Trafficking in humans is a form of modern day slavery. It is the transportation and exploitation of women, men, and children within or across countries for a variety of purposes. Humans are trafficked by use of force, abduction, fraud, and coercion. Trafficking activities include recruiting individuals, transporting and transferring them from their home country or region to other transshipment points and to destination countries, receiving such trafficked persons, and keeping them in custody or housing them.
Types Of Trafficking
Many forms of trafficking exist. Young girls and women are common targets of commercial sexual exploitation. They may be forced into prostitution and other sexual activities such as for the production of pornography. There are accounts of women servicing 30 men a day and children trapped in pornography rings. Others become human containers in the transportation of drugs through forced ingestion of condoms or other containers of illegal substances. Labor servitude is another type of trafficking affecting men, women, and children that can be found in nearly every area of industry. For example, children are used to make clothing, women are transported to become housekeepers and nannies, and trafficked laborers can be found in sweatshops, factories, agricultural fields, and fisheries. Victims may work long hours in unpleasant, unsanitary, or dangerous conditions for low wages, sometimes unable to take breaks or leave the facility. In some instances, debts may be passed on to other family members or even entire villages from generation to generation, creating a constant supply of indentured servants for traffickers. Traffickers use young boys in combat, forcing them to serve as soldiers or decoys in local, civil, and territorial wars. They are also used in sport, such as for jockeys in the popular, yet dangerous sport of camel racing in some Middle Eastern countries.
While trafficking is widespread across the world, comprehensive and reliable statistics on the number of persons trafficked are not currently available. Trafficking is, in most countries, a criminal enterprise, and because of secrecy and silence surrounding this activity, it is difficult to determine the number of trafficked victims. In addition, there is a lack of an agreed-upon precise definition of trafficking, and this lack of clarity leads to disparate estimates. Governments, lawmakers, and researchers often disagree on activities to categorize as trafficking. One reason is because it is difficult to distinguish what is considered trafficking and what is voluntary migration. For example, smuggling of individuals who want to migrate illegally is not considered trafficking until the person being smuggled is kept against his or her will and exploited to repay his or her debt.
Furthermore, published estimates focus on different types of trafficking and where it occurs, making it difficult to arrive at precise numbers of trafficking occurrences worldwide. One governmental group may examine trafficked young girls in the sex trade around the world, while a non-governmental organization (NGO) monitors trafficked men, women, and children within a country’s textile industry. Trafficking statistics from these two groups will vary in the population, location, and type of trafficking, illustrating the difficulty of establishing a single accurate number of the prevalence of trafficking in humans. Estimates of the amount of people trafficked internationally each year range from 600,000 men, women, and children to 1.2 million children alone. Despite the differences in these numbers, it is undeniable that a huge amount of trafficking in humans occurs around the globe.
Although trafficking in humans has occurred throughout history, today it is facilitated by the global economy and relaxation of corporate boundaries. Victims are often poor and aspire to a better life. They may be forced, coerced, deceived, and psychologically manipulated into industrial or agricultural work, marriage, domestic servitude, organ donation, or sexual exploitation. Although victims often come from poorer countries, the market for labor and sex is found in wealthier countries or in countries that, while economically poor, cater to the needs of citizens from wealthy countries, of corporations, or of tourists. The places from which trafficked people originate are referred to as supply countries/regions or simply the supply side. The destination locations where exploitation occurs are referred to as demand countries/ regions or simply the demand side. There is no single reason for why trafficking occurs; numerous factors contribute to trafficking, including a combination of economic, social, political, and legal contexts.
