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Background and context

The research literature relating to a current monitoring period—in this case January 2009 to June 2011—is examined by the AIC to monitor the trends and issues in people trafficking. Summarising the cumulative knowledge about trafficking in persons allows gaps to be identified and research priorities to be established and facilitates awareness of emerging trends. Among the issues raised in the literature over the current monitoring period are:

  • the continued shift in focus from sex trafficking to labour trafficking and, consequently, the increasing recognition of men as victims of people trafficking, particularly for forced labour;
  • the role played by females in offending;
  • the global financial crisis (GFC) and recent conflicts and natural disasters of the past few years, which have highlighted the vulnerability to people trafficking of the victims of these circumstances; and
  • a greater focus on regional responses to trafficking in persons as an effective anti-trafficking measure supplementing national and international instruments. This has resulted from the predominance of intraregional trafficking flows (UNODC 2009b) and the recognition that trafficking in persons can be a transnational crime that manifests itself in different ways in different contexts.

From sex trafficking to labour trafficking

Although trafficking women for sexual exploitation remains the most commonly detected form of trafficking in persons, there is increased policy and research interest in trafficking for purposes other than sexual exploitation (see Boxes 2 and 3 for summaries of AIC work on trafficking for both sexual and labour exploitation). This shift in focus, evident in Australia and other countries, reflects a practical need to respond to the trafficking of men, women and children across a range of industries.

Sex trafficking has attracted the greatest attention because of moral debates around sex work, its visibility and the legislative focus on it. The criminalisation of trafficking for forced labour is a recent development that is often addressed through labour-related legislation rather than specific trafficking laws and is less likely to be detected and correctly identified. The UNODC (2009b: 51) reported:

… most of the victims of forced labour often work in hidden locations, such as agricultural fields in rural areas, mining camps and garment factories or within the closed environment of a house in the case of domestic servitude. As a consequence, the detection of victims of trafficking for forced labour is less probable than the identification of victims of trafficking for forced prostitution.

Due to the focus on sex trafficking in research and anti-trafficking responses, the trafficking of men for labour exploitation has largely been overlooked. However, there are indications in many countries and regions that males are also exploited in ways that constitute people trafficking (Surtees 2008). As interest in the problem of people trafficking has broadened, men are increasingly being recognised as victims, particularly for labour exploitation.

Box 2: Sex worker migration and vulnerabilities to trafficking

To improve knowledge about vulnerabilities and protections relevant to trafficking in persons, AIC funded Scarlet Alliance, the peak body representing sex workers and sex worker organisations in Australia, to conduct a multilingual survey of both migrant and non-migrant sex workers in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Queensland (Brisbane and Townsville), Western Australia (Perth and Kalgoorlie) and the ACT. The survey is available in English, Thai, Korean and Chinese. The project will identify vulnerabilities to trafficking and explore the strategies used by sex workers to reduce the risks. The migration experience, access to justice and services, and the industrial conditions of migrant sex workers, as compared with non-migrant sex workers, will be examined. Data collected for this project is currently being analysed and is expected to be published in 2012.

AIC research with vulnerable groups such as sex workers will help develop better operational indicators of trafficking in persons, which are crucial to researchers and practitioners for identifying trafficking.

The role of gender

Crime is an activity dominated by males; men are disproportionately represented as both victims and offenders. Estimates suggest that males make up over 90 percent of prison populations worldwide and are particularly over-represented as the perpetrators of violent crime (UNODC 2009b).

While a large proportion of trafficking offenders are male, women play a prominent role in people trafficking when compared with the overall conviction rate of female offenders for other types of crime (UNODC 2009b). Female perpetrators in trafficking offences appear to be predominant in eastern Europe and central Asia and significant in east Asia and the Pacific, central America and the Caribbean (UNODC 2009b). In addition, the majority of countries in Western and central Europe report female offenders as comprising between 10 and 35 percent of the total number of persons convicted, investigated or prosecuted for trafficking (UNODC 2009b).

