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Violence Against Women: Human Trafficking

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. Millions of people worldwide live and suffer in slave-like situations. According to the United Nations, human trafficking is ranked as the third greatest revenue source of organized crime just after narcotics and arms. While the U.S. Department of State estimates that 800,000 – 900,000 people are trafficked across borders annually, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and many other organizations taking the lead to eradicate trafficking put the number above 2 million. Adding domestic trafficking to those numbers, which is defined as people trafficked within the borders of one nation, the number reaches almost 4 million persons trafficked per year.

Trafficked victims are often deceived, forced, or coerced into vulnerable situations that make it easy for the traffickers to hold them in forced labor and/or slavery. The overwhelming majority of victims of trafficking are women and girls. These women are often also victims of war, poverty, discrimination, and violence.

Definitions of Human Trafficking

1) The International Human Rights Law Group defines trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining, by any means, any person for labor or services involving forced labor, slavery or servitude in any industry, such as forced or coerced participation in agriculture, prostitution, manufacturing, or other industries or in domestic service or marriage.”

2) The United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery”.

3) The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines trafficking in persons as:

(a) “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability [footnote 1] or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation [footnote 2 ], forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery [with footnote on illegal adoptions], servitude or the removal or organs [with footnote explanation];

Explanation (1): "The travaux preparatoires should indicate that the reference to the abuse of a position of vulnerability is understood to refer to any situation in which the person involved has no real and acceptable alternative but to submit to the abuse involved."

Explanation (2): "The travaux preparatoires should indicate that this Protocol addresses the exploitation of prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation only in the context of trafficking in persons. The terms 'exploitation of the prostitution of other' or 'other forms of sexual exploitation' are not defined in the Protocol. The Protocol is therefore without prejudice to how States Parties address prostitution in their respective domestic laws." {In other words, the Protocol does not define all prostitution as trafficking and so recognizes the difference between forced and voluntary participation in the sex industry by adults. Voluntary migration for sex work is covered by the Smuggling Protocol, which was developed at the same time as the Trafficking Protocol.)

(b) "The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) are established; [footnotes 4 and 5]"

Explanation (4): The travaux preparatoires should indicate that this subparagraph should not be construed as imposing any restriction on the right of accused persons to a full defence and to the presumption of innocence.***"

Explanation (5): "Paragraph b of this Article should not be interpreted as laying upon the victim the burden of proof, as in any criminal proceedings, it is incumbent upon the public prosecutor to prove the elements of the offense in accordance with domestic law."

Forms of Human Trafficking

The three most common forms of trafficking are labor trafficking, including child labor, child soldiering and sweatshop work; sex trafficking, including child sex tourism and ‘mail order’ brides; and domestic servitude.