Addressing Trafficking in Persons since 1949

02 December 2010

Trafficking in persons is among the fastest growing criminal activities, occurring internally within countries, and worldwide. According to ILO estimates, the minimum number of persons in forced labour, including sexual exploitation at a given time as a result of trafficking is 2.45 million. This inhumane activity involves coercion, abuse of power and human rights violations, as vulnerable victims are transported, harboured, and exploited. Trafficking in persons for the purposes of  exploitation be it for labour, sexuality or organs, is a crime that presents a distinctive set of challenges to most countries. Yet conditions in the current era of globalization such as the growth of informal economies and economic discrepancies among nations, increasing flows of labour and commodities across international, and transnational organized criminal networks are causing human trafficking to flourish on a global scale.

Historically, the United Nations has worked vigorously to address human trafficking, and to curb the exploitation of others for a monetary profit. International concern has given rise to many important legal instruments, including the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (General Assembly resolution 317 (IV) of 2 December 1949) that entered into force in 1951. To a certain extent, this Convention was a legal turning point, as it was the first international instrument on trafficking and related issues that was legally binding. 2 December, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, in fact recalls the date of the adoption of the first Convention to fight human trafficking by the General Assembly.

After nearly half a century, the most recent global effort to address this crime at the international level has been the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime which entered into force on 25 December 2003. The Trafficking Protocol for the first time provides a universally agreed upon definition of trafficking in persons. It addresses human trafficking as a crime including all forms of exploitation and all types of victims, and seeks to balance law enforcement action with the rights of victims. The Protocol commits ratifying States to combating trafficking in persons, prosecuting perpetrators, protecting and assisting victims of trafficking and promoting cooperation among states in order to meet those objectives. To date over 140 countries are party to the Trafficking Protocol.

The Trafficking Protocol, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, form part of  the Palmero Protocol which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. Both protocols are important multilateral components of the worldwide effort to combat trafficking in persons and the distinct, though often related crime of migrant smuggling.

UNODC, as guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement these Protocols.

Related Information:

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

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