked. I was confused.‚ÄĚ Some men spoke about being traumatised by their exploitation, inhibiting their ability to behave and interact with children in healthy ways. One man described being emotional and easily angered, which took a toll on his children: ‚Äú[I was] unstable and shaken. I thought a lot about the costs and the unfortunate events when I was there. I didn‚Äôt know where to look for help. ‚Ä¶ The kids were in shock. I got angry easily.‚ÄĚ
At the same time, many men often kept some (or most) details of their exploitation secret, as one explained: ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt want to make my wife sad. ‚Ä¶ [I did not tell her] the terrible things I experienced in the deep sea.‚ÄĚ Not knowing about men‚Äôs exploitation meant families did not understand their difficult or erratic behaviours, leading to feelings of frustration, disappointment and anger.
Human trafficking took a substantial toll on the lives of these men. Some of their families were also shaken by this experience; other families were destroyed.
Supporting trafficked men‚Äôs reintegration requires a better understanding of the family environments to which they return, particularly gendered expectations around migration and men‚Äôs role as breadwinner. It requires thinking beyond the immediacy of economics, to disentangle the interplay of economics and family expectations in men‚Äôs lives. It also requires thinking about how trafficking has profoundly affected not only trafficked men but also their wives, children and extended family.
A longer version of this article was first published in Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 10