Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Human Trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or the 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 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 can include sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Human trafficking generally includes three important elements: the Act (what is done), the means (how it is done) and the purposes (why it is done). Almost every country is affected by it either as country of origin, transit or destination. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall in hands of traffickers; people who don’t adhere to any humane values, and use all means of violence, threats, deception, debt bondage and other manipulative tactics to trap victims in oppressive situations.
Human trafficking traces back to a long time ago; however, it was in the 1400s when the Portuguese started transporting people from Africa to Portugal, using them as slaves. Later in 1562, the British joined in on the slave trade in Africa, and by the 1600s more countries joined the European slave trade. Today, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the number of convictions for human trafficking is steadily increasing. According to a report produced by the UNODC, the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls, and in 30% of countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion. The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labor (18%). It generates almost 150 billion US dollars in illegal profits per year, and it is mostly migrant workers and indigenous people who are vulnerable to forced labour.
Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa). On the other hand, in Europe, human trafficking is one of the most lucrative illicit businesses, with criminal groups making about $3 billion from it per year, making it a considerable criminal business that preys on the world’s most marginalized persons.
In Europe, over 140,000 victims are trapped in a situation of violence and degradation for sexual exploitation and up to one in seven sex workers in the region may have been enslaved into prostitution through trafficking. According to UNICEF’s End Trafficking Campaign, 21 million people are estimated to have been trafficked around the world that has generated $32billion estimated profits.
These figures are not just numbers, they represent humans, who used to be a member of a family, someone’s father or son, or someone’s mother or daughter; United Nations along with other organizations and countries have done a lot to fight Human Trafficking. In 1927, the League of Nations was founded after WWI with the goal of maintaining world peace and focusing on international issues such as human trafficking. They conducted two major studies, one in the West and the other in the East to find out the real status of trafficking in those areas. Almost 7 decades later, the United Nations held the fourth World Conference to address the issue of trafficking of women. Their major accomplishment was the fact that trafficking was actually recognized as an act of violence against women and most importantly actions to be taken were developed. These included enforcing international conventions on trafficking, addressing the factors that encouraged trafficking, and setting up effective law enforcement and institutions that would work to eliminate trafficking.
In July 2010, the General Assembly of the UN adopted The United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons to urge governments worldwide to take serious actions against Human Trafficking; it included: focusing on preventing trafficking, prosecuting offenders, protecting victims and stressing the importance of obtaining more research and analysis about trafficking. The Global Plan called for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the United Nations’ broader programs to boost development and strengthen security around the world, as well as for the setting up of a United Nations voluntary trust fund for victims of trafficking, especially women and children.
In 2011, President Obama declared January to be Human Trafficking Awareness month, and January 11, 2011 was named National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. On this day, various individual and group events took place to increase awareness about human trafficking among general public. Currently, in the global context, the average cost of a slave is $90. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children. Human trafficking makes up third largest international crime industry—behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking. Although it seems as if we have done a lot to fight it, there is still a long road ahead.