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How to Break the Cycle of Human Trafficking


Human Trafficking is a transgression towards mankind at large and it includes under its leaf – forced labour, prostitution and sexual exploitation of all genders and age, cross-border movement of human beings for commercial gain, acts of coercion, fraud, and emotional intimidation and organized crime. In the past, the abomination of slavery seemed sufficient to eradicate the world of such predicament but history has a habit of repeating itself and hence Human Trafficking became reality and is often synonymous today with Modern-day Slavery.

Human Trafficking is a complex and grave issue that raises more questions than it answers. This issue makes one question the globalization over centuries, the evolution of mankind, and their domestic laws for the concern of human rights and its safeguards. It is something that the spectrum of International Law is facing today and is upsetting on two folds- One is the noteworthy definitional vulnerability with regards to the wrongdoing and the lack of awareness and the other is the absence of quantitative and subjective information on the genuine illegality of such practices. Today, it is not just an issue of scholarly disagreement rather it undermines the lucidness and estimation of the precaution and corrective capability of Anti-Trafficking policies Internationally. This is just not a legal issue anymore, but it is well-linked with the web of social, economic, and political problems. But, the root of Human Trafficking is the Inter-generational Poverty that leads a common man of any gender or age to become a victim of Human Trafficking overnight.

How to Break the Cycle of Human Trafficking

The intention of this paper is broadly divided into five key highlights. Firstly, to explore the definition and understand the process of Human Trafficking and its types; observe real-life instances of how human beings across the globe are trafficked and educate ourselves on the issue in detail with illustrations, because, even today people are not aware of what Human Trafficking signifies. Secondly, we shall also understand the difference between victims of Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling and the intersection of both in the current issue, to understand their Human Rights under International law. Thirdly, educate ourselves on the existing International laws of Anti-Trafficking policies, legislations, and initiatives globally like United Nations Initiatives, International Labour Organisation Regulations, International Organisation for Migration policies, etc. Fourthly, to acknowledge the Organisations and campaigns that are helping the Human Trafficking survivors today which is the reason why victims today can deal with the emotional trauma and help others like them. Fifthly, to analyse the protocols available in the International Law spectrum to understand how we can break the cycle of Human Trafficking. In conclusion, this paper’s object is to enlighten and to break the myths often associated with Human Trafficking.

Keywords: Human Trafficking, Awareness, Inter-generational Poverty, Migrant Smuggling, Human Rights, Anti-Trafficking policies, International Law, United Nations Initiatives, International Labour Organisation Regulations, International Organisation for Migration policies, Organizations for Victim Survivors, Break the cycle of Human Trafficking.

  1. Illuminating The Issue

Human trafficking is an insult to human dignity and an assault on freedom.[2] In simple terms, trafficking in persons is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud, or deception with the aim of exploiting them.[3] The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people by improper means such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion for an improper purpose including forced labour or sexual exploitation.[4] Every year millions of people fall into the hands of Traffickers by deceit and fake promises. It is the third most profitable crime after Illicit drugs and Arms Trafficking. It strips away the Human Rights of the victim and uses their vulnerabilities in order to exploit them by harsh and inhumane means. Human Trafficking is basically the Modern version of Slavery and with all the industrialisation, globalization and technology in the 21st Century, it does not just exist but, there is a huge gap between the documented data that we have today of the of people that are actually trafficked and the people that are under record. This means that we do not have the actual figure of the people that are trafficked in all the states around the globe but, a piece of the real figure. But as unfortunate is the situation at hand, with 147 signatories and 190 parties, United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised crime[5] underpinned by its guardian United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) under the Flag of United Nations is combating human trafficking and smuggling of migrants around the globe and their Protocols helps the States in their efforts to implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking in Persons Protocol).[6] 

Understanding the Process or Elements- Human Trafficking is a process and nexus of events between the Trafficker and the victim, it doesn’t happen all of a sudden.

