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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Weichel

Modern Day Slavery: The Insidious Rise of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a global problem that has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry. It enslaves people, primarily young women and men, into what constitutes modern day slavery. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. In 2008, the United Nationsestimated 2.5 million people from 127 different countries were being trafficked into 137 countries around the world, though more recent estimates are a staggering 27 million. 1

Human trafficking is the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage, forced labor, or the extraction of organs or tissues. Human trafficking can occur within a country or trans-nationally.

Human trafficking is a crime against the person because of the violation of the victim's rights of movement through coercion and because of their commercial exploitation. It is condemned as a violation of human rights by international conventions such as theProtocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocols and Convention. As of June 2015, 167 countries have ratified the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol. 3

Yet human trafficking is a very lucrative business and thus hard to contain. It represented an estimated $32 billion of international trade per year in 2013.2 Human trafficking is thought to be one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national criminal organizations. 4

The work or services may include anything from bonded or forced labor to commercial sexual exploitation. The arrangement may be structured as a work contract with no or low payment, or on terms which are highly exploitative. Sometimes the arrangement is structured as debt bondage, with the victim not being permitted or able to pay off the debt.

Bonded labor, or debt bondage, is probably the least known form of labor trafficking today, and yet it is the most widely used method of enslaving people. Victims become "bonded" when their labor is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan or service in which its terms and conditions have not been defined or in which the value of the victims' services is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt. Generally, the value of their work is greater than the original sum of money "borrowed.” 5

Forced labor is a situation in which victims are forced to work against their own will under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment; their freedom is restricted and a degree of ownership is exerted. Men are at risk of being trafficked for unskilled work, which globally generates 31 billion USD according to the International Labor Organization. Forms of forced labor can include domestic servitude, agricultural labor, sweatshop factory labor, janitorial, food service and other service industry labor, and begging. 6 Some of the products produced by forced labor are: clothing, cocoa, bricks, coffee, cotton, and gold, among others.

Child labor is a form of work that is likely to be hazardous to the physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development of children and can interfere with their education. According to the International Labor Organization, the global number of children involved in child labor has declined by one third from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million children in 2012. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest incidence of child labor, while the largest numbers of child-workers are found in Asia and the Pacific. 7[

Sex trafficking affects 4.5 million people worldwide. Most victims find themselves in coercive or abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous. Sex trafficking uses physical or sexual coercion, deception, abuse of power and bondage incurred through forced debt. Trafficked women and children are often promised work in the domestic or service industry, but instead are sometimes taken to brothels where they are required to undertake sex work, while their passports and other identification papers confiscated. They may be beaten or locked up and promised their freedom only after earning – through prostitution – their purchase price, as well as their travel and visa costs. 8

Being trafficked can be terrifying and leave the victims open to endless abuse. As one trafficked girl said “He called me a stupid bitch … a worthless piece of shit; I had to tell people I fell off stage because I had so many bruises on my ribs, face and legs; I have a permanent twitch in my eye from him hitting me in my face so much. I have none of my irreplaceable things from my youth.”

Traffickers have many means of capturing their victim, including using threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, or giving payments to a person in control of the victim.

Many organizations work on this issue, which can be hard to identify since trafficked victims are carefully controlled, sometimes drugged and afraid to tell the truth for fear of more abuse. When exploring the potential for human trafficking the organizations look for the following indicators:

  • Does the victim possess identification and travel documents? If not, who has control of these documents?

  • Did the victim travel to a destination country for a specific job or purpose and is victim engaged in different employment than expected?

  • Is victim forced to perform sexual acts as part of employment?

  • Is the victim a juvenile engaged in commercial sex?

  • Does the victim owe money to an employer or does the employer hold wages?

  • Did the employer instruct the victim on what to say to law enforcement or immigration official?

  • Can the victim freely leave employment or the situation?

  • Are there guards at work/harboring site or video cameras to monitor and ensure no one escapes?

  • Does the victim have freedom of movement? Can they freely contact family and friends? Can they socialize or attend religious services?

Trafficking is big business and so pervasive that it is hard to contain, and international efforts are small in comparison to the size and scope of the problem. Though now universally illegal, slavery very much exists, and it's common. We need a much more coordinated and concerted effort of law enforcement, more effective policies, wide spread education and training, and support for the victims to reduce this insidious crime. Simultaneously we need to reduce poverty and expand jobs to ensure that people have more opportunities to earn income and don’t fall prey to unscrupulous predators.


1 ^ "UN-backed container exhibit spotlights plight of sex trafficking victims". 2008-02-06. Retrieved 2011-06-25.

2 ^ "Human Trafficking Statistics and Facts". Havocs Scope. Retrieved 20 January 2015.

3 "UNTC".

4 ^ Louise Shelley (2010). Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-139-48977-5.

5 Jump up to: a b "Labor trafficking fact sheet" (PDF). National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

6 "A global alliance against forced labour", ILO, 11 May 2005.

7 Child Labour".

8 ^ Siddharth Kara (2009). Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Columbia University Press.

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