Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is generally understood to refer to the process through which individuals are placed or maintained in an exploitative situation for economic gain. Women, men and children are trafficked for a range of purposes, including forced and exploitative labor in factories, farms and private households, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. Trafficking affects all regions and most countries of the world. Often referred to as modern-day slavery, human trafficking is the second largest – and fastest growing – criminal industry in the world.[1] On the other hand, migrants who willingly but illegally cross national borders are not considered to be trafficked.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there are at least 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time.[2] Of these victims, the ILO estimates that at least 1.39 million are victims of commercial sexual servitude, both transnational and within countries. According to the ILO, 56 percent of all forced labor victims are women and girls.[3]

Human trafficking and human rights

Human Trafficking is a grave human rights violation. Human rights law unequivocally condemns –

  • the act of one person appropriating the legal personality, labor or humanity of another.
  • discrimination on the basis of race and sex;
  • arbitrary detention, forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, and the sexual exploitation of children and women;
  • denial of freedom of movement and the right to leave and return to one’s own country.

Victims of trafficking are often not identified and, as a result, are simply invisible. Victims who do break free of their traffickers often find themselves in great insecurity and even danger. They may be physically injured as well as physically and/or emotionally traumatized and have few means of supporting themselves. When victims of trafficking do come to official attention, they may be misidentified as illegal or smuggled migrants or mistreated by authorities. States have the obligation to protect the trafficked person from further harm.

The Human Rights Framework for Anti-trafficking Work

The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Organized Crime Convention, 2000), serves as a legal framework for national legislation. This protocol, the first legally binding global instrument to define trafficking in persons, facilitates a unified international approach to criminalizing prosecuting trafficking in persons. It also protects and assists victims of trafficking with full respect for their human rights.

Related Human Rights Documents:


[1] United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking; Polaris Project; and the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights

[2] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 (2010), 341.

[3] US State Department, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, (2010), 341