Demand sides are usually more developed and affluent with the needs and the means to attract people from supply sides for labor and sexual servitude. Labor restrictions and limited employment opportunities in supply sides increase the chances that trafficking will occur. While some individuals are trafficked directly for purposes of prostitution or commercial sexual exploitation, other trafficked persons and even those trafficked for legitimate work may become victims of interpersonal violence. Women trafficked for domestic work in wealthy countries or laborers trafficked for construction, logging, factory, or farm work are vulnerable to exploitation by their employers. Individuals trafficked for the purpose of labor are usually unfamiliar with their new location and the language spoken there. They often lack formal education and do not know about the human and legal resources that could help them. For these reasons, individuals are vulnerable to the violence of exploitation.
The social environment of different countries influences their role as part of the supply side. For instance, the social status of females affects trafficking. In societies where girls and women are not valued or respected there is an increased risk of being taken advantage of or exploited. Women and girls may not have the same rights as men, forcing subservience and reliance on men. Women may also be denied an education or may be forced to drop out of school to work and help support their family, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. Children have little or no voice in decisions that affect them in most nations. As a result, they are usually powerless to resist pressures from family and community and to fight against traffickers. In addition, cultural attitudes that tolerate violence, particularly violence against women and children, also contribute to trafficking. Once individuals have been trafficked, they are likely to be socially stigmatized in their home communities as well as in their new locations. This stigmatization is a significant problem for women and children used for prostitution and for those who have become infected with HIV. For these reasons, reintegration of trafficked persons into society becomes difficult or impossible.
Political And Legal Contexts
Conflict, war, political disorganization, and unrest in a country can contribute to trafficking. In newly organized countries emerging from a period of war, new governments may find it difficult to respond to trafficking activities and to combat organized crime or corruption, a difficulty which can spur and maintain trafficking activities, even where laws against these activities have been enacted.
Many countries do not have formal laws explicitly prohibiting trafficking. Some countries with laws prohibiting slavery have modified them to include trafficking. And countries that do have laws against trafficking often find it difficult to capture and prosecute traffickers. Prosecution and punishment of traffickers is complicated if victims and witnesses do not or cannot testify. Victims and witnesses may fear for their lives or receive threats against their families, forcing them to stay quiet and allow their traffickers to walk free. Punishments for traffickers in most jurisdictions are often not severe or certain enough to deter these behaviors. Traffickers often find it easy to return to the business after being released from a short period of incarceration.
There are also few consequences for people who participate in trafficking as clients, particularly those who employ trafficked victims or those who use the services of prostituted women, men, and children. Sex tourism is a booming business, and many men from wealthy nations engage in sexual activities with trafficked individuals by traveling to destinations where women and children are prostituted. Some countries have recently written laws to prevent their citizens from engaging in sexual activities with minors while traveling outside of their own country. These laws try to deter sex tourism, making travelers reconsider their actions because of the consequences. However, enforcement of these laws may prove difficult because of jurisdiction and proof.
Traffickers may be members of organized crime networks or may be locals, friends, or even family members well known to the victim. Trafficking in persons can be an extremely profitable business. It is ranked the third most profitable form of organized crime after drugs and arms trafficking, reaching billions to tens of billions of dollars in profits each year. In addition, traffickers may be involved in other criminal activities— for example, using the vehicles that transport victims and drugs out of a country to transport weapons or other items back in.
Deception may be used to ensnare those unaware of trafficking methods. Someone will approach a victim with a proposition of work in another area, such as being a waitress in a large city, for a fee. The victim, usually in need of employment or money, will accept and automatically accrues debt for the trafficker’s service. Families with young children are typically told that there is a good educational opportunity or vocational apprenticeship elsewhere for the child. Once the victim arrives at the destination, passports and other forms of identification are seized by the trafficker and the real type of employment is revealed (e.g., sex work, domestic labor, field or factory labor). Wages are withheld until the contract ends or when the person becomes less profitable (e.g., through sickness or death). Families, relatives, or friends may sell a victim or enter him or her into a contract with traffickers. Other forcible methods, such as physical violence, torture, beatings, sexual violence, or kidnapping are also commonly used to traffic men, women, and children.
