WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Human trafficking is a global crime that trades in people and exploits them for profit. People of all genders, ages and backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. Traffickers use violence, fraudulent employment agencies, and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick, coerce and deceive their victims. The organized networks or individuals behind this lucrative crime take advantage of people who are vulnerable, desperate or simply seeking a better life. Human trafficking is defined in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, which supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as "the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation".

The definition of trafficking consists of three core elements:

The act of trafficking, which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.
The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability.
The purpose of trafficking which is always exploitation.
Learn more about human trafficking here.
 

HOW IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING DIFFERENT FROM MIGRANT SMUGGLING?

These are two distinct but interconnected crimes. Both are illegal activities that treat people as commodities. While trafficking in persons is a crime that aims to exploit a person who may or may not be a migrant, smuggling of migrants does not, by definition, involve the exploitation of the migrant. Trafficking victims can be trafficked within their home country or internationally, whereas migrant smuggling always crosses national borders. Some trafficked people might start their journey by being smuggled into a country illegally, not knowing the intention of the trafficker to exploit them, or find themselves deceived, coerced or forced into an exploitative situation later in the process, for example being forced to work for no or very little money to pay for their transportation. Criminals may both traffic and smuggle people, employing the same routes and methods of transporting them.
Learn more about human trafficking here.
Learn more about migrant smuggling here.

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Victims of trafficking can be any age, any gender and from anywhere in the world. According to UNODC’s 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons which is compiled using official figures from over 148 countries, female victims continue to be the primary targets. The Report shows that in 2018 46 percent of detected victims were women and 19 percent girls. For male victims the Report shows that 20 per cent of detected victims were men and 15 per cent were boys. The Report shows that the share of children among detected trafficking victims has tripled while the share of boys has increased five times over the past 15 years. Globally, one in every three victims detected is a child. Girls are mainly trafficked for sexual exploitation, while boys are used for forced labour. The share of detected male victims has risen from around 10 per cent in 2003 to 20 per cent in 2018.

WHY ARE PEOPLE TRAFFICKED?

Traffickers target people who are marginalized or in difficult circumstances. Undocumented migrants and people who are in desperate need of employment are vulnerable, particularly to trafficking for forced labour. Victims may be forced or tricked into an exploitative situation which constitutes trafficking after the traffickers uses violence, deception or blackmail. Criminals trafficking children target victims from extremely poor households, dysfunctional families or those who are abandoned and have no parental care.

WHAT IF A TRAFFICKED PERSON CONSENTS?

According to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, the consent of the victim to the exploitation is irrelevant when the threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability is used. In the case of children, consent is irrelevant regardless of whether any means were used or not.
More information on this topic can be found here The Role of 'Consent' in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol.

WHO ARE THE TRAFFICKERS?

UNODC’s 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that almost two-thirds of people convicted of human trafficking offences in 2018 were male, although participation of women is higher compared with other crimes. About two per cent of the total convictions involved traffickers who were under the age of 18. Eastern Europe and Central Asia continues to convict far more females than males, with 80 per cent of convictions involving women, while in Central America and in East Asia, males and females were convicted in near-equal shares in 2018. While many traffickers have criminal backgrounds and use trafficking as a direct source of income, there are also business owners, intimate partners and other family members involved in human trafficking. Court cases reveal instances of parents facilitating the sexual exploitation of their children or forcing them into street begging.