Moreover, research findings indicate that in some cases victims go on to become trafficking offenders. A study that examined the profiles of trafficking offenders found that many female traffickers who sexually exploit women and children were once victims themselves (UN.GIFT 2008). Some of the reasons given for the shift from victim to offender are:

  • fear of threatened or actual violence;
  • the development of a relationship of dependency between victim and offender stemming from psychological responses in which victims identify with, and grow sympathetic to, the trafficker; and
  • the notion that victims are ‘promoted’ to traffickers once they have paid off their debt.

In the latter instance, the transition from victim to trafficker can represent an improvement in circumstances. That is, in the absence of other livelihood options, the former victim can use the methods of exploitation previously used against them to improve their economic position and general wellbeing.

Box 3: Labour trafficking in the Australian context

While the body of literature on trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has grown steadily, much less is known about trafficking where the exploitation occurs outside the sex industry. The AIC project Labour Trafficking in the Australian Context: Understanding the State of Existing Knowledge and Identifying Future Research Priorities (David 2010) examined what is known about labour trafficking in Australia based on incidences of reported crimes. As it also drew on information about unreported crime, it provided an assessment of the known or likely incidence of trafficking in persons in the agriculture, cleaning, hospitality, construction and manufacturing industries and in less formal sectors such as domestic work and home help.

The study found that the precise nature and extent of labour trafficking within Australia remains unknown but confirmed that there have been instances of unreported and perhaps unrecognised labour trafficking. This suggests under-reporting but also that ‘frontline’ agencies and services are unaware that certain exploitative practices are also criminal offences under Australian law. Cases of unreported labour trafficking appear to exist in an environment of broader unlawful conduct perpetrated against migrant workers in Australia.

The research highlighted the important role of intermediaries such as agents and recruiters, not only in the migration process but also once individuals are working in Australia, and the (real or perceived) capacity of employers to use the prospect of permanent residency as a method of control over employees. (This was used in a fraudulent way in several documented instances.)

Natural disasters, wars and financial crises

In recent years, the world has experienced large-scale conflict, natural disasters, war and financial crises, the effects of which continue to reverberate. Events such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, and the global financial and economic crisis result in displaced persons and damaged communities, who become more vulnerable to trafficking. The ensuing chaos increases physical and economic insecurity and can exacerbate conditions that make people vulnerable to trafficking.

Large-scale tragedies not only aggravate risk factors but reduce the effectiveness of protective factors by disassembling communities’ economic and social structures and the security against exploitation they provide. Children separated from their families due to war and natural disasters are particularly vulnerable in the absence of protective factors such as shelter, food and water afforded by parents and relatives. Unaccompanied children, especially orphans, are at increased risk of being abducted, enslaved, sold or trafficked.

The issue of child trafficking was highlighted in the media following the 2010 Haiti earthquake with reports that ‘child-traffickers are likely to have used the confusion in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake to prey upon lost or separated children’ (Nunan 2010). UNICEF reported that a number of children who had gone missing from hospitals in the devastated country may have been trafficked, and international aid organisations were swift to warn would-be ‘rescuers’ of Haitian children against adopting apparent orphans, for fear of encouraging child trafficking (Addley 2010).

The ‘restavek’ system is another problem that confronts anti-trafficking organisations in the wake of natural disasters, wars and financial crises. A restavek, a term which originated in Haiti, is a child who cannot be supported by his or her parents and has been sent to live with a more affluent relative or stranger who will provide the child with food, shelter and education in exchange for work. The restavek system is prone to exploitation and can lead to children being trafficked and kept as slaves (OHCHR 2010).

War often breeds gender-based violence. Armed conflicts can increase demand for sexual services, which especially endangers women and children. In some circumstances they are known to be trafficked by male combatants for use as sex slaves (USAID 2006). Wars may also put men and children (both boys and girls) at risk of being trafficked for forced conscription, with the latter at risk of becoming child soldiers. Children may also be forced to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers or spies. It is often the case that, in addition to experiencing the trauma of being forced to wound, maim or kill, both male and female child soldiers are physically and sexually abused. This places them at severe risk of physical and psychological trauma, sexually transmitted diseases, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism and death. The perpetrators may be government forces, paramilitary organisations or rebel groups (US Department of State 2010).

