What is Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that affects millions of women, children and men all across the globe. There is currently no country unaffected, whether as a source, transit or destination location, or a combination of the three. Trafficking as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, abduction, deception or coercion. The act of trafficking can be broken down into three elements: Action, Means, and Purpose.


Who are the perpetrators of human trafficking?

Human Trafficking is almost always a form of organised crime. Globally, it has a profit of US $32 billion annually, making it the second most lucrative business for organised crime groups. To a human trafficker, people are regarded as just another commodity – like narcotics, weapons, or endangered species – to be exploited and traded for profit. Relatively low risks of being caught, and high profit margins, make trafficking-in-persons one of the least risky criminal pursuits worldwide; consequently making it the fastest growing criminal enterprise.  Female offenders have a disproportionately high role in human trafficking, as both victims and culprits. This is attributed to former victims becoming perpetrators as a means of escape.

How many people are trafficked every year?

Statistics surrounding human trafficking are difficult to authenticate, and estimates can vary by the millions. Forced labour statistics are often sighted, as they are widely accepted as being interconnected, but they are not necessarily synonymous. Trafficked people are exploited through forced labour, but not every person who experiences forced labour has been trafficked.

What’s the difference between forced labour and human trafficking?

To be categorized as human trafficking, a person must be recruited, moved, or harbored with the intention of exploitation, using threats, force, coercion and/or other means of deception. Forced labour is a broader term, inclusive of all conditions where a person provides labour or services under threat, coercion and/or deception, and cannot leave or cease providing the labour or service due to threat of penalty. Therefore, human trafficking can be understood as a subset of forced labour (in that all human trafficking is forced labour, but not all forced labour is trafficking).

Human Trafficking

The recruitment, movement, harboring and/or obtaining of a person within or across borders, through abuse of power, coercion, or deception, with the intention of forced exploitation, be it commercial or for labor purposes.

Forced Labour

All work or service, legitimate or otherwise, which is exacted from any person under violence, threat of violence (physical or mental), or coercion preventing a person from exercising their freedom of movement and/or free will.

Separating victims of human trafficking and those purely under the category of forced labour can be extremely difficult, and is often debated in development and academic spheres. Hence, a further reason that forced labour and trafficking statistics are often presented simultaneously.

How many people are in situations of forced labour?

The ILO estimates that 20.9 million people are in forced labour globally; either trafficked for labour and/or sexual exploitation, or held in slavery-like conditions. Of these 20.9 million people, 4.5 million are estimated to be in a situation of commercial sexual exploitation. The Asia-pacific region is estimated to have the largest number of forced labour and trafficking victims, comprising over 56% of the total world estimate.

What is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking is the result of a combined situation of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Perpetrators of sex trafficking use threats, violence, coercion and other forms of deception to force adults or children into engaging in commercial sex acts against their will, whilst recruiting, moving, harboring and/or obtaining them within or across borders.

Sex Trafficking

Recruitment, movement, harboring and/or obtaining of people within or across borders, through abuse of power, coercion, or deception, with the intention of sexual exploitation, be it commercial or otherwise.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Includes women, men and children who are forced or coerced by either individuals or enterprises, into prostitution or any other form of sexual activities, such as sex tourism or pornography.

Who does sex trafficking happen to?

While sex trafficking can and does happen to men and boys, 98% of victims are female and many are under 18 years of age. Traffickers target vulnerable people as they are easier to exploit. Some examples of vulnerabilities that create conditions that lead to sex trafficking are:

  • Poverty
  • Inadequate education and/or employment availability
  • Gender inequality
  • Inequalities & discrimination
  • Conflict
  • Disabilities & illness
  • Lack of legal status
  • Religious and/or cultural beliefs
  • Homelessness
  • Natural Disasters
How does sex trafficking happen?

There are many ways that traffickers coerce young girls into situations where they are vulnerable to exploitation, the most common being a promise of a good job in another city or country. However, there are other methods used, such as: a false offer of marriage, being sold by a relative or significant other, or being kidnapped by traffickers.

Why can’t they just leave?

Victims of trafficking are frequently subjected to debt-bondage, an illegal practice in which traffickers tell their victims that they owe money (often relating to the victims’ living expenses and transport to the city or to a new country) and that they must pledge their personal services to repay the debt.  Then in order to make their victims become compliant, sex traffickers use methods that include starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape, gang rape, threats of violence to the victims and the victims’ families, forced drug use, and the threat of shaming victims by revealing their activities to their family and communities.

Why does Free To Shine focus on preventing sex trafficking?

Free To Shine was built on the promise that our founder Nicky Mih, made to survivors of sex trafficking (read more of Nicky’s story). It is our belief that sex trafficking is the most abhorrent form of modern day slavery, but one that can be eradicated through the power of education.

Whilst preventing sex trafficking is the reason we exist, the nature of our work means we also contribute to the prevention of many other forms of slavery, such as forced labour and labour exploitation (including commercial sexual exploitation).

Learn why prevention is better than cure >>


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