Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling

Since 1999 UNODC has been carrying out a Programme against Trafficking in Persons, in partnership with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). The programme supports Member-States in its efforts to refer human trafficking, by emphasizing its bonds with organized crime and promoting efficient measures to restrain criminal acts.

In 2000, the adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea, both supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, represent a milestone in international efforts to address human trafficking, considered a modern form of slavery.

UNODC approaches this issue on three different fronts: prevention, protection and criminalization. Under prevention, the office works together with governments, promotes media campaigns, produces leaflets and establishes partnerships in order to increase public awareness of risks and problems that some prodigious promises coming from abroad may convey.

Besides prevention, police forces and the judiciary must use norms and procedures specially designed to grant physical security and privacy of human trafficking victims. Under the protection front, UNODC cooperates with countries by providing training for police officers, public prosecutors, public attorneys and judges, meanwhile trying to enhance victims and witnesses protection services.

Finally, UNODC aims to strengthen judicial systems around the world so that a greater number of criminals go to trial. The achievement of these goals depend on criminalization of human trafficking in different countries, law enforcement, and that local authorities are capable of constraining trafficking agents.

Coordinating the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), the office contributes to the inclusion of civil society on debates concerning the bonds between trafficking in persons and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, the importance of prevention, protection of victims as well as criminal justice effective punishment to these crimes.

What is trafficking in persons?

Human Trafficking

Trafficking in persons is defined 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." The definition can be found on the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, commonly known as the Palermo Convention.

A growing number of countries have been ratifying the Palermo Convention and its protocols, including the countries where the UNODC Liasion and Partnership Office in Brazil acts.

Elements of human trafficking

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 offence, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.

What is 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 (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Migrants Protocol).

What are the differences between trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling?

There are three important differences:


The smuggling of migrants, while often undertaken in dangerous or degrading conditions, involves migrants who have consented to the smuggling. Trafficking victims, on the other hand, have either never consented or, if they initially consented, that consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abusive actions of the traffickers.


Smuggling ends with the migrants' arrival at their destination, whereas trafficking involves the ongoing exploitation of the victim in some manner to generate illicit profits for the traffickers. From a practical standpoint, victims of trafficking also tend to be affected more severely and to be in greater need of protection from revictimization and other forms of further abuse than are smuggled migrants.


Smuggling is always transnational, whereas trafficking may not be. Trafficking can occur regardless of whether victims are taken to another State or only moved from one place to another within the same State.