This module is a resource for lecturers  




Trafficking in persons is a violation of human rights and form of criminal conduct that affects people all over the world. In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (Protocol against Trafficking in Persons). The Protocol provides the first internationally agreed definition of trafficking in persons and shows the commitment of the international community to counter this crime. It requires States parties to:

  • enact national laws criminalizing trafficking;
  • prevent and combat trafficking;
  • protect and assist victims of trafficking; and
  • cooperate with other States to meet those objectives.

The Protocol against Trafficking in Persons complements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Crime (UNTOC). The Protocol came into force on 25 December 2003 and as of January 2019, it had 173 States parties. The purpose of this Module is to introduce the concept of trafficking in persons, explain the international definition of the crime and distinguish it from related concepts, such as slavery and forced labour.

This Module begins by giving an overview of the crime of trafficking in persons, including relevant terminology, profiles of victims and perpetrators and trends and patterns in commission of the crime. It then sets out the international legal framework relevant to trafficking in persons. It examines the elements of the international definition of trafficking, focusing on the issue of consent, types of exploitation and abuse of vulnerability as a "means" of trafficking. The Module concludes by distinguishing trafficking from other related conduct, including smuggling of migrants, slavery and prostitution, and addresses some common misconceptions regarding the crime.


Learning outcomes

  • Understand the crime of trafficking in persons.
  • Understand the international legal framework, in particular the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons.
  • Assess the Protocol's definition of trafficking in persons and elements of the crime.
  • Understand the issue of victim consent, the purposes of exploitation, the meaning of abuse of a position of vulnerability and identify indicators of trafficking in persons.
  • Distinguish the similarities and differences between trafficking in persons and other crimes.
  • Recognize common misconceptions regarding trafficking in persons.
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