Objectification of Humans
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 29:33-34)
Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death. (Exo. 21:16)
The objectification of humans means treating a person or a group of people including their cultures as commodities to be sold and used. It could also mean treating human beings as an object of pleasure and enjoyment. Women, children, and even an entire family are sold for money without respect for their personality, spirituality, and dignity. I was shocked to read a story of parents forcing their minor daughter to get married to a rich fifty-year-old man due to poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents selling their daughter like a commodity! In another heart-wrenching story, Kyi and his family were forced to flee their home to escape the Myanmar military’s suppression of the Rohingya. While staying in a refugee camp, an agent offered good-paying jobs in Agra, India. Kyi thought that it was a great opportunity to rebuild their lives. However, once they arrived in Agra, they knew they had been deceived. They found themselves forced to work long hours for no wages as garbage pickers and plastic bottles collectors. Such fraud and coercion take place for want of money. The exploitation of poor people in their vulnerability. Such a cruel practice is called the commercialization of human beings.
The modern tourism industry operates by objectifying humans. With the financial power of the tourists, poor people in host countries are regarded as mere instruments and means of service and entertainment. The poor are not perceived as human beings with their dignity and autonomy but are seen as objects to be exploited. In many parts of the world, some people or communities are made as anthropological museums by the rich to earn money from naive tourists. I had the privilege of visiting the floating village, Chong Khneas in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. The families living there are close to 1000 and make their living mainly by fishing. At one glance, one will be fascinated by seeing people living in floating houses, traveling to floating schools, eating at floating restaurants, and shopping in floating markets! Perhaps it is fascinating for one day or a few hours, but not for a lifetime. Fishes and reptiles can live in water, but not human beings. But people are forced to live there for life. One will see hundreds of mini-tour buses lined up outside the village, with salesmen/women selling tacky souvenirs, and many restaurants and hotels around, especially Korean restaurants. Tourists come in big numbers to have a gaze of their fellow human beings living in the floating village. It is inhuman to treat human beings that way. This is called an anthropological museum. Human museums are created intentionally by the Cooperate houses and the rich manipulators for earning money. Tourists go there to stare at them. People are kept in the village like a showcase for sale and tourists take pictures of them as if they are not human beings. This is called the objectification of humans. We do not realize that it is hard to live on water for life. One can only imagine the difficulties of living on the water. Young, old, children need space for living and recreation. They cannot grow any food in the lake and so they live in abject poverty. 12 percent of the children die before the age of five due to the tough living conditions, the lack of medical care, and malnourishment. The annual income of households on the lake is under $500. Who are these people?
There are 700,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia, a country that doesn’t consider them as citizens even though they’ve lived in the country for generations.
Most of the ethnic Vietnamese arrived in Cambodia during the French Protectorate (1863- 1953) to work in administration positions and the countryside. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took power and the Vietnamese were forcibly deported to Vietnam or killed. During the exile, most of them lost the papers that proved their Cambodian origin. On their return in the 1980s, they were considered migrants and became stateless.
Without papers, ethnic Vietnamese cannot buy land and most of them live in floating villages in Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, located deep inside Cambodia. Without papers, ethnic Vietnamese cannot find jobs on the mainland and many of them face unemployment.” Source: Al Jazeera, 2014
“Most ethnic Vietnamese cannot buy land so they live in floating villages in Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest lake.” Source: Al Jazeera, 2014
All the tourists have to pay $20 as an entrance fee for a two-hour long tour, yet none of the money is given back to the community that is being toured. People in floating villages do not receive anything. The boats are owned and operated by a private firm (VCD Boat Association) and all the ticket sales go directly to the private company, but not to the people who are living there. Since the tour operation is privately owned, the local people have no say or control over who comes and goes and do not get any financial benefit. Local people living in the lake are objectified as strange human beings to generate income for the rich manipulator. It is an inhuman practice and it is appalling to know that it exists in modern society. There is no place for the objectification of poor people even by the law. All human beings are created in God’s image, and hence they are the subjects of their life and not objects of exploitation. Any practice or system that portrays human beings as objects, commodities is a travesty of human values and an insult to human beings.
