WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?
According to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Article 3(a), trafficking in persons is defined thusly:
“Trafficking in persons” shall mean 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. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;”
In sum, trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation. In this chain of acts, all participants are traffickers.
In legal terms, trafficking in persons is broken down into 3 parts: 1) Action 2) Means 3) Purpose. Action is the actual act of trafficking. Means is the ‘how’ of trafficking. Finally, the purpose (mens rea) of trafficking is exploitation. In order to establish a legal case, lawyers must prove all 3. Action and means are typically easier to prove than purpose, which is highly circumstantial.
In practice, trafficking is complicated. The legal definition says “transportation,” but not all trafficking victims are transported. Understandings of trafficking that hinge on “transportation” will tend to conflate smuggling with trafficking. Smuggling is defined in the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as:
“the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident;”
What separates smuggling from trafficking is the absence of exploitation. Smuggling becomes trafficking when, for example, smugglers demand higher fees after bringing migrants to a transit or destination country, thereby forcing migrants into a situation of debt peonage or debt bondage.
WHAT FORMS DOES TRAFFICKING TAKE?
Trafficking takes on many forms in many sectors.
- illegal (transnational) adoption
- sexual exploitation
- coerced labor in agriculture, the service industry, domestic work, construction, sports, and so on.
- child brides
- recruitment of children into armed conflict
- forced begging
- removal of organs
Human trafficking worldwide is very complex. Trafficking overlaps with traditional forms of slavery, and often follows historical migration and trade routes and newer migration and trade routes. In other words, human trafficking is a problem internally, regionally, and internationally. In West and Central Africa, trafficking is recognized as a problem in 70% of nations in the respective regions. In East and Southern Africa, trafficking is recognized as a problem in a third of the countries. In West and North Africa, the trafficking of Africans into Europe is a problem exacerbated by pressures exerted by forces of globalization, which drive capital flow northward, and correspondingly, drive eurocentric migration.
Traditional slavery manifests in Northern Ghana and parts of Togo, when young girls are „donated“ to priests and are forced to live as ‚wives‘ and submit sexually to the shrine priests in return for the protection of the families.“ (15, „Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Woman and Children, in Africa“, UNICEF Innocenti Research Center) In central and western Africa, impoverished families (especially in the face of food insecurity- as seen in Niger in the past year, where a famine meant increased attention on child brides) might marry their young daughters off to much older men- subjecting them to destitution, abandonment through divorce. In Kenya and Ethiopia, girls who are married off at a young age are a runaway risk- many of whom end up in urban centers like Addis Ababa, Mombasa, and Nairobi where trafficking in the sex industry is a known problem. The risks of sex work- sexually transmitted diseases/infections, increased likelihood of abuse- only exacerbate the vulnerability of these young women.
In Northern Tanzania, the mining industry (tanzanite and gold) drives demand for human trafficking. Additionally, the mines drive demand for the sex trade in their vicinities, which is answered in turn by active recruitment among young women with the promise of fast cash. Just recently, Bloomberg published a story highlighting the gross abuses and violence in the mines of Tanzania. In Ghana, the 10th biggest exporter of gold, thousands of children are forced to work in the dangerous mines. Similarly, debt bondage and sex slavery occur in proximity to these mines. In response, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) have formed the The Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Coalition and launched projects such as their Community Resistance to Slavery and Forced Labor (CRSFL), which helps vulnerable communities “organize and create community-based action plans to eradicate slavery.” The project offers miners alternative means of revenue, via economic assistance intended to foster economic self-sufficiency and autonomy.
It is useful to talk about trafficking in terms of push and pull factors. What would make the child of a smallholder farmer in Niger vulnerable to trafficking? What drives their parents’ decision to enter into an uneven contracts with distant family members or acquaintances that stipulate sending their child away to be an apprentice for a small business owner? Push factors could include:
- Climate change [desertification, flooding, etc] and the resultant displacement of subsistence farmers and pastoral groups
- Poor management of natural resources
- Land dispossession
- Poverty [e.g. the increased reliance upon cash economies and the global food market makes low-income households vulnerable to price-induced food security]
- Low wages
- Social marginalization [e.g. the transnational trafficking of stateless Rohingya people (who originate from Burma) into Malaysia by Thai police and army officers]
- Lack of opportunities in home communities
Pull factors include:
- Perceived opportunity elsewhere
I am hesitant to address the pull factors of trafficking, because, then I risk the appearance of victim-blaming or contradicting the definition of trafficking as being coerced. Persons who are trafficked are indeed lured into coercive situations. Recruiters, in the form of modeling scouts, sports scouts, labor recruiters for temp agencies, even religious leaders, who make promises that appeal to the trafficking victim’s sense of lack. They might promise opportunities to earn money, pursue their studies or become famous. Here is where trafficking prevention would step in. Trafficking prevention should be about addressing social inequities, and not about targeting or demonizing traffickers.