  • Step one, the Traffickers Act, this includes recruiting victims, transporting them to the place where they will be exploited, hiding them from authorities and receiving victims from other traffickers.
  • This second step, where the Traffickers use different Means which includes threatening or forcing victims to do what they want. Abducting or deceiving the victims and abusing power. Sometimes Traffickers even promise small payments or benefits to get the victim to cooperate. But why are the traffickers doing this?
  • This brings us to the final step; the Purpose of Trafficking is Exploitation. Traffickers take advantage of victims for their own profit or benefit.

Accumulation of all the steps above by the Traffickers is Human Trafficking.

Familiarizing with the types of Human Trafficking:-

  1. Forced Labour – According to International Labour Organisation (ILO)[7], “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” This definition is mentioned Forced Labour Protocol (Article 1(3)). In simple terms, using the services of a person under pretence like, fraud, coercion or deceit in order to exploit the victim for Trafficker’s commercial gain, when the victim does not want to work is forced labour.

In a statistical analysis of a 2012 report, 22% accounted were forced prostitution under Human Trafficking, 10% was in-state imposed forced labour but a whopping 68% was just forced labour exploitation.[8] This 68% is creating the goods and delivery of the services that most of us rely on every day, in sectors like agricultural work, domestic work and construction. That is food, care and shelter and somehow, these most essential workers are also among the world’s most underpaid and exploited today.

This type of human trafficking is found in cotton fields, mines, car washes in Norway and England. It is found in US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s found in Thailand’s fishing industry which is the world’s largest exporter of shrimp in the world. But what are the circumstances behind this cheap and plentiful shrimp? Thai military was caught selling Burmese and Cambodian migrants on to fishing boats. Those fishing boats were taken out, then men put to work, and they were thrown overboard if they made the mistake of falling sick or trying to resist treatment. Those fish were then used to feed shrimp, the same shrimp that was sold to four major Global retailers- Costo, Tesco, Walmart, and Carrefour.[9]

  1. Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution– These terms fall under the ambit of Sex Trafficking and mean two different scenarios. The Trafficker plays on the vulnerabilities of the victim to procure them and uses their helplessness to corner them into working for them. The common element is the involuntary nature of the procurement and the unwillingness on the part of the victim. Voluntary Prostitution does not fall under the scope of Human Trafficking. This is not gender specific, you would be surprised to find children, woman, men all across the globe are connected by this crime. How? Because either you’ll find a Trafficker who is preying on the weak. Or the Victim who is too bound by Inter-generational Poverty (Obligations to family that cannot be otherwise met and state of being poor that adds more debt or poverty to the status of one’s family.) to speak up about it and be documented under Human Trafficking to be deported back to their country where they do not have any employment.

Illustration– Jackie gets a job opportunity in the restaurant business abroad; she applies for it and gets an acceptance by the company. She is overjoyed. The travel charges were paid by the company. (Act) Upon reaching the airport, she is met by two men who take her in a car to the Restaurant. On the way she realises that they were not headed to the restaurant, she tries to ask the driver where they were going and is threatened by the men and thrown in an empty room and all her belongings are confiscated. (Means) She is scared and alone and she finds, she is with two different men who use her for intercourse. And she isn’t paid any money but the money is paid to the men who brought her there. (Purpose) This woman is a Victim of Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution.

What we need to know about this issue is Sex Trafficking is not what we see in Media Representation. By definition, Trafficking means forced work. A victim of Sex trafficking is someone who is forced to work with the sex industry against his or her will. This happens on every country on earth in both urban and rural areas. In fact, some people are misled by the word “traffic”. Why? Because they often associate with Cross- border Movement, which it is not. A person can be trafficked anywhere.[10] 

