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In 2007, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) was granted funding from the Australian Government to establish a program of research on trafficking in persons. The program was developed to contribute to the Australian and international response to people trafficking and has focused on enhancing the existing knowledge base by:

  • identifying gaps in knowledge;
  • collaborating with other researchers working in the area;
  • conducting targeted research; and
  • disseminating findings to key stakeholders and the wider community.

As a destination for persons trafficked out of the Asia–Pacific region, Australia will feel the impact of neighbouring countries’ responses to people trafficking. The research program therefore has a strong regional focus and is designed to take into account informal consultations with stakeholders in the region as well as at home.

Monitoring of trafficking in persons

It is not possible to accurately quantify or assess the scale of people trafficking, because of its fluid and covert nature. This is further complicated by regional variations in conceptual and operational definitions, methodologies and criminal justice responses. It is also unclear what level of people trafficking is being detected by authorities and whether these cases represent the extent of the problem (UNODC 2009b).

A key objective of the AIC’s research program was to establish a regular monitoring program on trafficking in persons relevant to Australia and the Asia–Pacific region. The first report of the monitoring program, covering the period July 2007 to December 2008, was published in 2009 (Joudo Larsen et al. 2009).

The AIC has gathered information and data for analysis from Australian and regional sources to support more accurate and efficient monitoring and to contribute to future research. Due to the under-reporting of incidents of people trafficking globally, the AIC has established new information and data exchange arrangements both within Australia and, importantly, with near neighbours in the Pacific and southeast Asia. These include data-sharing arrangements with key government agencies and non-government organisations, the administration of surveys of migrant sex workers and the community, and access to datasets held by regional offices of the International Organization for Migration in Indonesia (IOM; see Box 1 for further information about the AIC–IOM collaboration). The AIC has also engaged in and convened forums held both nationally and regionally.

Box 1: IOM data analysis

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an intergovernmental organisation committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society. IOM has been active in countering people trafficking since 1997 by directly assisting trafficked persons and collecting data for research and analysis. To date, IOM has assisted approximately 15,000 trafficked persons from over 80 different nations trafficked to more than 90 countries.

In 1999, IOM developed and implemented the Counter-Trafficking Module (CTM), which is the largest global database containing primary data on victims of trafficking. The CTM facilitates the management of IOM’s return, recovery and reintegration program and maps victims’ trafficking experience. Thus it strengthens the IOM’s research capacity and its understanding of the causes, processes, trends and consequences of trafficking (http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/counter-trafficking).

The AIC is collaborating with IOM to analyse the CTM Indonesia database. The database holds qualitative and quantitative information on approximately 3,700 Indonesian victims of trafficking identified between January 2005 and January 2010. It contains a wealth of information regarding the characteristics and histories of trafficked persons, the nature of the trafficking process (including recruitment and transportation methods), patterns of exploitation and abuse, instances of re-trafficking and the nature of assistance provided by IOM Indonesia. IOM Indonesia and AIC will carry out joint research and analysis to identify victims, risk and protective factors for trafficking or associated activity, with the aim of providing insight for more targeted government responses such as prosecuting cases and providing better victim support.

Report structure

This report is divided into five main sections:

  • Background and context—an overview of the trafficking in persons literature between January 2009 and June 2011;
  • Trafficking in persons in Australia—what is known about trafficking in Australia to date, changes in the Australian response during the reporting period and Australian Government data on identified trafficked persons;
  • Community attitudes and awareness survey—the findings of AIC research on community awareness of, and attitudes towards, trafficking in persons and related matters;
  • Trends and issues in east and south Asia—the regional situation for countries within south and east Asia;
  • Future research directions—areas being considered for future investigation.


Trafficking in persons

As defined in Article 3 of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UN 2000a), trafficking in persons has three elements:

  • There must be an action by a trafficker in the form of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.
  • The action must be undertaken by one of the following means: force or threat of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, abuse of a position of vulnerability, or giving or receiving payments to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person.
  • The action must be undertaken for the purpose of ‘exploitation’, a concept which includes ‘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’ (UN 2000a: Article 3).

Where the trafficking involves children (persons under 18 years), only two elements are required to fit the description: the action and the purpose of exploitation.

Migrant (people) smuggling

Migrant smuggling is defined in Article 3 of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Migrant Smuggling Protocol) as:

… the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident (UN 2000b: 2).

Debt bondage

Debt bondage is defined in Article 1 of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (UN Supplementary Slavery Convention) as:

… the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined (UN 1957).

Domestic servitude

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) describes domestic servitude as a situation where an individual is ‘recruited and exploited in the performance of domestic tasks and services, mostly within a private household under physical or psychological threat or coercion’ and is at the ‘continuous disposal of the householder’. Thus, someone experiencing domestic servitude tends to suffer from restricted or no freedom of movement, no days off and no private life. Further, they may experience low or no salary and psychological, physical or sexual abuse (OSCE 2010: 10–11).

Forced or servile marriage

David (2010: 8) draws on the UN Supplementary Slavery Convention to describe servile forms of marriage as including:

… institutions or practices whereby a woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or the husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or a woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person.

The terms ‘people trafficking’ and ‘trafficking in persons’ are used interchangeably throughout this report and in all ways refer to the same issue.

The abbreviated title Trafficking Protocol is used throughout the report to refer to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

Last updated
3 November 2017