Growing financial hardship resulting from economic and financial crises also creates vulnerabilities that could lead to people trafficking. In many countries, financial crisis and recession have led to increased unemployment, underemployment and economic instability. The resulting pressure on some sections of society is likely to cause more people to seek work abroad, which corresponds to an increased risk of being trafficked. Traffickers are likely to take advantage of increased vulnerabilities and exploit people’s willingness to migrate and take risks to find work as they become more desperate (UNODC 2010a).

Further, the global financial crisis (GFC) as it was experienced in a number of countries may have escalated the demand for trafficked persons, especially to produce cheap goods and services through forced labour. It has been suggested that the GFC could push business underground to avoid taxes and unionised labour, and increase the use of child labour by companies experiencing financial strain (US Department of State 2009).

Natural disasters, war and financial crises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable sectors of society, notably migrants, job seekers, poor families and children, making them easy targets for exploitation and enslavement (US Department of State 2010).

Responses to trafficking in persons

International responses

The Trafficking Protocol was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000 and came into effect in December 2003. Since then, the number of countries with legislation to counter trafficking in persons has more than doubled.

At the time of the Trafficking Protocol’s inception, only one-third of the countries covered by the UNODC Global report on trafficking in persons had legislation against people trafficking. At the end of 2008, 63 percent of them (98 countries) had passed legislation addressing the major forms of trafficking (sexual and labour exploitation); a further 17 percent (27) had passed laws that covered certain elements of the Trafficking Protocol. More than half had developed additional responses, such as special anti-trafficking police units and national action plans (UNODC 2009b). In 2009, 33 countries introduced new or amended legislation relating to trafficking in persons (US Department of State 2010). In addition to introducing specific anti-trafficking legislation, many countries criminalise trafficking activities through offences related to sexual exploitation, child protection, slavery, labour and immigration.

At 30 June 2010, 139 parties had ratified the Trafficking Protocol. In the current monitoring period 15 countries ratified the protocol, including Ireland, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Timor-Leste and the United Arab Emirates (UN 2000a).

In 2009, UNODC developed the International Framework for Action to Implement the Trafficking in Persons Protocol ‘to help Member States in need to develop effective and multidisciplinary anti-trafficking strategies and build dedicated and sustainable resources to implement such strategies’ (UNODC 2009c: 4). The framework is based on the objectives of the Trafficking Protocol. It recommends operational measures that draw on other international instruments, political commitments, guidelines and good practices, and encourages conformity with international standards.

In 2009, the Model Law against Trafficking in Persons was developed by UNODC to promote and assist member states to become party to and implement the provisions contained in the Trafficking Protocol. The model law is intended to facilitate the review and amendment of existing state legislation and the adoption of new legislation. It contains all of the provisions that states are required, or recommended by the protocol, to introduce into their domestic legislation. It is also ‘designed to be adaptable to the needs of each State, whatever its legal tradition and social, economic, cultural and geographical conditions’ (UNODC 2009d: 1).

Regional responses

The current monitoring period has seen a greater focus on the importance of regional responses to trafficking in persons. This reflects the increased recognition that people trafficking is a crime that manifests itself in different ways in different contexts, and is often committed across borders and therefore requires cooperation and coordination between nations as well as between international and regional organisations (UNODC 2009b).

Cooperation is necessary among international organisations, individual nations, regions, NGOs and the private sector for prevention, protection, detection and prosecution efforts; the implementation of domestic legislation; law enforcement; investigation (such as cross-border investigations); raising awareness in civil society; and implementing international legal instruments. However, these measures need to be reinforced by countries and regions on an operational level. Although international coordination—facilitated by international instruments, global information sharing and best practice in anti-trafficking mechanisms—is vital in addressing people trafficking, there is no single comprehensive approach that can be effectively used. What works for one country or region may not work for another.