Story of Oi, A boy from rural hill tribe of Northern-Thailand, not far from the Myanmar border. These hill tribe communities are an ethnic minority in Thailand and highly discriminated against. Oi’s mother died of heroin overdose and he and his younger sibling were left in the care of their stepfather. It is culturally common for this part of the world for children to bear for the financial obligation of caring for their families. Being the oldest child, this opportunity was bestowed upon Oi and he felt responsible. There’s also a great deal of migration in this part of the world, particularly people coming from Myanmar to get a better life in Thailand. However, just because a child is born in Thailand it doesn’t guarantee such child Thai Citizenship. Often times, it is dependent upon the citizenship of their biological parents. Oi was born in Thailand, but his parents were from Myanmar, which meant he was ‘Stateless’, that is a person who is not recognised as a citizen of any country. This indicated that he couldn’t access healthcare, public schools or move freely outside his province. This limited his earning capacity. When he was 12 years old, he followed an older boy from the village to the North Thailand city of Chiang Mai seeking work. He only knew the native language of his village; he didn’t know Thai or English like others. So, when he got there, he started selling flowers to tourists in night market but he wasn’t making enough money. He again followed one of the other boys to a bar in hopes of making more money there. But just after nightfall, the bar, situated in the heart of Chiang Mai’s red-light district got filled with young boys just like Oi. It did not take much to figure out what this job entailed, he eventually and extremely reluctantly followed the steps of the other boys. It started with drink orders and massages, but in order to make enough money and care for his younger sibling, it quickly turned into Oi having sexual relations with Foreign men. He hated it. He started taking drinking and drugs to numb himself. But he knew that he couldn’t make enough money with the other jobs so he continued on. He still wasn’t making money, so he stole $80 from one of the customers which got him arrested and a jail sentence. He spent 4 years in jail and his customer walked completely free. Why? Because he was an ethnic minority. Oi is a Victim of Sex Trafficking. And his story represents the sober realities of this life. Like Oi’s story, it is very common among the men and women of Thailand.[11]

Most victims of Sex trafficking are physically free but not psychologically free.[12]

In the case of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR) vs Government of Bangladesh and Others[13] we saw certain specific rights of sex workers being recognized. This was the first case that specifically stated that victims of Sex trafficking have the same liberty and rights as that of an ordinary man of the country.

  1. Debt Bondage or Peonage- Also synonymous with Bonded labour means, a chain of even that lead of permanent enslavement. How does it happen? The person who wants loan or is in debt of the other person offers to work for the person who procures the money to them and in some cases, there is also an employment contract. But with time this amount becomes impossible to pay and the person in debt or the one who got the loan ends up working for the former person who gave the money in the first place. This debt is often either acquired or inherited and is passed from one generation to another. Bonded labour is pure exploitation of the workers who are just stuck in a cycle of Intergenerational Poverty or debt.


  1. Human Rights To The Victims of Human Trafficking

Before understanding the Human Rights of Trafficked Persons, we need to understand the difference between the victims of Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling.

Human Trafficking, is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or positional vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits. It does not require Transnationality. The consent of the victim is irrelevant once the means is established and in the case of children, almost unheard of. The Purpose here is Exploitation which includes Prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour and services, slavery and similar practices, involuntary servitude, removal of organs. Whereas, Migrant Smuggling, is the procurement of illegal entry of a person into a country of which the person isn’t a permanent resident neither a national. Transnationality is key here. The victim consents to the smuggling because of reasons like ‘Statelessness’, lack of employment or poverty. The purpose here is for financial or other material benefit. Now that we have established the differences between the two, it does make us wonder whether there is an inter-section between the two. The answer is yes.

Migrant Workers become the victims of Human trafficking when they’re promised temporary citizenship by traffickers, a dignified life and pay in exchange of work and they consent to work for financial gain but they are exploited with threats after have reached the workplace. Further, if they disobey the Traffickers, they would be deported or arrested. This constructs a huge problem in the minds of the victims. These are people of color, ethnic minority, people who are discriminated by the society, unemployed due to statelessness, people of different race than that of the nation they are working at, people who cannot afford being harassed by the police because they have family obligations and debt to repay and are the ones who fear worse than deportation if they go on record against their traffickers and hence the cycle perpetuates.

According to Article 4 of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights[14], “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and Rights”. Over almost 70 years ago, when United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris the international community proclaimed the inalienable rights of all human being and vowed never to allow atrocities like those of the Second World War to happen again. By doing so States committed to protect the rights of every person on their territory including foreigners smuggled migrants or victims of trafficking smuggled migrants and victims of trafficking are more vulnerable to human rights violations because, of the particular situation they are in, they may be subjected to serious abuse and exploitation by the smugglers. All traffickers who control their situation may also usually be in an irregular situation, whereby they are afraid to approach local authorities and ask for protection. When being in fear of deportation yet, victims are entitled to all rights and freedoms set forth through the Universal Declaration or Human Rights. Their rights are confirmed in the protocol against the smuggling of migrants and emphasized in the Protocol against Trafficking in persons.