Objectification of Body for Pleasure
Another dark reality of tourism is the objectification of women and children as a mere instrument of sex pleasure. They are seen as mere “sex objects” for enjoyment and entertainment. This is the reason why the abuse, including trafficking of women and children, is seen everywhere. It is reported that
Human trafficking is one of the most serious human rights problems. According to a 2016 report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), 21-45 million people are currently enslaved. The numbers are shocking. Women, men, girls, and boys are being bought and sold as commodities throughout our world. 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. More than 70 percent are female and half of them are children. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. Human trafficking is a sin against the victim and a sin against God (India Baptist Herald, Issue 14)
The numbers speak volumes of objectification and commercialization of humans:
There are 27 million people worldwide in modern‐day slavery
600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year
1.3 million children are exploited by the global sex trade, every year
$32 billion in total profits are generated by the human trafficking industry yearly
Human trafficking, or trafficking of persons, is one of the world’s largest organized criminal enterprises. Due to a lack of transparency and the informal and underground character of this ‘business’, it is difficult to arrive at exact figures of those exploited. However, it is said that thirty percent of them are children, mostly girls. It is a growing enterprise because slave labour is profitable. In the US, it is said that one girl earns about $ 200,000 per year for the owner! Poverty is one of the major factors that contribute to human trafficking. In an activity subject to the laws of supply and demand, service or commodity that is desired is generally met by those with a profit motive, intermediaries such as pimps, and other middlemen in the case of sex tourism. Usually, with little education, skills, and negligible employment opportunities, these disadvantaged women, and children, take recourse to use the only asset they have – their bodies. Children are even more helpless. Trafficked women and children have little control over their situation brought about by the ruthless ‘merchants’ and their agents peddling sex tourism motivated mainly by the lure of money. Tourists who take advantage of such human beings, and those who enable this to happen, are exploiters of the poor. The gloomiest reality of modern tourism is increasingly directed to human’s self-seeking pleasure, objectifying marginalized communities, women and children, and also their cultures as mere commodities. A study conducted in Goa by a group of Jesuit priests shows that the majority of the tourists in Goa are military personals and industrial workers. The Government of Israel provides a travel package to all the soldiers after the completion of compulsory military service as an incentive. The intention is to release stress and appease the soldiers after stressful work and training. Similarly, industrial workers are given travel package bonuses by the companies to release their accumulated feelings of oppression in alienating and health hazard working conditions. Tour packages are consciously organized by the ruling and owning class to avoid unrest, protest, and rebellion. Tourists who travel under these circumstances arrive at the destinations merely for enjoyment, relaxation, and pleasure. They objectify everything as a commodity for enjoyment and pleasure. Many of them come with a desire to fulfill their sexual lust without any respect for womanhood. They see women and children as mere objects to be exploited for enjoyment or as recreational commodities. It is a crime against humanity. It denies the values of human life. It endangers the physical and mental well-being of the victims and impedes their abilities to reach their full God-given potential. As Christians, we believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of the divine Creator. We should resist this unjust system at any cost.
Objectification of Cultures
Moreover, their culture is commercialized. Culture is the collective memory and heritage of the people that gives them an identity and binds them together as a distinct community. However, along with the commercialization of human communities and their bodies, their cultural heritages, customs, rituals, sacred shrines, places of worship, sacred music, and ceremonial dresses which were held with much reverence are now marketed without any respect. Many cultural heritages are marketed today in the form of mass recreation, a tool of government and business houses to earn money. It is an insult to God’s given spiritual heritage and wisdom.
In summary, commercial tourism’s sole objectives are mere profit, pleasure, and enjoyment. It does not respect life, culture, and environment. It denies the right to live in dignity, especially to the poor and marginalized people. It breeds injustice and thus contradicts the testimonies of the Scriptures. It is thus an ethical, theological, and missiological concern today. To challenge and critique the present paradigm of tourism and search for alternative tourism becomes a theological and ethical imperative.
The Bible and Objectification of Humans
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)
The bible testifies that all humans are made in the image of God (Gen.1:26-27). God is the giver of life. It is the breath of God that makes life living. It means that all human beings deserve to be equally respected and each person’s inherent dignity must be protected. They are subjects of their life and not objects for exploitation. To treat humans as objects to earn more revenue is against the teaching of the bible. Also, the treatment of women and children, and vulnerable communities as service or commodity is in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, any practice or system that treats human beings as mere objects for enjoyment by commodifying them is a travesty of human values and an insult to human beings. We can compare today’s commercial tourism with the ancient slavery system. Indebtedness was one of the main reasons for slavery in ancient Israel where minors were being sold by indebted parents or adults selling themselves (Exod. 22:25-27, cf. Deut. 234:19, 24:6,17). Elsewhere in Ancient West Asia, it is mentioned that exorbitant interest rates were the chief cause of slavery. While the rich people were competing to build “winter and summer houses” (Amos 3:15), the poor were “sold for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6) forcing them into slavery. Similarly, the profit-oriented tourism development force many marginalized communities such as indigenous people, women, and children to slavery. Let us not support companies, industries, or tours that do not respect life, culture, impedes local communities, and disregards the integrity of God’s creation. Let us love and respect life.