To be successful, international responses need to complement and be adaptive to source countries’ perspectives. Such an approach would provide a better setting for operational effectiveness, closer cooperation and greater adaptability to local problems than individual country responses that are guided solely by international mechanisms. Box 4 contains a summary of key issues emerging from the AIC’s work on people trafficking in the Pacific region. Each of the issues highlighted presents challenges to responding to people trafficking within that region.

European initiatives

A number of European organisations, including the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), are active in addressing the issue of trafficking in persons. The EU expressed its commitment to combating trafficking through the establishment of the Experts Group on Trafficking in Human Beings in 2003.

The EU response is to develop anti-trafficking policies and legislation, provide financial and political support for anti-trafficking projects and provide guidelines and technical assistance at the national level. In 2009, the EU extended its commitment by adopting an action plan to strengthen the external dimension of action against trafficking in persons (see Ezeilo 2010).

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (CoE Convention; Ezeilo 2010), a comprehensive treaty focusing on the protection of victims of trafficking, came into force in 2008. In July 2010, the European Action for Compensation for Trafficked Persons (COMP.ACT) project and Pan-European Campaign on Compensation for Trafficked Persons was launched in Prague with the participation of the Executive Secretary of the CoE Convention. The COMP.ACT project and campaign will be undertaken by Anti-Slavery International and La Strada International, together with partners in 13 countries. This initiative, based on Article 15 of the CoE Convention, is the first and only internationally binding provision recognising the right of victims of trafficking to be compensated for damage suffered, as well as the obligation for member states to guarantee this compensation within their national legislation (Council of Europe nd).

The OSCE formally recognised people trafficking as a major concern in 2000 and has continued to enhance efforts to combat trafficking in persons by initiating and participating in anti-trafficking activities. Major activities undertaken by the OSCE since 2009 include raising the public and political profile of efforts to combat trafficking in humans by participating in forums, conferences and media campaigns; supporting anti-trafficking missions and projects throughout the various subregions of Europe; assisting with the establishment of national anti-trafficking structures; and increasing the scale of efforts to tackle trafficking in human beings by coordinating and cooperating on an international, regional and national level (OSCE 2009).

Southeast Asian initiatives

Southeast Asia, particularly the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), is a popular source and destination area for trafficking in persons but is also considered to be a world leader in confronting the issue (UNICEF EAPRO 2009). Several initiatives to combat people trafficking, through a variety of measures, operate throughout the region. These are aimed at raising awareness and understanding of the issue, increasing protective factors, reducing risks and vulnerabilities, and demonstrating best practice in bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Notably, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Project (ARTIP), the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (the Bali Process), and the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT) are active in tackling people trafficking.

ARTIP, a regional initiative funded by the Australian Government through AusAID, commenced in 2006. ARTIP works in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to reinforce the criminal justice response to trafficking by:

  • strengthening specialist and general law enforcement responses to trafficking;
  • strengthening judicial and prosecutorial responses to trafficking; and
  • strengthening the legal and policy framework (ARTIP 2011).

The Bali Process was launched in 2002 following the first Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. The Bali Process is co-chaired by the governments of Indonesia and Australia and has the participation of more than 50 countries and numerous international organisations (http://www.baliprocess.net). It develops and implements practical anti-trafficking measures in the Asia–Pacific region by promoting interagency collaboration, developing model legislation on trafficking, training law enforcement officers in protecting and assisting victims and enhancing operational techniques to combat child sex tourism (Ezeilo 2010).

In 2004, the governments of Cambodia, China, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Vietnam initiated COMMIT in the GMS to encourage collaboration among countries and develop a comprehensive approach to people trafficking. Recent developments mean that each country in the GMS now has a specialised police investigative capacity to combat trafficking at the national level and, through collaboration with ASEAN and ARTIP, the GMS can supply operational law enforcement officers, specialist investigators and prosecutors with training materials to ensure common standards and approaches to people trafficking cases throughout southeast Asia (Smith 2010).