Trafficking in person is recognized by all as a serious crime that constitutes a grave violation of Human Rights to victims of this crime. States are therefore obliged to provide adequate assistance and protection. Additional rights apply to specific persons, for example, children and refugees, who may both be smuggled for trafficking should benefit from special protection measures such as housing, health-care or education. Migrants who are smuggled across borders are not considered as per se, nevertheless thousands of migrants die every year during smuggling activities they are also particularly vulnerable to other crimes such, as kidnapping for extortion, rape but also to discrimination and ill-treatment including from state and non-state agencies. Smuggled migrants themselves are often considered offenders and denied appropriate protection of their rights, assistance and access to justice when there are victims of aggravated smuggling hence, it is essential to look at their specific situation to ensure that also their rights as human being, refugees, children, and all victims are fully protected.

According to Article 2 of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights[15], ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’

  • Anti-Trafficking Laws

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) established the Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labour (SAPFL) in 2001 to spearhead ILO activities against forced labour, including human trafficking. It is a broad-based programme working in close co-operation with governments, employers and workers, civil society and other international organisations.[16]
  • The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, acknowledges the strong link between organized criminal activities such as trafficking and corruption. It requires State parties to take strong measures to criminalize all forms of corrupt practices (art. 8). State parties are also required to adopt measures designed to promote integrity and to prevent and punish the corruption of public officials. They must also take measures to ensure effective action by their authorities in the prevention, detection and punishment of the corruption of public officials, including providing such authorities with adequate independence to deter the exertion of inappropriate influence on their actions (art. 9).[17]
  • Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime also known infamously as the ‘Palermo Protocol’ is another legislation under United nations that defines and protects the Human Rights of victims of Human Trafficking. [18]
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[19], explicitly recognize and protect the right to freedom of movement This are the multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Similarly, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[20] and all the major regional human rights treaties are also present.
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is the guardian of all anti-trafficking related UN initiatives. It collects and documents persons of Human Trafficking across the globe and helps provide means to combat the problem. UNODC offers practical help to States, not only helping to draft laws and create comprehensive national anti-trafficking strategies but also assisting with resources to implement them. States receive specialized assistance including the development of local capacity and expertise, as well as practical tools to encourage cross-border cooperation in investigations and prosecutions.[21]
  • International Office for Migration (IOM), aims to support governments, civil society organizations, international organizations, and the private sector to combat human trafficking. This includes support to strengthen policies and procedures to facilitate the identification, referral, and protection and assistance of trafficked persons; improvements to anti-trafficking legislation and regulations and their implementation; and advisory services to private sector entities aiming to eliminate exploitation from their operations and supply chains. This includes actions to promote the ethical recruitment of migrant workers, for example through IOM’s International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS), which is a due diligence tool for businesses, governments and workers.[22] 
  1. The Aftermath of Human Trafficking- A Victim’s Path To Recovery

After being Trafficked or whilst being the part of the trafficking process, victims go through a lot of psychological and emotional trauma that they cannot deal with alone. They need proper Rehabilitation treatment and therapy to move on in life and live a dignified life that they deserve. This is where the NGOs have come to save the day.

These organizations work and collaborate with government and private sectors across the world and mobilize the data of Human Trafficking across world to better rescue the victims of such heinous crime. Every country today has NGOs to help aid the problem of Trafficking. They conduct campaign against Traffickers and create shelter. They go on media and radio to spread the word of what they are doing, so people who are locally victims can reach them and walk on the path of recovery without feeling discriminated from society.

They train people to better spot Human Trafficking victims, so they can be brought to proper authorities and report what happened to them without feeling the apprehension of arrest. They study the information gathered and recommend the government to better the grey areas of law that can better identification of traffickers internationally. Some of the world’s most successful NGOs that have helped aid the problem of Trafficking across all age and genders are-

1) Global Alliance Against Trafficking In Women.

