Causes of human trafficking
The causes of trafficking are numerous and complex. Concerning traffickers, human trafficking brings high and quick profits with few start-up costs. The risk of prosecution is often small in most countries. Punishment for the crime of human trafficking is lower than for trafficking drugs. Concerning victims, interlinked causes of trafficking include poverty, gender bias, family breakdown, violence and armed conflict, displacement, various discriminatory policies in receiving countries, increased use of technology and demographic factors.
Consequences of human trafficking
Human trafficking is a fundamental violation of human rights and a contemporary form of slavery. It has devastating consequences for victims who may suffer emotional, psychological, and physical abuse and mistreatment. Victims are particularly exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS and continually experience fear and threats to themselves, their family and relatives, or friends. Many victims of trafficking are bought and sold several times over, multiplying the forms of violence they suffer from one instance to another. Women’s suffering continues even when they have returned home since they are often stigmatized, especially if they have been trafficked for sexual purposes.
The detrimental impact of trafficking goes beyond individuals and also affects families, communities, and countries. Once trafficking takes root in a community and is seen as an acceptable way of making money, it becomes self-perpetuating. Human trafficking undermines good governance, democracy and the economy of a country. It can also have an impact on the reputation of the military and security forces, including peacekeepers, as research has shown that they fuel the demand for forced prostitution in war zones.
How much profit does human trafficking generate?
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that global profits made from forced laborers exploited by private enterprises or agents reach $44.3 billion every year, of which $31.6 billion are from trafficked victims. Over $15 billion are made from people trafficked and forced to work in industrialized countries, with almost one-third coming from Asia. World profits from all forced commercial sexual exploitation amount to $33.9 billion, with $15.4 billion realized in industrial countries. This figure is followed by Asia, with $11.2 billion. Countries in transition generate a $3.5 billion profit, followed by Latin America ($2.1 billion) and the Middle East and North Africa ($1.1 billion). Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where these criminal annual profits are lowest, with an amount of $0.5 billion.
Women and girls
Women and girls are at particular risk of becoming victims of trafficking due to diverse factors, such as the high global prevalence of violence and discrimination against women; unequal access to education and the consequent lack of good employment opportunities which may render women more susceptible to false promises of work abroad; the lack of legal channels of entry for unskilled workers; and sex-selective migration policies.
The ILO estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labor victims with 11.4 million victims (55%), compared to 9.5 million (45%) men and boys. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 500,000 women are trafficked into prostitution each year.
The ILO estimates that children make up 26% of all forced labor victims. This means that there are 5.5 million child victims at any given point in time. It is also estimated that children make up 21% of forced sexually exploited labor in the private economy. Although families and communities may value and cherish their children, children can easily become used as commodities in situations where families are desperate and feel they have no other financial options.
Human trafficking during armed conflict
During armed conflicts, women and girls face particular risk of sexual violence and trafficking. Sexual attacks on women are viewed as attacks against the whole community and a way of demoralizing or intimidating the enemy. Certain tasks usually undertaken by women, such as collecting firewood from forests or queuing for food, may put them in a very vulnerable position. Children are also trafficked into war zones to fight as combatants or to work as messengers, spies, porters, cooks, and providers of sexual services. They may be forced to offer sex for food or shelter, to obtain documents for themselves or their families, or to be given safe passage out of the war zone.
Trafficking for domestic servitude exposes women and girls to the risk of sexual harassment, abuse, exploitation, and subsequent trafficking. A significant number of women and girls are trafficked as domestic laborers, kept in extremely bad conditions, and vulnerable to sexual abuse. They may suffer multiple forms of exploitation, such as economic exploitation, lack of social or legal protection, harsh working conditions, denial of the right of freedom of association, vulnerability to physical and mental abuse, substandard accommodation, and the risk of sexual exploitation. The average age of trafficked girls for household services is a staggering 12-14 years.
HIV/AIDS represents both a cause and consequence of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Women and children may be more vulnerable to being trafficked if their family members have contracted HIV or have died from AIDS. Women and children who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation are at greater risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS. Once trafficked, women and girls who have been infected with HIV often do not have access to health care services and are deprived of any support as they are often shunned and stigmatized by their communities.
How important is the private sector in combating human trafficking?
The private sector is a crucial actor in the elimination of human trafficking. It possesses the resources, capacity, and technical expertise required to make an enormous contribution to counter-trafficking initiatives. The private sector can: create ethical codes of conduct; train employees and collaborators; raise awareness among policymakers, the public and potential victims; provide technical assistance, training or employing former trafficking victims; or play the role of a watchdog.
The private sector’s involvement can be enhanced by following certain labor standards; identifying and reporting criminal acts; strengthening monitoring, transparency, and accountability on issues of human trafficking; providing incentives to companies that employ former trafficked persons; encouraging corporate social responsibility; and including the business community in drafting legislation and formulating policies.
Can human trafficking be eradicated?
Although we have come a long way, much more is still needed to eradicate human trafficking. Human trafficking is a complex phenomenon and solutions require multiple methods of intervention. Restoring the dignity of trafficked victims and ensuring they receive justice should be central to any anti-trafficking programs. Human trafficking is a global problem which demands global solutions and requires all sectors of the community to work in conjunction with one another to support, and enhance each other’s initiatives. It is only when a strong bond between all sectors of society has been established that human trafficking can finally be eliminated.
Legal instruments and guidelines
Numerous international legal instruments and guidelines aimed at ending slavery and human trafficking, protecting victims and promoting international cooperation, have been adopted. The challenge remains to translate these instruments into national laws and ensure their implementation. Although most countries have adopted a specific penalty against trafficking in persons, there is still diversity of interpretation and understanding with regard to the definition of human trafficking itself – for example, legislation in some countries acknowledges only certain forms of exploitation or certain categories of victims. Legislation must ensure a comprehensive approach, addressing all aspects of the crime and balancing prosecution with ensuring the rights and protection of victims.
Obstacles to combating human trafficking
Despite positive developments, many obstacles remain today. These include the absence of monitoring and evaluation, inconsistent or inadequate legislation, weak State structures, unfavorable judicial mechanisms, lack of coordination between anti-trafficking measures and authorities, inadequate training for the security sector, narrow agendas of decision-makers, one-dimensional interventions, short-term goals, and a shortage of research and documentation.
Sources: United Nations, ILO, IOM, OHCHR, UNICEF, UNODC.