21 May 2018 - Unnoticed by most people, the phenomenon of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) affects practically every country and threatens vulnerable people everywhere. When they become the prey of traffickers, victims face isolation, exploitation and forced labour (often in debt bondage) in homes, factories, construction or farming sectors, and all too often, in the sex industry. Yet, very little is known by the public about the tragic predicament of victims of trafficking, neither how they become victims, nor what happens to them once they are trapped. As explained by UNODC and ICAT (the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons), "a better understanding of the circumstances that increase people's vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons can enhance public awareness that human trafficking occurs around us or can even be related to our own actions, involving, for example, exploitation in our own societies. Informed understanding can also guide national responses to mitigate the risks of becoming a victim of human trafficking and to prompt victims' identification."
UNODC's commitment to preventing crime includes promoting a better understanding of crime in the first place, by working with academics and specialists to identify and clarify the concepts within different issues needing dissemination. In the context of the Education for Justice (E4J) initiative, a component of the Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, an expert group meeting met in Doha recently to review five university modules on TIP (out of a total of 14 modules, including seven on the Smuggling of Migrants), for both undergraduate and graduate levels, which lecturers can incorporate into their curriculum.
The main international instrument to counter the crime of TIP is the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. However, as stressed by the academic experts during their discussions, the crime goes beyond criminal law and must be approached from multiple angles, including social science, anthropology, psychology and human rights.
The creation of these modules was welcomed by Prof. Claude d'Estrée, from Denver University's Human Trafficking Centre: "I have been teaching on TIP for 15 years and I am always looking for reliable sources and data for my students. The E4J Modules on TIP are a great resource in that sense and will help academics from all around the world to teach their students on this complex phenomenon."
Among the topics covered by the modules, and reviewed by the experts, are the human rights implications of TIP, factors increasing people's vulnerability to TIP, including among migrants and refugees, the need for a victim-centred approach to mitigate risks of a negative impact of anti-TIP responses, and the roles different actors play in countering this crime. The modules also include material on the distinctions between TIP and the Smuggling of Migrants, on the non-criminalization of victims of TIP, and on numerous other aspects of trafficking.
A much-appreciated point for the experts was the fact that the five modules are adaptable to the students' educational context, giving lecturers the possibility of alternating their sequence, reducing or varying the focal point on legal or other details as needed, and including additional material and case studies on the various issues covered, especially those of local or regional relevance.
As Prof. Soledad Alvarez Velasco, of London's King College, commented: "The meeting was a great space to exchange knowledge and discuss a multidisciplinary approach to TIP. It was amazing to see participants from different disciplines with such an open-mind, looking for ways to integrate their perspective into a course on TIP."
The comprehensive academic feedback on the modules was piloted immediately following the expert meeting, with a mock class to undergraduate students from Qatar University, on the first module 'Defining the Concept of Trafficking in Persons'. Students said they enjoyed the interactive approach on a subject that was relatively new to them, with one student commenting: "The class was very inspirational and helped me to understand what TIP is and how it affects people from all around the world. My perspective changed completely and I want to continue learning about this topic."
The modules will be launched in June, and will be available for lecturers across the globe online at www.unodc.org/e4j.