Developing Better Indicators of Human Trafficking


Human trafficking has become an impending problem for the United States and the European countries and has emerged as a major concern for both the government and the non-government organizations. This has become a high priority in the international criminological discourse. An indication of the growing importance of this issue and the immediate need to combat is the organization of a EU conference aimed at promoting anti-trafficking measures. The conference was held in Brussels held from 18-20 September 2002 and the topic was on “Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings” (Laczko & Gramegna, 2003; Laczko & Gozdziak, 2005). This essay is designed to understand the present issue of human trafficking and the measures that are being taken to counter this problem.

Main body

Human trafficking, especially that of women and children has assumed international importance. The United Nation (UN) General Assembly adopted the “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,” which complements the UN’s Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UN, 2002). The primary aim of the Protocol is to combat and prevent trafficking of humans and to strengthen international cooperation to stop influx of human beings in name of migration of the distress. The Article 3 of the Protocol defined human trafficking as: “‘trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of 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 labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” (UN, 2002, p. Article 3) The definition has three main components, viz. transportation, wharfing or accepting illegally transported people and using them for wrongful means, such as force, abduction, fraud, or deception, and the objective of exploitation, such as sexual exploitation, forced labor, servitude, or slavery (Kangaspunta, 2003).

The issue of trafficking has been sensationalized by the mass media, especially stories pertaining to sex trafficking of women and children which according to researches has assumed the maximum media attention (Brennan, 2005; Kleinman & Kleinman, 1997). This excessive attention of the media has been described as Kleinman and Kleinman as “commercialization of suffering” (1997, p. 19) and other forms and abuses of trafficking has been majorly ignored. Data on human trafficking is difficult to find, as there are paucity of anthropological account of trafficking, especially from the victims of this crime or academic research on the issue. Further, it is fairly difficult to provide a refined magnitude of trafficking but according to many reports as in many countries the data is often relating to trafficking, smuggling, and irregular migration. Data on the number of persons being trafficked are often only approximate estimations and usually pertain to only the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, rather than other forms of exploitation (Laczko & Gramegna, 2003).

In 2008, U.S. government estimation of trafficking showed that annually 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders; millions more are enslaved in their own countries (US Govt., 2008). According to an estimate by International Labor Organization (ILO) there are approximately 12.3 million people have been victim of human trafficking and were now serving in various forms of forced labor, which includes debt bondage, forced prostitution and sweatshop workers being paid dismally low wages (Walker, 2008). Human trafficking induces slavery is a global phenomenon and UK and US are no exception. ILO study shows every year thousands of women and children are trafficked and are forced to become sex workers whereas there are others who spend the rest of their lives paying back loans to the people smugglers who brought them into the country (Walker, 2008). Some countries, particularly in West Africa, have traditions of slavery related to caste or class divisions that remain extremely resistant to laws banning them. In countries like Mauritania, where slavery has been made illegal in 1981, some non-governmental organization’s estimates that up to 20 percent of the country’s three million population still live as slaves (Walker, 2008). According to US government report countries that actively regard international protocols and help in such crime are Algeria, Burma, Kuwait, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria (US Govt., 2008). Report shows that the maximum amount of trafficking occurring from the Asian countries (especially South-East Asians) , with the Central and East European countries being their area of transit and their destination being developed countries like US or UK (Kangaspunta, 2003). A generic profile of the trafficked victims show that 85 percent of the victims where women who were smuggled and were exploited as sex workers and in 2 percent cases were into bonded labor, while 13 percent of cases included either form of exploitation.

Clearly, these estimates overlook the trafficking of men. As the proper number of trafficking is not available an alternative that scholars have suggested in combating trafficking is Global mapping, based on the identification of the main countries involved in trafficking in humans, might be useful for planning and evaluation purposes (Kangaspunta, 2003). One option suggested is to map “hot spots” which can provide information regarding the origin, transit, and destination countries of the trafficked persons as well as trace the perpetrators of the trafficking crime which are usually organized criminal groups in different countries and the main routes used for such trafficking operation. The knowledge of the intricacies of trafficking can be used to develop cooperation between practitioners in the field of prevention, victim assistance, and criminal justice responses and monitoring the impact of those actions. In addition, carefully collected and analyzed national and regional data might yield profiles useful for developing regional cooperation (Kangaspunta, 2003).

Even though there is global initiative in combating trafficking, the results are dismal. The reasons for such low key performance are:

First, The lack of specific legislation on trafficking in persons which has resulted in gathering of official criminal justice statistics on cases involving trafficking in humans, availability of which would help in legally defining trafficking and thus estimating the current position. Second, some countries do not have any clear division in the official statistics between cases involving trafficking in humans and those involving smuggling of migrants (Brennan, 2005). That is why human trafficking cases are usually delta as migrant smuggling cases in many countries. Third, there are very few countries provide official statistics regarding migration or trafficking (Brennan, 2005).


The above mentioned problems should be removed by the authorities in order to launch a comprehensive fight against human trafficking. But the measures being taken to combat human trafficking are not enough. Even though there exists international laws enforced by the UN, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, and many non-governmental organizations at work to prevent the trafficking crime and exploitation of human rights this incidents of trafficking have been on the rise. One major reason for the ineffectiveness, according to Agustín (2007) these “rescue industry” overestimate the trafficking numbers, especially those trafficked as sex workers. She believes that the rescue industry’s belief that the victims are forced into such a situation is often incorrect and ultimately they restrict international freedom of movement. Moreover, in many cases these incidents are not even forced, they are out of the lure of a “better life” as given to the victims by the traffickers which persuades them to willingly succumb to this vice (Smith, 2007). She believes that forced prostitution and human trafficking is as much a truth as is overestimation of the figures. Many other believe that this $32 billion business is existent due to the acceptance of the common people and it is to the average person who accepts such forced labor needs to start to disown it (Smith, 2007). As long as the average people will continue to accept these crimes as being a part of the world, the “sugar babies” (Serrano, 2007) of the world will continue to breed. So what is required apart from law and enforcement is mass awareness against human trafficking.

Works Cited

Agustín, L. M. (2007). Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. Zed Books.

Brennan, D. (2005). Methodological Challenges in Research with Trafficked Persons: Tales from the Field. Data and research on human trafficking: A global survey (International Organization for Migration), 37-56.

Kangaspunta, K. (2003). Mapping the Inhuman Trade: Preliminary Findings Of The Database. Forum on Crime and Society, vol. 3, Nos. 1 and 2, 81-104.

Kleinman, A., & Kleinman, J. (1997). The appeal of experience; the dismay of images: cultural appropriations. In e. a. A. Kleinman, Social Suffering (pp. 1-23). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Laczko, F., & Gozdziak, E. (2005). Data and research on human trafficking: A global survey. International Migration Vol. 43 (1/2) , 1-339.

Laczko, F., & Gramegna, M. A. (2003). Developing Better Indicators of Human Trafficking. Brown Journal of World Affairs vol. 10 no. 1 , 179-195.

Serrano, A. (Director). (2007). The Sugar Babies [Motion Picture].

Smith, T. (2007). Against Their Will. The Early Show. USA: CBS News.

UN. (2002). General Assembly resolution 55/25, annex II. United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Geneva: United Nations.

US Govt. (2008). Trafficking in Persons Report. U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Web.

Walker, P. (2008). Slavery. Guarduan.

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