Missionary Spotlight – The vice trade today

Wesley Kawato
01 March, 2007 5 min read

If any need convincing that man is sinful, let them look no further than the various vice trades that destroy the lives of others for monetary profit. Drugs, slavery and prostitution are primary, worldwide vice trades that interact with each other. Can anything be done to help those whose lives are being destroyed by evildoers? International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights agency, may have some answers.


Partaking of forbidden substances is as old as humanity itself. In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and obtained an ‘enlightenment’ that we are still reckoning with. Today, man turns to the opium poppy and coca leaf.

Heroin, one of the world’s most addictive drugs, is derived from the opium poppy. A crude form of heroin may have been produced in Mesopotamia as early as 1000 BC. Arab traders later spread its use to all parts of Asia. By the 1830s, British merchants controlled the sale of pipe opium (a form that could be smoked).

The Chinese Government’s efforts to stamp out the sale of opium (sold illegally in China by British traders) sparked the first Opium War of 1839-42 (a second war followed in 1856-60 involving Anglo-French interests).

After 1949 the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) encouraged Nationalist Chinese exiles in Myanmar to grow opium to raise money for the arms needed to liberate Communist China.

By the 1960s, criminal gangs had taken over this trade and the growth of opium poppies had spread to Thailand and Laos. These countries, along with Myanmar, form an opium-growing region known as the Golden Triangle. During the 1970s the governments of Thailand and Laos cracked down on this trade, but opium poppy growth continues unchecked in Myanmar.

While opium production from the Golden Triangle was declining during the 1980s, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan became a major problem. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA encouraged guerrillas, including the Taliban, to finance the purchase of arms by opium production.


With the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, control of production passed to local warlords. Opium production in Afghanistan today is at a high level and much of it ends up in Western Europe or the United States.

During the 1970s, drug traffickers in the Golden Triangle and Afghanistan obtained help from the Italian mafia in exporting large quantities of opium to France – where it was refined and distributed to Europe and North America.

Later, other criminal syndicates challenged the mafia’s control of heroin distribution. Drug gangs in Myanmar began shipping it direct to the United States. Also, Colombian drug cartels took control of cocaine production.

During the 1980s cocaine sales soared in the United States and Europe, while the sale of heroin dropped. Turf wars erupted between the mafia and cartels, with the two groups often using inner-city gangs as proxies. After 1990 the mafia and cartels began co-operating. There is growing evidence that Asian-derived heroin is now being smuggled into the United States via Mexico through cartel-controlled distribution routes.

Drug addiction affects not only the West but also developing countries. Heroin addiction is a problem in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there are few drug treatment clinics.


Prostitution is a part of the vice trade that often intertwines with slavery. Many women, once kidnapped and enslaved, end up as prostitutes.

Slavery has deep historical roots. In ancient times invading armies enslaved those they captured. Today most countries have outlawed slavery, which means that slavers have to use subterfuge to capture their victims. Poverty and drug addiction are two factors that create desperation – making some vulnerable to being tricked into a life of slavery and prostitution.

For example, slavers entice poor Eastern European women with ‘job offers’ in Western Europe. Many who think they are going to become waitresses or nannies end up as prostitutes.

Thailand is a major distribution point for prostitutes. Girls kidnapped in Myanmar are sold to middlemen in Thailand, who then resell them to brothel owners in Malaysia and Singapore. Hill tribe girls from Myanmar are highly prized for their beauty. The prettier ones are resold to brothels in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.

No matter where a prostitute ends up, she lives a life of misery. Often the girl services 10-12 customers a day and sees little of her earnings. Many pimps force their girls to live on starvation wages. Girls who try to escape are beaten or killed. Many die of AIDS; some go home in disgrace.

Slave labour

There are other forms of slavery. For example, in India, rice mill workers often live in company-controlled towns where the only store is owned by the company. High prices are charged, forcing people into debt. They then work 18-hour days for less than the Indian minimum wage. Those who try to run away are beaten up.

In Nepal, slavery is often a problem in the gold mining industry. Large mines are able to pay wages, but some small mines use slave labour to remain competitive. Poor families sell their children to work in these mines.

Mine owners prize young boys because they are able to crawl into narrow tunnels and mine the smallest veins. Accidents are common because these mine owners disregard safety regulations. Slavery is illegal in Nepal, but corrupt officials allow it to continue and no records are kept of accidents.

Slavery also occurs in Niger. During colonial times this West African nation experienced a series of tribal wars and prisoners were often sold into slavery. Many families in Niger have known only slavery for over 100 years.

Niger land barons use male slaves to herd cattle and female slaves to do domestic chores. Recently, anti-slavery groups campaigned successfully for Niger’s parliament to ban slavery but the new law is not being properly enforced.

Rebel armies sometimes enslave children. Boys are forced to fight as soldiers; girls are kept as sex slaves. This has especially been true in Africa, where militant groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone have kidnapped children. The so-called Lord’s Resistance Army, a cult in northern Uganda, has been one of the worst culprits.


The situation today looks grim. What can be done to help those whose lives are being destroyed? International Justice Mission (IJM), a Christian human rights agency, may have some answers.

In most countries, the vice trades are illegal. IJM reminds us that the reason evil prevails is that honest people do nothing. Slave traders, kidnappers, pimps and drug lords resort to all kinds of intimidation. They threaten victims and families directly.

If this doesn’t work, they bribe the police. If that doesn’t work, they intimidate or bribe witnesses. And if that doesn’t work, they get court cases delayed until the victim can no longer afford an attorney.

However, IJM workers and lawyers are prepared to ‘stay the course’ and defend victims of the vice trade until they obtain justice. Why do they do this? Because they see what the criminals cannot see – the advancing kingdom of God. ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). They do not grow weary in doing good because they believe the Lord’s promise – ‘they shall reap a harvest if they do not give up’ (Galatians 6:9).


The kingdom of God advances because people as different as St Patrick and Amy Carmichael are willing to risk their lives for it. Christians everywhere should pray for God to work through forefront agencies such as IJM. Only the power of God can break the stranglehold of drugs, slavery, prostitution and the satanic agencies that lie behind them.

The drug trade is fuelled by poverty. Pray that God will send both missionaries and community development workers to the places where drugs are produced. Some of the people groups most heavily involved in the drug trade have never heard of the salvation and hope that comes from Jesus Christ.

The same crushing poverty that causes people to engage in the drug trade causes others to sell their daughters into prostitution. There is an open door for Christian workers to reach out to such people. Pray for God to call more workers into these ministries.

Based on a Global Prayer Digest (March 2006) article, entitled: ‘Vice trade: one of Satan’s tools to kill, steal and destroy’

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