HOW WIDESPREAD IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

UNODC has been collecting international statistics on detected victims of human trafficking since 2003. These show that human trafficking occurs in every region of the world. States can be the origin, transit or destination country for victims, or even a combination of all. The collected data provide information on victims that were in contact with authorities and do not reflect the actual prevalence of the crime or the hidden number of victims. The data collected for the 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that in 2018 about 50,000 human trafficking victims were detected and reported by 148 countries. Europe, the Middle East, North America and some countries in East Asia and the Pacific are destinations for trafficking victims from a wide range of origins. For the period 2017-2018, countries in Western and Southern Europe detected victims of 125 different citizenships. During the same period, victims from East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa were detected in a large number of countries in almost every region of the world. Central and South-Eastern European victims were detected in large numbers but mainly in European destinations.
More information on regional trends in human trafficking can be found here.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMONLY IDENTIFIED FORMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Human trafficking has many forms. These include exploitation in the sex, entertainment and hospitality industries, and as domestic workers or in forced marriages. Victims are forced to work in factories, on construction sites or in the agricultural sector without pay or with an inadequate salary, living in fear of violence and often in inhumane conditions. Some victims are tricked or coerced into having their organs removed. Children are forced to serve as soldiers or to commit crimes for the benefit of the criminals. The 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that 50 per cent of detected victims in 2018 were trafficked for sexual exploitation, 38 per cent were exploited for forced labour, six per cent were subjected to forced criminal activity, while one per cent were coerced into begging and smaller numbers into forced marriages, organ removal, and other purposes. The detected forms of exploitation vary widely across different subregions.The share of detected victims trafficked for forced labour has steadily increased for more than a decade.

WHAT TYPES OF INDUSTRIES ARE AFFECTED BY HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

No industry or economic sector is immune to human trafficking. There are high-risk sectors, in which victims are most frequently found, such as agriculture or horticulture, construction, the garment and textile industries, catering and restaurants, domestic work, entertainment and the sex industry.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF TRANSNATIONAL ORGANISED CRIME GROUPS IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

The criminals who engage in trafficking range from organized criminal groups to individuals operating on their own or in small groups on an opportunistic basis. The more organized groups are commonly involved in other serious crimes, such as trafficking in drugs, arms and other illicit commodities, as well as corruption and the bribery of officials. When organized criminal groups are involved, many more victims are trafficked, often for longer periods, across wider distances and with more violence.
 

DO MANY TRAFFICKERS GET CAUGHT AND CONVICTED?

While most countries have had comprehensive trafficking in persons legislation in place for some years, the number of convictions has only recently started to grow. The increased number of convictions broadly follows the increases in the number of detected and reported victims, which shows that the criminal justice response is reflecting the detection trend. However, several areas continue to have very low numbers of convictions for trafficking, and at the same time detect fewer victims. Limited numbers of detected victims and few convictions does not necessarily mean that traffickers are not active in these countries. Victims trafficked from regions with low detection and conviction rates are found in large numbers in other regions.

IS THERE A LEGAL INSTRUMENT TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

The main international legal instrument is the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. The Trafficking Protocol, which supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, is the only international legal instrument addressing human trafficking as a crime. The purposes of the Protocol are to prevent and combat trafficking, protect and assist the victims, and promote cooperation among countries that have ratified the Protocol to meet these objectives. The Trafficking Protocol provides the world’s first definition of human trafficking, and it requires ratifying States to criminalize such practices.
Learn more about the Trafficking Protocol here.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Traffickers have integrated technology into their business model at every stage of the process, from recruiting to exploiting victims. Many children are approached by traffickers on social media. UNODC has identified two types of strategies, “hunting” involving a trafficker actively pursuing a victim, typically on social media and “fishing”, when perpetrators post job advertisements and wait for potential victims to respond. Technology can be misused by traffickers to launder or transfer illicit profits. It can also have a positive use in helping to combat trafficking, such as by aiding investigations, enhancing prosecutions, raising awareness, and providing services to victims.
Learn more about how traffickers use the internet here.

WHAT DOES UNODC DO TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

UNODC is the leading entity within the United Nations system to address the criminal elements of human trafficking. It provides expertise and knowledge to UN Member States and assists them with the ratification and implementation of the UN Protocol on Trafficking. Its crime prevention and criminal justice experts support the development of national laws and policies on human trafficking, train and mentor a wide range of officials, including police officers, border control guards, labour inspectors and victim support specialists. With the guidance and mechanisms provided by UNODC, countries are better equipped to investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking, dismantle the criminal networks behind this crime, trace the illegal proceeds and protect and assist victims.
More information about UNODC's response to human trafficking here.