Traffickers may use tourist or work visas and thus circumvent regulations to transport people across borders with little difficulty. Then they may force victims to stay illegally. The inability of governments to track traffickers and visas make it difficult to pinpoint who is doing the trafficking and how many people are trafficked into and out of a given area.
Traffickers exert their control over the victims through physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, direct threats to the victims, and threats to harm family members if the victims do not cooperate. They also capitalize on the shame and guilt victims experience after being raped, prostituted, or forced to participate in illicit actions, such as drug smuggling and war crimes. Victims may not want this information made public, giving traffickers further control over them.
Victims may be hurriedly transported from one location to another, contributing to their inability to flee. Confiscation of personal documents (e.g., a passport) by the traffickers further decreases the likelihood of escape. Language barriers and lack of familiarity with the legal system may increase fear and decrease the chances that the victim will escape or successfully seek help.
Consequences For Victims
Women, men, and child victims of trafficking may be physically, mentally, and emotionally injured and often are found to need medical care. There are also many social consequences for survivors, such as a social stigma that traffickers use to their advantage. Families may reject survivors if they are considered “dirty” due to sexual exploitation, if they have failed to provide for the family, or if they have broken a contract. Once freed, women and children seldom have skills that will allow them to find legitimate employment. Some women are impregnated and have newborn children for whom they must provide. Male and female victims may also be deported or face criminal charges themselves if they go to the authorities for help.
Difficulties facing victims of trafficking include the following: isolation in a new country and inability to contact friends and family; lack of language skills in a new country; fear that they or their family members back home will be harmed by the traffickers; mistrust of government officials; fear that they will be arrested, prosecuted, or incarcerated; and mental health problems, including posttraumatic stress disorder, and physical health problems resulting from injuries or illnesses, including HIV/AIDS.
Stopping Trafficking In Humans
Advocates for trafficking victims have called for more attention to this problem from governments across the globe. Both demand and supply countries need to be involved in solutions. Laws directed at traffickers and that treat victims fairly are needed, and where they exist, enforcement is necessary. Victims need support to be able to assist with interdiction and control of trafficking. Special training for law enforcement officers is necessary to ensure that they understand the laws, are able to recognize trafficking situations, and can effectively assist victims.
Survivors also require laws protecting them from deportation and imprisonment. They may face criminal charges for illegally entering the country and participating in prostitution or drug smuggling. Survivors also require protection from their traffickers, especially if they are to cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers. The United States has created a number of visas for trafficked victims, including T visas for trafficked survivors allowing them to stay in the United States, find employment, and potentially apply for citizenship.
Most important, programs need to provide services in the language of their survivors. A great program will only be effective if the survivor can understand what is offered and be able to use it. Awareness campaigns also need to be able to reach the target audience. Many sites launch Internet or television awareness advertisements that are only effective if they are seen by those who are most at risk. People in rural villages or small towns may not have access to televisions or computers with Internet access.
Currently, there is a variety of organizations that are addressing this problem with different approaches and goals, including governments and NGOs. Governments with the assistance of NGOs have worked on legislation to outlaw trafficking, punish or prosecute traffickers, and provide legal support and visas for victims. Prevention programs may focus on addressing supply and demand issues. Rescue and rehabilitation organizations provide safe space and support for victims. Needed support includes social support, legal assistance, mental health services, and literacy or occupational training in the language of the victims. Research organizations collect data to help better understand the problem, evaluate the impact of new programs and policies, and disseminate findings.
- IOM International Office of Migration. (2002). Journeys of jeopardy: A review of research on trafficking on women and children in Europe (Publication No. 11). Retrieved from http://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mrs_11_2002.pdf
- Miller, J. (2005, April). Testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology. Retrieved May 31, 2017, from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-109hhrg23248/html/CHRG-109hhrg23248.htm
- (n.d.). Factsheet: Child trafficking in the Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/media/files/ipulocaltrafficking.doc
- S. Department of State. (2005). Trafficking in persons report. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/47255.pdf
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