La liberté s'allume dans les ténèbres. – Nicolas Berdiaev

Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

Human Trafficking is often referred to as modern-day slavery. More precisely, human trafficking involves the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person by threatening or using force or other forms of coercion, deception or other means, for the purpose of exploitation. To put it simply, a person is trafficked if she or he is forced or tricked into a situation in which he or she is exploited.

Child trafficking differs from human trafficking in that no force or deception needs to take place in order to prove that a child has been trafficked. This difference is based on the fact that a child is considered incapable of taking an informed decision.

Human trafficking usually consists of three stages. In the first stage, the victims are recruited; in the second, they are transported; and in the third, they are exploited.

At the recruitment stage, criminals use many methods to force or trick people into being trafficked. In some cases, the people are abducted and assaulted. In other cases, however, the people are offered good jobs and attractive opportunities that do not actually exist or that force them into exploitative labour and living conditions.

At the transportation stage, victims may be moved by land, sea and/or air, openly or covertly, in groups or alone, using public or private means of transportation. People can be trafficked across legal or illegal border crossings, or, in cases when persons are trafficked inside the borders of a country no border crossing at all.

At the exploitation stage, victims may be obliged to do any of the following:

  • Have sex or be sexually assaulted
  • Work in places such as factories, restaurants, farms, plantations, mines or homes (as domestic helpers), without the right to rest or the option to leave
  • Have an organ removed
  • Beg
  • Sell illegal drugs or fight as child soldiers
  • Get married

The initial consent of an adult to perform a certain kind of work or perform a certain kind of service is rendered meaningless if the person has been forced or tricked into an exploitative situation.

One form of exploitation does not necessarily exclude another: a victim can be trafficked for labour exploitation and, at the same time, be sexually exploited.

Anyone knowingly involved in any stage of the trafficking process is a trafficker and is guilty of a crime.

How are victims controlled?

Although victims of trafficking are controlled at all times by the traffickers, the methods of control may change over time and include:

  • Withholding documents. Documents and money may be taken from victims under the pretence of keeping them safe or of using them to obtain visas.
  • Using violence and restricting movement. A variety of methods are used to restrain victims, including incarceration and drugging.
  • Threatening victims and their loved ones. Traffickers sometimes threaten victims, for example, with telling their families and/or communities that the victims agreed to engage in shameful forms of labour or with telling the authorities that the victims have no documents.
  • Enforcing debt bondage. Victims are deceived into thinking that they will be able to pay for their travel and work arrangements after they have arrived at their destination and are then never put in a position to be able to do so.

Who are the victims?

It is impossible to describe a typical victim of human trafficking.

Victims are children as well as adults, male as well as female, illiterate as well as educated, able-bodied as well as disabled. They have different origins and ethnic backgrounds. They have different tempers. Men may be trafficked for sexual exploitation, women may be trafficked for labour and children may be exploited as petty criminals.

Most victims, however, are people who had hopes, be it for a better life or to make money for their families, and whose hopes were ultimately crushed. A certain vulnerability may characterize many people who become trafficked, either because of age, poverty, harsh living conditions, lack of opportunities or family pressure.

Ask yourself questions such as: “When or under which circumstances would I leave my town, my country or an environment familiar to me?” or “At what point would I become vulnerable?”

Who are the traffickers?

The traffickers, like their victims, do not fit into any one category.

Traffickers may be male or female, they may act within a criminal group or individually, and they may have very different backgrounds (nationality, education etc.). Some may even be people whom their victims trust, such as relatives and acquaintances.

*Excerpts taken from UNODC/UN.GIFT First Aid Kit for Use by Law Enforcement First Responders in Addressing Human Trafficking.


The video below is an interview of Mira Sovino when she was made the UN’s Goodwill Ambassador for Human Trafficking. Why this particular video? Because she is able to articulate the problem and its potential solutions very well.