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  • Writer's pictureD.R.

Word of the Week: Human Trafficking

Updated: May 5, 2022

Prepared by Saurabh Saraswat


Modern form of slavery - involving recruitment, transportation, harbouring, exercising control, direction or influence over the movement of persons by use of force, threat, deception for labour, sexual exploitation or any activity which benefit the perpetrators financially.

It is a multi-dimensional threat depriving people of their human rights and freedoms and fuels the growth of an organized crime. The crux of any Human Trafficking is earning profits through exploitation of people.  

How it began?

1st known international flow of human trafficking began with African slave trade. American and European continents were the buyers and African groups were items of trade and middlemen.  The trade was both legal and government tolerated, until in 1807 - the first law against slavery by British, followed by America in 1820 came to ban slavery.

Post African slave trade, White Slavery started to emerge. In 1904 - 1st international agreement to suppress white slave traffic was signed and by 1910 – The International convention for the suppression of white slave trade criminalized white slavery. By 1921, 33 countries signed the International Convention for suppression of Traffic in Women and Children. Post World War II – the member-nations of the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others in 1949. This is the first legally binding international agreement on human trafficking.

                As the other forms – organ harvesting and labor trafficking grew, by the year 2000 – UN adopted the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. It was the first agreement that acknowledged modern-day slavery, as well as the possibility of men being victims of human trafficking.


·         Human Trafficking is an industry that victimizes 21M people with an estimated profit of $150B annually from Human Trafficking and Forced Labor.

·         2nd most profitable illegal industry after drug trade.

·         High rewards low risk – Traffickers make huge profits with minimal fear of punishment or legal consequences.

·         There are at least 510 known trafficking flows all over the world.

Reasons that could make someone fall in for Human Trafficking:

1.       Political Instability – A war, political civil unrest or natural disasters where normal lives can be disrupted and there may be situations that may cause fear with limited options for earning a living or even survival.  Security and stability could be at stake and lead people to take actions to overcome desperate circumstances - homelessness, unemployment etc. This is where Traffickers may take undue advantage.

2.       Poverty – In the hope to improve their lives and seek better opportunities, people take greater risks and when people who are deprived of basic necessities – they would tend to do it more for self and their families and become vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.

3.       Racism and the Legacy of Colonialism – Racism is an evil form of discrimination for specific group of people or sections of the community and often results in restrictions or barriers to access resources – Education, Employment, Housing etc.  Colonialism is a practice where nations acquires, controls and rules a foreign territory exploiting people and resources of the land. This can deprive people of certain civil and human rights and make them vulnerable to trafficking conditions.

4.       Gender Inequality – Differences between men and women in the societies for equal paying jobs, access to health, education etc. can cause traffickers to recruit and thus benefit from such disparities.

5.       Addictions – Supplying drugs and making the trafficked person dependent on using a particular substance to break their resistance and coerce them to forced labour or sex.

6.       Mental Health - People with mental health issues face a variety of challenges including isolation, diminished capacity to consent or offer informed consent, and also possess limited ability to assess risk and detect ill-intentions, thus becoming vulnerable to traffickers.

How do we know if a person has been trafficked? What could be the indicators or Red flags?

Whether you are benefitting from it or facilitating it, Human Trafficking is a punishable crime. But the challenge is how to identify if a person has been trafficked.

Here are some possible indicators or red flags:

·         Show signs of physical abuse, scars or injuries

·         Trafficked individual may appear to be fearful and is accompanied by someone who would speak on behalf of him/her, even when they are directly addressed.

·         May have health issues or appear to be malnourished

·         Could be addicted to drugs and do not see themselves as a trafficked person or victim

·         Moved from one place to another

·         Limited contact with friends or relatives

·         Appear to follow instructions or talk as if they are reading from scripts

·         Low pay, no benefits and work longer hours in unsafe conditions  

·         Fearful  of law enforcement agencies or authorities

Now let us explore the What, How and Why aspects behind Human Trafficking.

The 3 elements to Human Trafficking are described below:

1. The Act – What is done?

2. How is it done?

3. Why is it done?

What is done?

Whether it is recruiting, transporting or transferring from one place to another or even harboring (where a trafficker hides the trafficked person and keeps them under control), the ultimate purpose of Human Trafficking is exploitation. Exploitation could be in various ways - Victims are forced to work in factories, on construction sites or in the agricultural sector without pay or with an inadequate salary, living in fear of violence and often in inhumane conditions. There may be cases of victims having being coerced or tricked to have their organs removed.  Sexual exploitation, Domestic Servitude, Debt bondage, forced labor and forced begging are other acts done. This exploitation could be at victim’s home or during migration or in a foreign country.

                Trafficking in Persons Protocol specifies that to give or receive payments or any benefits to achieve consent of a person having control over another person is an act of trafficking. Also, anyone who buys a trafficked person from a trafficker is also considered a trafficker.

How is it done?

Traffickers use various methods to achieve their desires or maintain control. Some of them are as follows:

·         Violence or threats of violence against the person or their family

o   A form of constant psychological manipulation used by traffickers where the trafficked persons may be sexually assaulted, beaten or killed or may be forced to witness the beatings or sexual assaults of others to comply with trafficker’s demands

·         Coercion – Traffickers coerce another person by inducing fear – fear of losing immigration status or fear of separation from loved ones.

·         Abduction – leading the trafficked person by force or lies.

·         Grooming – a tactic used by traffickers for recruitment. Here traffickers offer the trafficked persons gifts, money and drugs and then entice them for more if the trafficked person agrees to work for them

·         Fraud / Deception – A common technique where the traffickers deceive a person for a lucrative job and better work conditions but actually exploit them for sex or labor. The traffickers may also create a debt bondage situation for the trafficked persons by misrepresenting the truth and making them pay for forged, false travel documents or work visa.


Why is it done?

There could be various reasons for Trafficking but the ultimate goal of exploitation is financial gain or some material benefit. Some reasons are listed as below:

·         Sexual Exploitation

o   Trafficked person may be required to provide sexual acts against their will for the financial benefit or material gain of the trafficker.

·         Forced Labour

o   Trafficked person, here, is made to work for little or no pay, or may be paid a full wage, but then is forced to return most of it in cash to the trafficker.

o   May also involve the person to become a drug mule and transport and deliver drugs across borders. Children are also exploited in this way.

·         Domestic Servitude

o   Trafficked person is forced to clean the house, do the laundry, and cook meals and asked to do various other household activities as a domestic worker with little or no pay.

o   Often physically, verbally or even sexually abused by the members of household

o   They have no control over their travel as their documents or ID is confiscated by the trafficker.

·         Forced or Coerced Organ Removal

o   Trafficked person undergoes organ removal process in secret clinics with no attention to their post care. The organs removed are sold in black markets for high prices. The victim, if alive, gets a very small portion as the pay.

To conclude, we look at the 2020 trends indicating some interesting insights on Human Trafficking

·         Human Trafficking proved to be a Pandemic proof crime. While the lockdown affected strip clubs, foster homes and schools drastically, trafficking through Internet became a top recruitment location and saw significant increase by 22%

·         During the pandemic year, recruitment through Facebook went up by 125% and Instagram by 95%

·         All forms of Trafficking saw high recruitment of victims by their own family members and intimate partners.

Trend also indicated that Human Trafficking is highly personal. Data gathered indicated that victims usually know and trust their traffickers (member of their own families or intimate partners or employers.


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