There have also been recent developments in formal cooperation within the region. The ASEAN Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (AMLAT), which has been ratified by several GMS countries, provides the basis for regional cooperation in collecting evidence for people trafficking cases in one country for use in another. Furthermore, the Heads of Specialist Units process, for which ARTIP provides technical support, allows for the exchange of intelligence on cases of people trafficking, via regular meetings of the heads of specialist anti-trafficking police units throughout ASEAN Countries (Smith 2010).

The vulnerability of children to trafficking and exploitation throughout southeast Asia is well documented, and regional governments and NGOs have been keen to address the issue through a number of programs. In 2009, UNICEF concluded its four-year Children in Need of Special Protection program, which aimed to protect children from trafficking and address the needs of children in armed conflict areas in the Philippines. The program worked with local government to strengthen the capacity of community caregivers to provide professional responses to child protection issues. World Vision has two programs that support the fight against child trafficking and exploitation:

  • Assistance, Support and Protection for Migrants and Trafficked Women and Children—aims to reduce migrant vulnerability to trafficking in areas along the Thai–Burma border and increase protection and support services.
  • The Mekong Delta Regional Trafficking Strategy Phase 2 project—focuses on child trafficking in the GMS by targeting source countries, strengthening community capacity to prevent trafficking, and increasing protection and support for trafficking victims.

The World Vision programs were due for completion in 2011 (AusAID 2009a). Both the UNICEF and World Vision programs were supported by AusAID, which contributes funding through its AusAID NGO Cooperation Program. In 2010, AusAID commenced a multi-year program to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Mekong Subregion. As child trafficking intersects with other forms of child exploitation, this program can contribute significantly to combating trafficking in children for sexual exploitation in the region.

Box 4: Trends and issues in the Pacific region

The prevalence and nature of people trafficking in the Pacific region is particularly relevant to Australia’s consideration of, and response to, this crime because of the region’s geographic proximity to Australia. In September 2009 the AIC, together with Salvation Army New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, and the Pacific Immigration Directors’ Conference, hosted the Pacific Trafficking in Persons Forum in Wellington, at which there were consultations with relevant stakeholders. The forum highlighted several key themes for consideration. It also reviewed literature on vulnerabilities to people trafficking in the Pacific Islands and assessed potential links between temporary worker schemes and vulnerabilities to trafficking within the Pacific region. This research highlighted the following key themes:

  • Case studies, trends and patterns—There have been some serious documented cases of people trafficking or situations reflecting elements of trafficking within the Pacific region. They often involve overseas facilitators who recruit local networks to move the people to the final destination. Victims’ countries of origin vary, with individuals from India, Korea and China reportedly finding themselves in situations of severe labour and/or sexual exploitation after being deceptively recruited to travel to the Pacific region. There are also reports of female minors (reportedly local children and Korean girls) trafficked for sexual exploitation or marriage in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
  • The Pacific as a destination or transit point—Documented cases suggest that the Pacific is used as a destination and transit point (for example, into Australia, New Zealand and the US) for trafficked victims. The special visa arrangements that some Pacific nations have with other countries (US, Australia, New Zealand, France and India) may facilitate the use of the region as a convenient transit point for destination countries outside the region.
  • Response capacity—Many Pacific Island nations, specifically small and/or isolated island countries, do not have access to the resources or infrastructure required for the effective implementation of anti-trafficking schemes and legislation. However, some nations (for example, Palau) have adopted legislative measures in compliance with international standards. Furthermore, model legislation to support Pacific Island nations in establishing domestic legislation is currently being developed. Where trafficking is not recognised as a crime, countries rely on existing criminal law provisions to prosecute trafficking-related situations (ie for kidnapping, kidnapping for slavery, prostitution, abduction, procurement, detention in a brothel etc).

Source: Ball, Beacroft & Lindley 2011; Lindley & Beacroft 2011

Last updated
3 November 2017