Monday, May 19, 2008

A Trafficking Overview

By Vitit Munt Arbhorn

From the Bangkok Post:

The Palermo Protocol on human trafficking, attached to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime 2000, helps to define human trafficking as recruitment or transfer of persons for the purpose of exploitation, and this can pave the way to an appropriate definition at the national level.

While sexual exploitation is often in the news, human trafficking covers many other forms of exploitation, including for labour and for adoptions. However, there is often confusion on the issue of consent- can a person consent to be trafficked implying that trafficking with the consent of the victim should not be criminalised? The international consensus through the Palermo Protocol is that consent is immaterial- a victim needs to be protected against trafficking irrespective of whether it is voluntary or not.

Another area of confusion is between human smuggling and human trafficking. The latter has to do with a person who is either in an exploited situation or on the way to an exploited situation, while human smuggling concerns a third party helping someone to enter another country illegally (not necessarily for exploitation).

On a related front, there is a need to address both the supply and demand, and thwart the intermediary. The supply side often involves local people producing illicit goods or providing the humans to be traded as the illicit goods. A key challenge is to address those sources through development measures which can enable them to avoid being involved in elements of exploitation, and to prevent criminality.

These are closely linked with the need for livelihood opportunities, access to education and productive activities which help to keep children from falling prey to the criminal market. These are particularly pertinent to preventing children from being used either as objects of human trafficking or as instruments of crime such as drug couriers.

The intermediary comes in various shapes and sizes ranging from small scale abusers to transnational organised crime syndicates. There is a need for effective sanctions against them, with adequate penalties, and in the worst-case scenarios, the types of exploitation perpetrated by them related to human trafficking can be seen as crimes against humanity subject to international criminal courts.

The demand side also needs to be dealt with creatively. In a Scandinavian country, for example, customers of prostitutes, rather than the prostitutes, are now criminalised. The law in Thailand incriminates the customer in the case of the sexual exploitation of those under 18 years of age, but there is a large gap between the principle and the practice of law enforcement.

There is also a need to promote community and family participation against trafficking. Precisely because the problem of drug and human trafficking often arises from the community level, before being transformed into a larger-scale cross-border affair, action is needed to motivate local communities and families to act against this trafficking. In-school and after-school programmes to involve teachers, parents and children are important entry points for constructive activities, consciousness raising and preventing children from being lured into the negative market.

Communities and families are also important as watchdogs against abuse and to help the victims reintegrate into society and prevent them from returning to exploitative situations. Moreover, effective mechanisms and processes are required to identify the victims and to be victim sensitive: treat them as victims/survivors rather than criminals.

There is a clear need to have a mechanism, such as an inter-agency panel, to help identify the victims of human trafficking and act quickly and effectively. This would need to be linked with a referral system so that victims do not land in jail or in immigration detention centres for illegal entry into the country, but can be referred to welfare facilities.

Read the full article


  1. great site, i will bookmark it. i work in kenya to counter trafficking (and am mentioned in a previous article, thanks) and it is great to keep up to date on what else is happening throughout the world.

  2. Hi Lu,

    Do keep me posted on whats going on in Kenya as far as anti-trafficking efforts, challenges, events, etc.

    Thanks for your support!