2) Stop The Traffik

3) The Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project

4) FAIR Girls


6) Freedom Network USA

7) Love146


  1. Breaking The Cycle of Human Trafficking

But what can we do to combat this issue? The following is just a start –

  • Social protection: Creating a safe place to take shelter and care to all victims of trafficking.
  • Employment: We need more jobs where people with not much qualifications and societal discrimination of race, color, language, statelessness can go. This will instantly reduce the substantial number of trafficking everywhere, because people will have the right to withdraw from the job and work with will, to get something that actually reflects what they worked for. And more people will go into document to reflect their economic status.
  • Labour safeguards: Recommending stricter and more victim-friendly labour regulations, so the people stop feeling cornered into bonded/forced labour and get a choice.     
  • Education: This is the biggest factor of change. Creating basic elementary education schools and awareness about the issue and how people get trafficked with deceit by preying on the weak will help people to walk away from real life instances of means to exploitation.
  • Health: Improving access to healthcare and sexually transmitted diseases to all persons who are trafficked.
  • Migration: Creating awareness about the consequences of accepting unknown abroad jobs.
  • Access to law and justice: If people were informed about their rights at work, term of work, conditions of work and were aware about their property rights, they would be less gullible to fake schemes by traffickers or big companies and further without documentation of the employment contract by proper authority, approach the right forum to get the traffickers arrested.

From this article, we have understood one of most complicated yet pressing issues of our time, Modern-day Slavery. We went from understanding what it means to its elements and types. We also came across various illustrations and International laws to combat trafficking and learnt that Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking are not the same. We came across the amazing work that the NGOs across the world are indulging in, to help victims get their life back on track and talked about ways to break the cycle of trafficking. But every day that we go to sleep after the city lights go out, we are dreaming and often come across job opportunities to fulfil those dreams. You’d expect these traffickers to look like shady and strange men, but they are just people like you and me, preying on the vulnerable. That could be you, or your sibling or parent or someone you love. If we are implicated by the problem that means we are all part of the solution. There’s an extent to which the legal system can help us out. This means being part of the change to help victims come forward as they are all around us starting with having difficult conversations with our closed ones because, they might not know about the implications of their choices. Educating people who are unaware about this issue without judging them and mostly, just caring and spreading awareness about this issue, so the next time someone you love is stuck in a cycle of exploitation, they tell you their whereabouts and reach you for help. Are you ready to be a part of the change? Today it’s Oi’s Story, tomorrow it could be yours.

  • [1] Author, 4th Year, KIIT School of Law.
  • [2] Emilia Stark, Human Rights Violations: On Iran and its role in human trafficking and executions (2015).
  • [3] UNODC, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html (Aug. 8, 2020).
  • [4] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.
  • [5] General Assembly resolution 55/25, (2000).
  • [6] Supra at 3.
  • [7] ILO, What is forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/definition/lang–en/index.htm, (Aug.8, 2020).
  • [8] 2012 Survey, ILO Global Estimate of forced labour.
  • [9] Noy Thrupkaew, Human Trafficking Journalist and Researcher, (2015).
  • [10] Meghan Sobel, Department of Communication at Regis University, ‘Sex Trafficking isn’t what you think it is’, TedxMileHighWomen Conference (2016).
  • [11] Id.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR) vs Government of Bangladesh and Others 53 DLR (2001).
  • [14] Universal Declarations of Human Rights, General Assembly resolution 217 A, (1948, p. 2).
  • [15] Id.
  • [16] ILO and EU survey, ‘Operational indicators of trafficking in human beings’, (2009, p. 8).
  • [17] United Nations Human Rights High Commission Fact Sheet No.36, ‘Human Rights and Human Trafficking’, New York and Geneva, (2014, p. 54).
  • [18] UN General Assembly, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, (2000), https://www.refworld.org/docid/4720706c0.html, [Last visited Aug. 8, 2020, 02:40 AM]
  • [19]Article 12, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Resolution 2200A (XXI), (1966).
  • [20] Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Resolution 217, (1948).
  • [21]UNODC, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html, (Last visited Aug. 9, 2020, 03:48 AM).
  • [22] IOM UN Migration, https://www.iom.int/counter-trafficking, (Last visited Aug. 9, 2020, 03:48 AM).

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