Combating Human Trafficking

Over the past several years, human trafficking has become a sizable worldwide problem. Human Trafficking has had a considerable effect on the World and the United States. To combat this, several laws and initiatives have been enacted. While this allows for some headway in combating this problem, there are still several things that we can do to help. This review of the literature on Human Trafficking focuses on these areas and provides information on the steps that can help combat this epidemic.

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons is slavery. The United Nations defines human trafficking as “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring 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”. The Department of Justice notes that human trafficking frequently involves the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation and also often involves the exploitation of agricultural and sweatshop workers, as well as individuals working as domestic servants.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Legal Paper (Jurist Law) estimates that human trafficking victimizes some 800,000 people worldwide. (Jansen, 2006) While the article “Slavery in the Suburbs” (Smith, 2007) reports it’s an industry that’s worth some $32 billion worldwide. Trafficking in persons is also the third most profitable criminal activity after illegal weapons and drugs. (Morse, 2006)

This is a vicious and senseless crime that has become an epidemic of the world. It affects several areas of the world’s economy and relations. In October 2001, the State Department (DOS) created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and in June 2002, it published a report, under the direction of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, assessing the efforts made by 89 countries to combat trafficking in persons. This report is the most comprehensive anti-trafficking review to be issued by any single government. (Lackzo & Gramegna, 2003) This report (updated in 2007) lists each country based on the extent of government action to combat trafficking, rather than the size of the problem, into one of the three tiers.

The DOS describes Tier 1 as Governments that fully comply with TVPA; Tier 2 as Governments that are making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards. There is also a Tier 2 Watch List which includes countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Act’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and: The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing, or There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.

They define Tier 3 as Governments that do not fully comply and are not making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards. Two examples, India and Thailand, of the findings as stated in the DOS Trafficking in Persons Report, 2007 are listed below:
INDIA (Tier 2 Watch List)
India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. India’s trafficking in person problem is estimated to be in the millions. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) estimates that 90 percent of India’s sex trafficking is internal. Women and girls are trafficked internally for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage. Children are subject to involuntary servitude as factory workers, domestic servants, beggars, and agriculture workers. Men, women, and children are held in debt bondage and face involuntary servitude working in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories. India is also a destination for women and girls from Nepal and Bangladesh trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Bangladeshi women reportedly are trafficked through India for sexual exploitation in Pakistan. Although Indians migrate willingly to the Gulf for work as domestic servants and low-skilled laborers, some later find themselves in situations of involuntary servitude, including extended working hours, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement by withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace, and physical or sexual abuse. Bangladeshi and Nepali men and women are trafficked through India for involuntary servitude in the Middle East.

Figure 1. Photo by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.
Shown above, a 9-year-old girl toils under the hot sun, making bricks from morning to night, seven days a week. She was trafficked with her entire family from Bihar, one of the poorest and most underdeveloped states in India, and sold to the owner of a brick-making factory. She has no means of escape, and is unable to speak the local language; the family is isolated and lives in terrible conditions. (Human Trafficking Website, 2007)
Thailand (Tier 2)
Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Regional economic disparities drive significant illegal migration into Thailand, presenting traffickers with opportunities to force, coerce or defraud these undocumented migrants into labor or sexual exploitation. Women and children are trafficked from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.), Russia, and Uzbekistan for commercial sexual exploitation in Thailand. A number of women and girls from Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam transit through Thailand’s southern border to Malaysia for sexual exploitation primarily in Johor Bahru, across from Singapore. Thai and hill tribe women and girls are trafficked internally and to Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Bahrain, Australia, Singapore, Europe, Canada, and the United States for sexual exploitation. The denial of Thai residency to ethnic minority women and girls who reside in Thailand’s northern hills makes them more susceptible to trafficking and delays repatriation due to lack of citizenship. Widespread sex tourism in Thailand encourages trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Figure 2. Photo by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.
Shown above, a woman in her early 20s was trafficked into a blue jean sweatshop, where she and other young women were locked in and made to work 20 hours a day, sleeping on the floor, with little to eat and no pay. Luckily, she managed to escape and was brought to the government-run Baan Kredtrakarn shelter in Bangkok. She eventually felt safe enough to tell her story, the police were informed and they raided the sweatshop, freeing 38 girls. (Human Trafficking Website, 2007)

While this illustrates the worldwide reach, it also has an effect on America. Ricardo Veisaga saw an employment ad in the local Spanish newspaper to work in a restaurant. He applied and was promised more than $1,000 a month, meals, a place to sleep and possible overtime. Instead, he wound up working 12-hour days at a restaurant in Greenwood, Ind., earning an equivalent of 51 cents an hour. According to his account, he was fed only rice and water and on three occasions, he was beaten and threatened with kitchen knives. (Kelly, 2006)

Like Ricardo, Esperanza was in hopes of a better future as she left Mexico with the promise of a job in the United States. Esperanza was taken to a home and a sewing shop in which an angry woman owner told the young Mexican she owed a lot of money for her passage into the U.S. and would have to work hard to pay it off. She was forced to work 17-hour days in a sweatshop, forced to sleep in the shop, only given ten minutes to eat one meal a day, and was told not to talk to the other workers, some of whom were being paid. (Hidalgo, 2005)

Several steps are being taken to combat this problem both here and abroad. These steps include laws and organizations whose goal it is to stop and educate the public on human trafficking or slavery.

