What is ‘Human Trafficking’ ?

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Human Trafficking

Human_Trafficking-350x199 STOPTrafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. UNODC, as guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking in Persons Protocol).

What is Human Trafficking?
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or 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 shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Migrant Smuggling

Smuggling of Migrants is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident. Migrant smuggling affects almost every country in the world. It undermines the integrity of countries and communities, and costs thousands of people their lives every year. UNODC, as the guardian the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Organized Crime Convention) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol).

Migrant Smuggling – A Deadly Business
Currently, data is too scattered and incomplete to paint an accurate picture of numbers of people who are smuggled each year and the routes and methods used by those who smuggle them. Still, available evidence reveals the following trends and patterns:

  • Criminals are increasingly providing smuggling services to irregular migrants to evade national border controls, migration regulations and visa requirements. Most irregular migrants resort to the assistance of profit-seeking smugglers. As border controls have improved, migrants are deterred from attempting to illegally cross them themselves and are diverted into the hands of smugglers.
  • Migrant smuggling is a highly profitable business in which criminals enjoy low risk of detection and punishment. As a result, the crime is becoming increasingly attractive to criminals. Migrant smugglers are becoming more and more organized, establishing professional networks that transcend borders and regions.
  • The modus operandi of migrant smugglers is diverse. Highly sophisticated and expensive services rely on document fraud or ‘visa-smuggling’. Contrasted with these are low cost methods which often pose high risks for migrants, and have lead to a dramatic increase in loss of life in recent years.
  • Migrant smugglers constantly change routes and modus operandi in response to changed circumstances often at the expense of the safety of the smuggled migrants.
  • Thousands of people have lost their lives as a result of the indifferent or even deliberate actions of migrant smugglers.
  • These factors highlight the need for responses to combat the crime of migrant smuggling to be coordinated across and between regions, and adaptable to new methods. In this regard, UNODC seeks to assist countries in implementing the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol while promoting a comprehesensive response to the issue of migrant smuggling.

Elements Of Human Trafficking
Act Means Purpose

Act Means Purpose On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements;

  • The Act (What is done)
  • Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons
  • The Means (How it is done)
  • Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim
  • The Purpose (Why it is done)
  • For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.
  • To ascertain whether a particular circumstance constitutes trafficking in persons, consider the definition of trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the constituent elements of the offense, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.

Criminalization Of Human Trafficking
UVTF_210x100_GENERICThe definition contained in article 3 of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol is meant to provide consistency and consensus around the world on the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. Article 5 therefore requires that the conduct set out in article 3 be criminalized in domestic legislation. Domestic legislation does not need to follow the language of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol precisely, but should be adapted in accordance with domestic legal systems to give effect to the concepts contained in the Protocol.

In addition to the criminalization of trafficking, the Trafficking in Persons Protocol requires criminalization also of:
· Attempts to commit a trafficking offence
· Participation as an accomplice in such an offence
· Organizing or directing others to commit trafficking.
National legislation should adopt the broad definition of trafficking prescribed in the Protocol. The legislative definition should be dynamic and flexible so as to empower the legislative framework to respond effectively to trafficking which:
· Occurs both across borders and within a country (not just cross-border)
· Is for a range of exploitative purposes (not just sexual exploitation)
· Victimizes children, women and men (Not just women, or adults, but also men and children)
· Takes place with or without the involvement of organized crime groups.

21 million human trafficking

For a checklist of Criminalization under the Protocol, click here.

For more resources, visit our Publications page.
To see how human trafficking is different to migrant smuggling, click here.

Human Trafficking FAQs
See all FAQs on Trafficking in persons compiled here: Human Trafficking FAQs.

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