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Human Trafficking: Part One

Human trafficking, as you might imagine, is a complex topic that crosses many areas of study, including development, economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, criminology and a host of others. For this reason, it is difficult to really call human trafficking a single ‘field of study’.

Human trafficking is not a new issue, and certainly slavery has been an aspect of human society since we’ve had human society. Its character has changed due to the historical and social realities of the day, but many of its core elements have remained the same.

One of the biggest issues regarding human trafficking is the challenge of attempting to define it. In 2000, acknowledging that the extreme abuse and exploitation of people by other human beings was still very much alive in our world, the United Nations held a summit in Palermo, Italy and drafted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children. In that document, they defined human trafficking as follows:

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 a 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.

As you can see, there is a lot going on in this definition in an attempt to bring all of these various types of exploitation under one umbrella. Now we have seen a major shift among the international community to make clear actionable policy addressing these issues.

To further complicate things, however, human trafficking is virtually impossible to quantify due to its very nature of being a hidden practice. Several scholars and government agencies have attempted to put a specific number on human trafficking, and these numbers are not particularly trustworthy. I have seen numbers ranging from 5 million to 40 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, and even the best methodologies of estimation have fairly wide ranges of numbers.

What we know, though, is that human trafficking is among the top three most profitable illicit businesses, along with the illegal arms trade and the illegal drug trade. The point is, there is a lot of money to be made by trafficking people, no matter what form it takes.

It is important to start with the understanding that all forms of trafficking are done for the monetary benefit of the trafficker. For instance, child molestation itself is not trafficking, but prostituting a child to customers is. So, we tend to hear descriptions of sex trafficking as distinctly categorized apart from labor trafficking, but ultimately, these things, whether forcing someone into sex-work, or to work in a field, or to sell their organs, are all done for profit.

Obviously, some forms of trafficking are more graphic and make for more sensationalized media reports, and therefore, we tend to hear more about things like sex trafficking in the red-light districts of Thailand or Amsterdam than we hear about labor trafficking of migrant farm workers in rural America.

I can assure you with great certainty that both types of trafficking are occurring in most countries worldwide.

It is my educated opinion that the time, resources and efforts needed to truly encapsulate accurate estimations would be better spent on active grass-roots efforts to address the actual exploitation, in part because by the time an actual estimation was established, the reality on the ground would have changed, and thus the estimation would be wrong.

In tomorrow’s blog, I will discuss the particular area of the world where Love Without Boundaries is now working, to give our supporters a better understanding of the challenges there.

~Robert Spires, Ph.D, is a member of Love Without Boundaries’ Board of Directors

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