The United Nations (UN) has recently set up a global fund to combat human trafficking. Additionally the UN protocol against Trafficking in Persons was ratified in 2003 and has been signed by 117 countries, which makes human trafficking an international crime.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with financial support from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has set in motion a Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT). The process, formally launched in London on 26 March 2007 is designed to have a long-term impact—to create a turning point in the world-wide fight against human trafficking. Throughout 2007 and 2008, events will take place across the globe to raise awareness, reduce the vulnerability of potential victims examine the human impact of this crime and take action to stop it. The goal of this initiative is to prevent potential victims from falling prey to traffickers, protecting those who do, and punishing the criminals involved. (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2007)

While these are positive steps, the enforcement and punishment tend to be light. (Rosenthal, 2007) Human rights lawyer Siriwan, states the following in response to the human trafficking laws in Thailand ”A good law is often not enforced because of deep prejudices that can paralyze the legal system,” ”We cannot expect the problem of slavery to go away unless we tackle our own prejudices that endorse the exploitation.” (Human Trafficking Organization, 2007). While Siriwan attributes some of the problems to our own prejudices, examples of corruption also run rampant. For example, in Bosnia, Human Rights Watch found evidence of visa and immigration officials visiting brothels for free sexual services in exchange for ignoring the doctored documents produced by traffickers to facilitate transport through the country. (Agbu, 2003)

In America, the punishment can be more stringent. As reported in the Standard News Wire (2007), Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has made combating human trafficking a top priority of the Justice Department. He illustrates this by showing that in the last six fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has increased by six-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed, quadrupled the number of defendants charged, and tripled the number of defendants convicted.

So how can we help combat this epidemic? Education is one important step. While the world and UN are playing a key role by supporting the international anti-human trafficking initiatives, education is something we can do on a local level. Allison Lowe in her paper Human Trafficking: A Global Problem with Solutions that Begin at Home, calls for us to reach out and educate young people, not only because they are the future policy-makers and social workers of our country, but also because runaways and street children are highly susceptible to being ensnared by traffickers and pimps. (Lowe, 2007)

Training is another step we can take. Often people cannot recognize those that are victimized by human trafficking. Richard Danziger, Head of International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Counter-Trafficking Division, explained that one of the most basic challenges is training people to recognize trafficking victims. There is confusion between smuggling, illegal immigration, and human trafficking. He further says “Today, despite all the talk about trafficking, trafficked children are still being deported to their home countries or even transit countries. Victims, slaves, are still being treated as criminals.” To clear this up the IOM along with the Department of State have recently created an in-depth package of training programs aimed at immigration and law enforcement officials, legislators and nongovernmental organizations.

Human Trafficking is one that affects us all. It allows for the victimization of hundreds of thousands people worldwide. While there are several steps in place to combat this, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and the UN global initiative, there are still things that need to be done. We as Americans can directly support efforts to educate, train and have a hand at combating this terrible crime.

Agbu, O. (2003). Corruption And Human Trafficking: The Nigerian Case. West Africa Reivew, 4, 7-8.

Gramegna, M., & Laczko, F. (2003). Developing Better Indicators of Human Trafficking [Electronic version]. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 10, 179.

Hidalgo, E. (2005). Human trafficking in the U.S.:A harsh reality. Retrieved Dec 4, 2007 from

Human Trafficking.Org, A web resource for combating human trafficking. 50 Year Old Anti-Slavery Law Used in Thailand to Combat Human Trafficking. (2007). Retrieved Dec 2, 2007 from

Human Trafficking Website. (2007). Retrieved Dec 10, 2007 from
Jansen, J. (2006). Human trafficking still major problem: US report. Jurist Legal News and Research. Retrieved Dec 4, 2007 from

Kelly, K. (2006). Sold in the U.S.A. Retrieved Dec 09, 2007 from

Lowe, A. (2007). Human Trafficking: A Global Problem with Solutions that Begin at Home. Praxis Journal of the Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work, 7. Retrieved Dec 10, 2007 from

Lubetkin, W. (2006). New Training Programs Will Help Fight Trafficking in Persons. Department of State

International Information Programs. Retrieved Dec 6, 2007 from

Morse, J. (2006). Journalist Urges More Enforcement of Laws Against Human Trafficking. Department of State International Information Programs. Retrieved Dec 6, 2007 from

Rosenthal, E. (2007). UN Fund to Combat Human Trafficking. Retrieved Dec 4, 2007 from

Smith, T. (2007). Slavery in the Suburbs. Retrieved Dec 4, 2007 from

Standard News Wire: Woman Pleads Guilty to Human Trafficking Related Charges. (2007). Retrieved Dec 10, 2007 from

The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. (2007). Retrieved Dec 4, 2007 from

Trafficking in Persons Report. (2007). Retrieved Dec 4, 2007 from