An accepted international definition of trafficking is found in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children supplementing the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime which says:

"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 the 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;
(b) the consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;
(c) the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;
(d) "Child" shall mean any person less than eighteen years of age. (Article 3)

Janice G. Raymond has identified some of the main points which emerge from the Protocol as follows;

There is an international consensus on the definition of trafficking together with an agreed upon set of prosecution, protection and prevention mechanisms on which to base national legislation against trafficking, and which can serve as a basis for harmonizing the laws of various countries. The trafficked persons, especially women in prostitution and child labourers, are not viewed as criminals but as victims of a crime.

All victims of trafficking in persons are protected and not just those who can prove force (Art. 3a,b)
The definition ensures that the victim will not bear the burden of proof (Art. 3b)
The consent of a victim of trafficking is irrelevant (Art. 3b)
The definition provides a comprehensive coverage of criminal means by which trafficking takes place, including not only force, coercion, abduction, deception or abuse of power, but also less explicit means, such as abuse of a victim's vulnerability (Art. 3a) The exploitation of prostitution and trafficking cannot be separated. The Protocol acknowledges that much trafficking is for the purpose of prostitution and for other forms of sexual exploitation. (Art.3a) It is not necessary for a victim to cross a border. Women and children who are domestically trafficked for prostitution and forced labour within their own countries are also protected.

The key element in the trafficking process is the exploitative purpose, rather than the movement across a border (Art. 3a)
This Protocol is the first UN instrument to address the demand which results in women and children being trafficked, calling upon countries to take or strengthen legislative or other measures to discourage this demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of women and children (Art. 9.5).

Janice G. Raymond, Guide to the New UN Trafficking Protocol. Protocol to prevent suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, North Amherst, 2001, 4-5.


Who are trafficked?

Women and children are the key target group, because of their marginalization, limited economic resources and predominance in the "invisible" informal sector.
People from impoverished and low income households in rural areas and urban slums, especially women engaged in small farming, petty trading, vending, as labourers, scavengers and in other low status work and services.
Ethnic minorities, indigenous people, hill tribes, refugees, and illegal migrants.
People with low levels of education, a few years of formal schooling, some primary school education, or illiterate.
Young girls running away from home, or girls from families that expect their daughters to financially contribute to their support are easy targets for traffickers.
People who lack awareness of their legal rights, their exploited situation, and have no channel for seeking redress.
Women and children of varying ages, ranging from babies to women in their seventies.

Trafficked for what?

A wide range of purposes: a large percentage for prostitution; the entertainment industry; sweatshops; illegal adoption of children; organ transplants; forced marriages; mail-order brides; domestic work; forced labour e.g. in construction; drug trafficking; begging; other exploitative forms of work. 


Promise of higher incomes; to improve economic situation; support parents and families in villages; escape from conflict situations.

Working environment:

Deplorable conditions; physical facilities are often below acceptable standards; conditions of work and treatment often involve slavery-like practices and prison-like environments, long working hours, little rest or recreation; low wages or no wages; earnings are often unknown to workers and withheld by traffickers or employers; prolonged indebtedness to traffickers, employers, brothel owners, and lack of knowledge of debt terms; exposure to hazardous work; almost non-existent access to health and medical facilities; physical and sexual abuse is common.

Harmful Effects to Women and Children (Both Short and Long-term):

Health: women and girls risk repeated pregnancy, maternal mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS
Drug and other addictions: associated physical and mental deterioration
Threat to emotional well-being: constant fear of arrests, isolation, deprivation of family life and social support systems; humiliation and abuse result in serious emotional scars and many psychological consequences
Threat to physical safety by unscrupulous agents, police, customs officials, employers and others
Apprehension by authorities: detention, prosecution, forced deportation
Difficulties in social integration for those returning to their communities
Economic slavery: women have to pay the money which the traffickers demand for their travel and documentation.



Looking at both the supply and demand factors that foster the growth of trafficking can identify some of the causes of trafficking. Such causes can be further categorized into different aspects of life such as socio-cultural, economic and political.



Illiteracy, and inadequate educational and employment opportunities as well as lack of gender perspective in education.
Patriarchy, which is the main cause for the discrimination of women and girl-children.
Erosion of traditional family values, and the pursuit of consumerism encourages the sale of women and children.
Racial discrimination, racism and related intolerance which makes the women from such communities more vulnerable to traf-ficking. The media and new technologies which through advertising and the commercialization of sex, present women's bodies as objects solely for sexual pleasure.


Economic disparities within countries, and between countries and regions which is the primary cause for the growth in trafficking in women.
Feminization of poverty because women constitute 70% of the world's poor and they sup-port their families through precarious employment in the growing in-formal sector.
Globalization and its differential impact on women through economic restructuring and transition with cuts on social spending which affect women.
Economic liberalization which relaxes con-trols, opens borders between countries, facilitating population mobility and illegal migration.


Feminization of International Migration as women enter the labor market, together with the lack of regulation for labor migration which provides increased opportunities and channels for trafficking.
Civil and military conflicts push people to flee their countries. Of the 25 million refugees in the world 80% are women and children. They become an easy prey in the hands of the traffickers.
The growth of transnational crime, and the expansion of drug trafficking networks act as mechanisms for other forms of exploitation.
Weak law enforcement mechanisms and measures to penalize traffickers.
Corruption by police, law enforcers, officials and peacemakers.



Male attitudes and perceptions of women in society, and women's unequal socio-economic status.
Pornography and its role in the growth in demand for sex. This is coupled with an ever increasing use of the internet as its vehicle and as a means for traffickers to market women and children.
Patriarchy resulting in the unequal power relations between men and women and in the discrimination of women.
Consumerist behavior with the commodification and commercialization of sex leading to the consideration of women's bodies as commodities and objects of sexual pleasure.


Demand by employers for an unskilled and cheap labor market. Women's labor is usually in low status work in the domestic and entertainment spheres and in the informal sector.
An expanding commercial sex industry and increased demand for sex. The variety of ways it merchandises women and children are: prostitution, sex trafficking, sex tourism, mail-order brides, strip clubs, topless bars and so on. The growth in the child sexual exploitation is due to male clients' preferences for younger women and girls because of the fear of HIV infection.
Development policies promoting tourism, and patterns of development that depend on temporary migrant workers.


Military bases both past and present have created an enormous prostitution infrastructure.
Unequal and exploitative political and economic relations dictated by the Northern hemisphere which results in the deterioration of conditions of life in the Southern hemisphere.
Restrictive migration policies which have decreased the possibilities for regular migration.
Sales of arms and the increase of armed conflict within and between countries with the consequent increase of displaced people and refugees who fall victim to traffickers.
Weak law enforcement mechanisms and measures to penalize traffickers and 'customers'.

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