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Slavery and Human Trafficking in 2013


Reports and statistics from the UN, national governments, and politically diverse NGO’s demonstrate that human trafficking and slavery are as common today as they were during the years when transAtlantic slave trading was a legal enterprise. Estimates place the number of global victims as high as 29 million. The reality of this twenty-first century crime against humanity, however, is difficult to translate into accurate statistics at the global level. While the number of prosecutions for human trafficking in 2011 is precisely determinable (7,206), human trafficking remains an underground activity that defies accurate data collection. Governments estimate the number of trafficking victims through confirmed cases and expansive guesswork. Here, however, many trafficking cases are misidentified or missed completely. Accordingly, approximated statistics can be too low. Additionally, “human trafficking” and “slavery” are often defined so broadly that they include a wide swath of illegal activities. These broad definitions, however, can fail to capture the differences between different kinds of human trafficking. Most trafficking cases are unique. Although there are wide variances in discovered instances of human trafficking, there are established patterns that, once identified, help law enforcement combat this crime against humanity.


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as the act of “recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” A more technical definition requires the fulfillment of a combination of three criteria. The first criterion is the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving persons. Physical transportation from one place to another, however, is not a criterion for trafficking. The second criterion involves the means with which one acts. The means of trafficking must involve some sort of force (threatened or used), coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of either power or vulnerability, or the giving of payments or benefits. The third necessary criterion for something to be considered trafficking is motive. The motive  and means of action must involve exploitation, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices, the removal of organs, and other types of exploitation. The key factor underlying all trafficking criteria is the act of exploitation. This factor distinguishes trafficking from the related but distinct crime of human smuggling (e.g. individuals who illegally transport people looking for work into the US over the US-Mexico border). Human smuggling is limited to transportation while human trafficking is focused on exploitation. A wide variety of cases, however, are encompassed in the definition of trafficking.

UNODC: Key Findings and Statistics

The 104 page UN document on human trafficking in 2012 contains several statistics that help to characterize modern trafficking. These statistics contextualize trafficking stories and common cases within each of the four trafficking categories. Selected statistics are as follows:

  • Women and girls account for roughly 75% of trafficking victims detected globally.
  • 27% of detected victims are children. The ratio of girls to boys is 2:1.
  • Traffickers are most often adult males from the country of operation. However, there is a greater proportion of women and foreign nationals involved in human trafficking than in most other crimes.
  • Trafficking for sexual exploitation is more common in Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas while trafficking for forced labor is more common in Africa, the Middle East, and some parts of Asia.
  • Sex trafficking (human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation) accounts for 58% of detected trafficking cases. Forced labor accounts for 36%, double the statistic from 2007.
  • Approximately 460 different trafficking flows were identified between 2007 and 2010.
  • From 2007 to 2010, roughly half of the detected victims were trafficked across borders within their region. 24% were trafficked interregionally. The remainder were trafficked within their country of origin.
  • The Middle East reports the largest proportion of victims trafficked from other regions (70%) while Western and Central Europe contain victims from the largest amount of origin countries
  • The trafficking flow originating in East Asia remains the most prominent transnational flow globally. East Asian victims were detected in large numbers in many countries worldwide.
  • The number of convictions for human trafficking is very low (under 8,000 annually). Of the 132 countries covered in the UN study, 21 countries (16%) did not record a single conviction between 2007 and 2010.

Cases and Forms:

Interpol groups human trafficking into four separate categories. These categories include the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, trafficking for forced labor, trafficking for the commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism (“sex tourism”), and trafficking in organs. The experiences of victims within these categories vary widely depending on the wealth of the country in which they are trafficked, the industries within that country, and their handlers. African diamond mines, South American brothels, and forced slave labor in East Asian fisheries all employ different methods of entrapment and trafficking, resulting in markedly different experiences for each victim.

Trafficking women for sexual exploitation

Although the UN, national governments, and anti-trafficking NGOs have done much to spread awareness of this sort of trafficking, Hollywood has probably produced the greatest increases in awareness.  The international issue of sex trafficking gained massive amounts of media attention after the release of the Hollywood film Taken (2008) which portrayed many brutal practices common in European human trafficking rings. Although the story on which the film was based turned out to be a fabrication, the portrayal of trafficking was remarkably accurate. It awoke many to the dark realities of human trafficking rings involved in prostitution. Through these ruthless rings, thousands of women and girls are forced or tricked into prostitution every year. By carrying them out of the country, often on the promise of high-paying jobs, traffickers reduce their victims ability to escape or live on their own. As trafficking rings are commonly involved in the drug trade, women are frequently forcibly addicted to drugs that make them dependent on their traffickers. The most common sources for internationally trafficked women include East Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Although women from developed countries are trafficked every year, developed countries are more often the destination countries for trafficked women that come from poorer areas.

Forced labor trafficking

Forced labor is the most populated and perhaps least prosecuted form of human trafficking. It is as varied as it is populated by millions of victims. In Southeast Asia, workers are often trafficked into the fishing industry where they are trapped through paperwork confiscation, debt, or other means. In Sudan and the surrounding area, entire ethnicities are often exploited as unpaid labor forces. In 2007, Chinese authorities discovered a brick manufacturer who had enslaved 550 people, nearly 70 of them children. This launched a national crackdown in which 100 government officials were convicted of dereliction of duty. In Mauritania, a Saharan country in Africa, slavery was not abolished until 1981 and only criminalized in 2007. It is still estimated that up to 20% of the Mauritanian population still live as bonded servants. The list continues.

