Friday, February 02, 2007

Let's Get Free

Human Trafficking 101

Slavery was officially abolished in the United States with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution in 1865.

Yet today slavery remains a thriving industry...

Human trafficking (trafficking) is modern day slavery. Trafficking generally involves organized crime syndicates who profit tremendously from the forced prostitution and/or labor performed by its victims. Trafficking has become so profitable that it has superseded the traditional cash cows of drugs and arms trade in some criminal organizations.

Source: Corbis

Defining Human Trafficking

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 defines trafficking as:

1) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18, or

2) 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 subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The keywords to understanding trafficking are: deceit, coercion, forced labor, and sexual exploitation.

Filipina domestic workers in Kuwait escape to their embassy after suffering
violence and sexual advances at the hands of their employers. Source: Corbis

Trafficking vs. Smuggling

Trafficking and smuggling are often confused, but are NOT the same. Smuggling is the illegal crossing of a national border, and is a criminal act for the both the smuggler and the person smuggled. Trafficking, on the other hand, is the crime of slavery-like labor or commercial sexual exploitation, and may not involve any transportation at all. It is a crime committed by the trafficker against a victim, and so only the trafficker has committed a criminal act (Polaris).

Regarding forced migration or movement, while a trafficked person may experience forced movement during the trafficking, the forced movement or confinement is not by itself trafficking, absent other factors. It is the slavery-like labor exploitation or commercial sexual exploitation that determines whether trafficking has occurred. In some trafficking cases, little to no movement or transportation occurs (Polaris).

Trafficking does not necessarily require transportation, but it does always signify someone being deceived or coerced into a situation where they are forced to do some kind of labor against their will.

Trafficking is an umbrella term for persons being forced into activities such as:
  • Prostitution
  • Forced labor (factories, sweatshops)
  • Domestic servitude
  • Begging
  • Soldiering
  • Commercial or illegal adoption
  • Camel jockeying (young boys)
  • Organ trading

Chinese migrant laborers work 12-hour shifts at construction sites for
little pay amidst miserable work & living conditions.
Source: Corbis

Source Countries vs. Destination Countries

Trafficking is an issue that connects poor countries to rich countries, the supply to the demand. The flow of trafficking victims is generally south to north, and east to west- in other words the poor moving to meet the demands of the rich. Victims are generally from South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Approximately 80 percent of trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors. This can be attributed to the feminization of migration. As demand for domestic help and entertainers, among other female-oriented jobs, has increased around the globe, the vulnerable population of poor women and girls from developing countries seeking employment abroad has kept pace offering up a steady stream of migrants hoping to escape poverty and support their families back home.

Child beggars in Mexico. Often girls like these are part of a larger network
of older women and young children recruited to beg.
Source: Corbis

Causes of trafficking

  • Lack of economic opportunity- with no jobs at home, people are forced to go abroad or starve
  • Feminization of migration- as the international labor market shifted its focus to women-staffed occupations, the population vulnerable to trafficking ballooned
  • Organized crime syndicates- elusive and adaptive, crime syndicates have maximized their profits from trafficking by taking advantage of the large number of people seeking work abroad
  • Government corruption- trafficking will be difficult to solve with customs officials and other government staff accepting bribes to facilitate the trafficking
  • Poor education- many uneducated, desperate men and women are duped into trafficking by manipulative recruiters
  • Low awareness of trafficking- the fewer people that know about trafficking, the less awareness there is, and the less chance that an effective movement can be mobilized to effectively fight the issue

Illegal organ trade in Pakistan: men selling their kidneys. Source: Corbis


  • Governments- Integral in creating anti-trafficking legislation and enforcing it through a strong justice system, governments also have the resources to develop effective awareness campaigns to educate the public and outgoing migrants on trafficking as well as provide direct services to victims.
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)- Key in advocating to create or amend existing legislation, developing new legislation in conjunction with governments, and, because of their in-the-trenches perspective, training law enforcement and social workers about trafficking as well as running awareness campaigns, providing legal assistance to victims, and offering direct services to victims of trafficking. The shortcoming of NGOs is that they often work with extremely limited resources and because of this, operate at the whim of grant stipulations, which can alter their programming and put the stability of their services in jeopardy without guarantees of long-term funding.
  • Law Enforcement- Integral in conducting raids to free victims and enforcing anti-trafficking legislation on the streets. Training on recognizing trafficking situations is needed to have a well-informed police force that is aware of the issue in its various forms.
  • The Media- Plays a key role in raising awareness and framing the issue in the public's eye. It is important for the media to portray trafficking as not only limited to sexual exploitation but also forced labor and its other forms. Further, the media should portray trafficking not as an exotic, isolated issue but, where appropriate, as an ongoing problem that exists within our communities.
  • The Public- Everyday people can do much to stem the tide of trafficking. Awareness by itself is a big step- we cannot begin to effectively address this issue unless we know of it. Further, the more people that are educated about trafficking, the more eyes and ears there will be to recognize a trafficking situation, making it harder for traffickers to conduct their business.

A child soldier in Africa. Often times children can be forcibly removed
from their communities and forced to join armies.
Source: Corbis

To Be Continued...


Polaris Project. What Is Human Trafficking? Retrieved February 2nd, 2007 from

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