Human Trafficking: Definition, Prevalence, and Causes

Human trafficking -- the sale, transport and profit from human beings who are forced to work for others -- is the modern equivalent of slavery. Against their will, millions of people around the world are forced to work for the profit of others, for example by begging, prostitution, involuntary servitude, working in sweatshops - even becoming child soldiers.

According to the Polaris Project, one of many international organizations working to end modern slavery, human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world after arms and drug dealing. It is however the fastest growing criminal activity: somewhere in the order of 27 million people around the world are estimated to be victims of slavery, with approximately 50% of these victims being under the age of 18. In other words, children. UNICEF, the UN's agency for children's welfare, estimates that one million children will be forced into prostitution alone this year.

How Does Trafficking Happen?

Trafficked persons are often enslaved or in situations of debt bondage that are fraudulent and exploitive: traffickers will take away or abuse the basic human rights of their victims, who have most likely been tricked and lured by false promises or physically forced into their situation.

Trafficking can work like this: "It is a common practice to persuade a young woman to leave home and to move to a wealthier neighboring country where she can work in domestic service, child or adult care, or as a waitress in a restaurant or a bar, or perhaps as a dancer. Upon arrival, her passport, visa, and return tickets are taken from her and, effectively, she is imprisoned, either physically or financially or mentally. She is made to work as a domestic slave or as an agricultural or factory worker, under slave-like conditions, or in a brothel. She sees virtually none of the money that she earns, and eventually she will be sold."

A Global Snapshot

Slavery takes place within and across borders. The US State Department estimates that 600,000 to 820,000 men, women, and children (are) trafficked across international borders each year. Many millions more never cross an international border. Nearly 80 percent of trafficked persons are women and girls and up to 50 percent are children (anyone under 18 years old). It is estimated that upwards of 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year; an additional 200,000 American children are considered "at risk" for trafficking in the sex industry. In 2004, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) estimated that 600-800 persons are trafficked into Canada annually and that additional 1,500-2,200 persons are trafficked through Canada and into the United States.

Russia is a major source of women trafficked globally for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Russia is also a significant destination and transit country for persons trafficked for sexual and labor exploitation from regional and neighboring countries into Russia, and on to the Gulf states, Europe, Asia, and North America. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 20 percent of the five million illegal immigrants in Russia are victims of forced labor, which is a form of trafficking. There have been numerous reports of trafficking of children and of child sex tourism in Russia. The Government of Russia has made some effort to combat trafficking but has also been criticised for not complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

A Sketch of Child Trafficking

The majority of child trafficking cases are in Asia, although it is a global problem. In Thailand, non-governmental organisations (NGO) have estimated that up to a third of prostitutes are children under 18, many trafficked from outside Thailand. In Ukraine, a survey conducted by the NGO “La Strada-Ukraine” in 2001-2003, based on a sample of 106 women being trafficked out of Ukraine found that 3% were under 18, and the US State Department reported in 2004 that incidents of minors being trafficked was increasing.

What Causes Trafficking?

In a nutshell, there is a demand for it. Men around the world profit in pleasure and in price from the exploitation of women and children. Poverty and global disparities in the rule of law are conditions in which human trafficking, like HIV/AIDS and other killers of the poor, thrives. In poorer regions of the world where education and employment opportunities are limited the most vulnerable in society -- runaways, refugees, or other displaced persons-- are the most common victims of human trafficking. People who are seeking opportunity and entry to other countries may be picked up by traffickers and misled into thinking that they will be free after being smuggled across the border. In other cases, such as armed conflict, and some trafficked humans are captured through slave raiding.

Trafficking of children often involves exploitation of the parents' extreme poverty. The latter may sell children to traffickers in order to pay off debts or gain income or they may be deceived concerning the prospects of training and a better life for their children. In West Africa, trafficked children have often lost one or both parents to the African AIDS crisis.Reporters have witnessed a rapid increase in prostitution in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Kosovo after UN and, in the case of the latter two, NATO peacekeeping forces moved in. Peacekeeping forces have been linked to trafficking and forced prostitution. Proponents of peacekeeping argue that the actions of a few should not incriminate the many participants in the mission, yet NATO and the UN have come under criticism for not taking the issue of forced prostitution linked to peacekeeping missions seriously enough.

Article source: Global Peace Tiles Project

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