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What is Human Trafficking?

human traffickingIn a world full of vices, there are crimes and human rights violations that generally shame us all. One such vice is human trafficking. Human trafficking may take many forms and generally involves the recruitment, translocation and exploitation of a person or a group of people. In many instances, may have given consent which is considered irrelevant when it is given through coercion, deception or fraudulent means. A child for example, cannot consent to any actions that may be termed as trafficking and as such, transporting or moving a child into conditions that are exploitative provides enough ground to be termed as trafficking (Kempadoo, Sanghera & Pattanaik 2015). Moreover, it should be noted that human trafficking is the trade in and exploitation of humans for whatever gain or profit. The act is by itself not a standalone offence but should be understood as a process and while cross border trafficking is the most prevalent, trafficking can also occur within the geographical borders of a country.

Legislations such as the UN Palermo Protocol of 2000 provide a comprehensive definition of what constitutes human trafficking, which member states have to adhere to. This has made concerted international efforts to combat the crime to be easier, effective and more coordinated (Gallagher 2010). The vice may take many forms ranging from sexual exploitation, forced labor to sale and trade in human organs. Human trafficking can be likened to smuggling of immigrants as both involve the movement of persons for profit. The difference is that while smuggled persons are free to move about in their country of destination upon arrival, trafficked victims remain under custody and control of their perpetrators.

What data is available on human trafficking?

Human trafficking is today’s modern slavery. Their operations are illegal and clandestine in nature and as such, there are various divergent statistics on the prevalence of such violations and the collection and documentation of data on the same is consequently very difficult. While many cases go unreported, it is estimated that approximately 27 million people are trafficked annually around the world with 75% of the cases being women, girls and children (Oram et al.m 2012) A majority of the victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation with an annual turnover topping almost $100 billion to the traffickers yearly.

What causes and fuels human trafficking?

  • Poverty – poverty is a major reason why people are trafficked as victims are usually desperate and inherently more vulnerable to exploitation
  • Profit – human trafficking is one of the most profitable illegal trade activities coming closely to trade in illegal weapons and drugs.
  • Pornography – desensitizes people to the problem of sexual objectification, distorts the expectations and attitudes of men towards sex and also dehumanizes women
  • Market demand – there is a demand for commercial sex and sex tourism in most countries under the human trafficking radar
  • Gender disparity – there is a general sexual objectification of women and girls in the society where girls are seen as less valuable and may be sold by parents

Who is involved and how is the trafficking done?

Traffickers will often lure and use many avenues to get their victims. Some of them include the use of fake job offers and opportunities (e.g. modeling, hotel/bar work, car work or education); casual acquaintances who may be a friend of a friend that may introduce a victim to a trafficker; and the involvement of family who may do all they can to get their daughter a “well paying job” in order for her to send money back home (Oram et al.m 2012).

Traffickers may be male or female, family members, acquaintances and friends, criminal gangs that are well organized, and even partners. People who are trafficked may include poor people with no money or opportunities, minorities and oppressed groups, illegal immigrants, unskilled laborers and most prevalently, women and children.

In order to keep their victims under control and enslaved, traffickers may resort to various techniques. The most common include the following:

  • The victim may be kept under lock and key and/or their visas, passports and identification documents detained or confiscated to restrict their movement
  • Some of the victims are forced into corporation and compliance through violence and inhumane acts such as physical harm and rape
  • Victims may also be blackmailed by imprisonment or deportation for violating immigration laws if they report or contact authorities
  • Some are debt bound or detained to fulfill financial obligations where they are told they are honor bound to repay debt

On the other hand, in order to identify the signs of a human trafficking victim, one may look for the following signs:

  • They may have tattoos and/or other marks as an indication of ownership by their masters
  • They may be overworked for long hours and hardly get any day off
  • They may only know or identify with sex related vocabularies in the local dialect or language of their client targets
  • They may not be able to have or show any identification documents
  • They may often be kept under watch and have escorts whenever they are going or returning to work and other activities
  • They may often live or move in large groups which in most cases is made up of women that do not speak the same language

Geographical distribution

Key Source RegionsKey Destinations
Latin America
Eastern Europe
North America
Middle East

(Shelley 2010)

Victims of human trafficking are often left with psychological, emotional and physical trauma that that impacts their lives on various capacities. Some of the effects include lack of trust, sense of helplessness, shame, insecurity, depression, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) (Oram et al.m 2012). In women and children, human trafficking often affects them in their deepest beings as it strikes at the heart of what is most precious to them – their individual values and dignity.

Possible Interventions

While the crime of human trafficking continues to be a menace in modern day societies, it is important to know what can be done to prevent or mitigate on its effects. Some of them include the following:

  • Being more alert and aware of one’s surroundings especially in large gatherings, crowds and groups of people e.g at conventions and events as such instances often coincide with increased cases of trafficking (Shelley 2010)
  • Becoming well informed on sex trafficking
  • Reporting of any activity or occurrences that are suspect within one’s local area to law enforcement authorities and the necessary agencies for instance, an apartment that has regular changeover of women and girls
  • Another important intervention is the incorporation of information on human trafficking into school curriculums since education is a critical tool for combating the crime
  • Forming international networks among countries to help streamline the fight against human trafficking across borders.
  • Young people who make up the most vulnerable and targeted population of this heinous act should be encouraged to talk and share among themselves concerning this phenomenon (Shelley 2010)


Gallagher, A. T. (2010). The international law of human trafficking. Cambridge University Press.

Kempadoo, K., Sanghera, J., & Pattanaik, B. (2015). Trafficking and prostitution reconsidered: New perspectives on migration, sex work, and human rights. Routledge.

Oram, S., Stöckl, H., Busza, J., Howard, L. M., & Zimmerman, C. (2012). Prevalence and risk of violence and the physical, mental, and sexual health problems associated with human trafficking: systematic review. PLoS medicine9(5), e1001224.

Shelley, L. (2010). Human trafficking: A global perspective. Cambridge University Press.

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