In India, millions of the nation’s poorest citizens are trapped into debt bondage. Debt bondage occurs when the debtor provides himself or another human being as collateral for a loan. Until the loan is paid off, the creditor holds power over the human collateral. Oftentimes, the interest compiles faster than the debtor is able to pay and the the debt passes beyond the possibility of payment. A common result is that the debtor loses the human collateral to the creditor. This debt is frequently transferred over generations, resulting in de facto slavery.

Trafficking for the sexual exploitation of children in tourism

There is increasing concern over the presence and growth of a grotesque tourism industry that sexually exploits children. These traffickers often locate themselves within countries that have inadequate police forces for detection and enforcement. Here, traffickers prostitute children for tourists, generally from rich countries, who travel to the poorer countries in order to escape the likelihood of discovery and criminal prosecution.

Trafficking in Human Organs

Organ trafficking is uncommon when compared with sex trafficking or forced labor. It is, however, a harsh criminal reality and is perhaps the most under-reported form of trafficking. Organ trafficking is divided into three categories. The first is where traffickers force or deceive victims into giving up an organ. The second involves situations were a victim agrees to sell an organ but is then cheated out of the promised price. The third category covers victims who, while being treated for ailments (which may or may not exist), have their organs removed without their knowledge. Here, organized criminals partner with corrupt medical professionals to traffic kidneys, livers, and any removable organs with a medical demand. Officials are continually discovering the extent and complexity of human organ trafficking.


Fortunately for the victims of trafficking around the world, trafficking is an issue that the governments of nearly every country have recognized as a crime against humanity and the state. The issue has become a priority for the UN and the governments of the developed world over the past decade. These countries have encouraged and continue to encourage (and incentivize) the governments of developing countries to improve their anti-trafficking enforcement mechanisms. These endeavors have been a successful first step in eliminating human trafficking.

Non-governmental organizations are essential to combating human trafficking and fill many necessary roles more effectively than representatives of governments of the western world. NGOs offer comprehensive rescue, legal, and rehabilitative services to victims of trafficking wherever they can find them. Some, like International Justice Mission, pursue legal means of both emancipation and prosecution found within the country in which trafficking occurs. This method simultaneously frees victims of trafficking while establishing paths and precedents in legal systems for trafficking prosecution. While this legal method does solve the immediate problem of trafficking in each circumstance, it has a greater long term value in the establishment of legal precedent for prosecution. They ensure that traffickers are prosecuted and penalized. This method both de-incentivizes traffickers and helps construct defensible legal precedents in countries that lack honest judicial systems. Justice systems improve with every successful case, especially in developing countries.

Many other organizations support and facilitate damage control, offering services and aftercare to victims of human trafficking. Other organizations attempt to buy modern slaves out of captivity. This practice, however, merely increases the size of the trafficking market while financing the traffickers. Overall, well-run NGOs have an enormous impact in their regions of operation.


Human trafficking is a crime against humanity that has grown with the rise in improved transportation, technologies, economic shifts, and changes in a host of cultural factors. In the past, closely knit community structures prevented large amounts of trafficking. trafficking was difficult and mostly isolated to cities. Today, ethnic and cultural indicators are disguised in diverse communities and it is increasingly difficult to rely on heritage as evidence of forced displacement. Even as cultural norms around the globe have shifted away from slavery, the rise of transportation and cultural diversity in cities has made human trafficking easier to commit and harder for police to discover and stop. Many international companies unwittingly use trafficked workers in poor countries when there is little oversight in the hiring process or limited interaction with employees. The manufacturing industries in poor countries are in particular danger of unknowingly hiring trafficked workers. Workers at these plants (or in similar capacities in other industries) can be forced by violence or threats to work for a legitimate company and have their pay confiscated by their traffickers under threat of deportation or other exploitative means. One anti-human trafficking NGO offers a list of common symptoms found in human trafficking victims. These symptoms include a worker’s lack of control over their own papers, a perceived lack of control over their finances, and the inability to speak for oneself (a third party may insist on being present or translating). To mitigate these dangers, companies should take steps to detect and prosecute the perpetrators while taking care not to punish the victims.

Here, effective awareness and policing is essential to properly combating human trafficking. While the world cannot undo her advances in transport technology or the increasing diversity of cities and towns, it can update and adapt to these new realities. By reducing corruption and improving the efficiency of police forces in developing countries, human trafficking can be effectively diminished. As awareness about human trafficking grows, so will the allocation of money and resources to end this plague.

Trafficking rings around the world are numerous and it will take many years for the increased attention to human trafficking eradication to reduce the number of victims trafficked annually. As the number of prosecutions per year rise, however, the number of trafficking rings diminish. As police work creates greater and greater entry barriers for would-be “entrepreneurs” in human trafficking, the crime will decrease. With adaptive methods, increased research, and global awareness, anti-human trafficking endeavors will succeed. Thus, even though the news stories of human trafficking are often horrific, there is hope for the exploited millions around the world.


Sources and Further Reading


2012 UN Statistics:

US State Department 2012 Report:

Michael Brooks

Michael Brooks

Michael Brooks is an OSINT researcher and OODA Analyst and with a background in international development and security across Central Africa and the Middle East. Currently based in Berlin, Germany, he holds a BA in International Policy from Patrick Henry College and a Masters in International Security from the University of St. Andrews.