Ending human trafficking | Sunday Observer

Ending human trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes including forced labour and sex. The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally. This estimate also includes victims of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. While it is not known how many of these victims were trafficked, the estimate implies that currently, there are millions of “trafficking in persons” victims in the world. This illegal business makes more than US$ 150 billion in profits each year.

Before we go any further, the distinct difference between human trafficking and human smuggling must be mentioned. Human trafficking is the forced migration of people from one country to another for labour, slavery, sexual exploitation or any other purpose. The most quoted definition is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery”. In fact, slavery is more common now than during the African slave trade of the 15th-19th centuries when an estimated 11 million humans were sold into slavery. A slave costs less than US$ 100 today versus the estimated tens of thousands, in today’s dollars, during the African Slave Trade.


Human smuggling often involves people who deliberately try to reach another country illegally for economic reasons or for claiming asylum after paying large sums to boat operators. However, some willingly smuggled individuals may end up being trafficked to other countries for various illegal purposes. CNN last year exposed such a racket in Libya where the migrants were sold forslavery. Organised crime rings are involved in both activities.

Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims. Children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. Additionally, women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims, the report states. Note that trafficking can occur within the victim’s own country, when victims living in remote villages are taken by force to the big cities for sexual or physical exploitation.

The Asia Pacific is home to the largest estimated number of trafficked people at over 30 million. The average age a child is forced into prostitution is 13. Trafficking risk factors include abandonment, abject poverty, abuse, illiteracy, and the presence of trafficking nearby. However, human trafficking does occur in developed countries as well.

The United Nations has designated July 30 (tomorrow) as, World Day against Trafficking in Persons under the appropriate theme ‘Responding to the trafficking of children and young people’. The UN hopes to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights” by having this Day.


In 2010, the General Assembly adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, urging Governments worldwide to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat this scourge. The Plan calls for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the UN’s broader programmes in order to boost development and strengthen security worldwide.

One of the crucial provisions in the Plan is the establishment of a UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking, especially, women and children. In the coming years, it aims to prioritize victims coming from a context of armed conflict and those identified among large refugee and migration flows. It will also focus on its assistance to victims trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, organ removal, forced begging, forced criminality and emerging exploitative purposes such as, skin removal.


Trafficking victims suffer immensely. Many are forced to travel thousands of miles between countries. Some die during their initial abduction and transport. Last year, authorities discovered 39 victims trapped in an abandoned truck in the San Antonio area in the USA, nine of whom were dead. They arrive at their final destinations live in a terrible condition and are constantly exposed to health hazards like HIV/AIDS.

The authorities must also be aware of the latest methods adopted by human traffickers to boost their trade. A new tool that traffickers use is “debt bondage” where the victim is endowed with a certain amount of debt and told they can work off that debt over a long period of time. They are often worked like slaves to pay this debt, such as, getting paid with fractions of a paycheck, as well as having to pay for their own food and lodging. They will often never realistically pay it off, which means victims will work for them for many years, if not decades.

Some experts have also warned that the rise of automation in workplaces may push unskilled workers looking for jobs to the hands of human traffickers. Robots will slash millions of jobs and create an upswing in trafficking and slavery across south-east Asia, research claims. In a report launched on Thursday, supply-chain analyst firm Verisk Maplecroft predicts that the rise in robot manufacturing will have a knock-on effect that results not only in lost livelihoods but in a spike in slavery and labour abuses in brand supply chains. Earlier this year, the UN International Labour Organisation predicted that 56 percent of workers in South Asia’s key manufacturing hubs in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam could lose their jobs over the next two decades due to automation. Governments will thus have to create more opportunities for the youth, especially females, to prevent them from becoming trafficking victims.


International cooperation is vital to end human trafficking. Countries must share the intelligence pertaining to known human smugglers and traffickers. In 2016, despite the millions of victims, there were only 9,071 human trafficking convictions globally. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Authorities are increasingly focusing on banks to nab human traffickers, who have to leave a money trail somewhere in the formal financial structures. Financial institutions should start by stepping up their efforts to identify traffickers, who depend on banks to conduct their operations. Without bank accounts, traffickers would have to carry physical cash, which is much less convenient and tougher to transport. Traffickers are known to use so-called “funnel” accounts to transfer large sums of money quickly where money is deposited in one place and withdrawn quickly from a different location. However, such suspicious activities can be tracked and the culprits identified. The fight against human trafficking must be relentless in scope and global in scale. Only then will the international community be able to end this scourge at least over the next decade.