Human trafficking is a horrendous human rights violation. Human trafficking is forced into labour by traffickers and moved from their home, so they have no way of escaping. The victims of human trafficking are often vulnerable girls, women, boys or men and to an increasing degree transgender individuals, who are lured by traffickers with better opportunities, or they may be moved by force.
Once trafficked, these victims are forced to stay, because they either can’t afford to leave or are being abused by their traffickers. In South and East Asia, trafficking victims are more likely to be moved outside of their region making it completely impossible for them to return on their own. Where are they being trafficked to? Well, often Europe or North America, but it could really be anywhere since trafficking victims from East and South Asia has been found in all other regions on Earth. Say, you are a person with no income and no opportunities who has been trafficked from your home in Thailand to the other side of the globe you really have no way of escaping and returning home.
Furthermore, the trend within human trafficking seems to be going in a negative direction. Both when it comes to the number of victims detected or the traffickers being punished for their actions the numbers have been going down since 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this development worse as police and other authorities were unable to give the same resources to combatting human trafficking and public places where trafficking often starts were closed and thus illegal activities moved into even more secret and unsafe places.
Fewer traffickers are also being caught and punished for their crimes world-wide and the networks of traffickers are growing larger, looking more like business and are becoming more able to traffic more victims for longer distances and for longer periods of time.
These are tough challenges to face, but as we look to the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July 2023 under the theme of “Reach every victim of trafficking, Leave no one behind,” it is important that we look to the root causes of human trafficking and unravel these networks of traffickers.
The interesting case of gender in human trafficking
The picture of human trafficking is that bad men take innocent women from their home and force them into labour or sexual labour. And for the most part that is true. Traffickers are mostly men, and the trafficking victims are often women and girls. However, interesting variations exists.
Traffickers prey on vulnerable people and women and girls remains to be the most vulnerable population groups in the world. Women and girl are twice as likely to be trafficked compared to men and boys and three times as likely to suffer explicit and extreme violence in trafficking than men and boys. For these reasons, it’s important to keep a keen eye on women and children in preventing and combatting human trafficking.
However, more and more men are also being subjected to human trafficking. The tendency among traffickers is to look for able-bodied men and boys, who face economic hardships or have few opportunities for employment or education and force them into labour. Gender roles are often to blame for men ending up in and staying in forced labour. Having to live up to gender stereotypes of the dependable provider and strong, resilient persons means that men are often lured by the possibility to provide for their families and do not speak up about the abuse they face as to not seem weak. Other prevalent reasons include dependencies on drugs or alcohol that lead male victims into the arms of traffickers. Most men caught in human trafficking are not seen as victims – even in their own eyes. More likely, they are seen as caught up in unfortunate situations.
Interestingly, men and boys take up a larger share of detected victims and are thus more likely to be freed than women. This is most likely not because police and civil society organisations are looking more for male traffic victims over female victims, but rather due to the nature of the work that each gender is likely to take up. Male victims are predominantly working in crime or forced labour such as construction that are more likely to be caught by the authorities.
While female and transgender trafficking victims are far more likely to be forced into sexual labour, the same still occurs for male victims and they are less likely to report the abuse.
When fighting human trafficking it is tempting to look at the stereotypical picture of the crime, but is important to include the nuances so traffickers are not allowed to continue their actions.
Global crises make it easier for human traffickers
“Global crises, conflicts, and the climate emergency are escalating trafficking risks. Displacement and socio-economic inequalities are impacting millions of people worldwide, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. Those who lack legal status, live in poverty, have limited access to education, healthcare, or decent work, face discrimination, violence, or abuse, or come from marginalized communities are often the primary targets of traffickers.” UNODC
War, disasters, and especially global warming creates more vulnerable peoples. People who are unable to feed themselves and their families, who have no futures or opportunities for growth and who see themselves as worth less than other people are easy prey for traffickers. So when conflicts and disasters are becoming more frequent, more people will be trafficked.
Pathways to freedom from human trafficking
In recent years, there has been increased awareness and advocacy for the rights of human trafficking victims. Governments and organizations around the world have implemented programs and policies to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute traffickers. Despite international efforts to combat human trafficking, it remains a prevalent issue in many parts of the world. According to the International Labour Organization, there are an estimated 21 million victims of forced labor globally.
One of the most critical steps in preventing human trafficking is education. By raising awareness about the dangers of trafficking and teaching individuals how to protect themselves, we can reduce the number of people who fall victim to this crime.
Additionally, it is essential to address the root causes of trafficking, such as poverty, lack of education, and social inequality. By promoting economic development and social inclusion, we can create opportunities for vulnerable populations and reduce the demand for cheap and exploitative labor.
Furthermore, it is crucial to provide support and assistance to victims of trafficking. This includes access to legal aid, healthcare, and counseling services, as well as opportunities for education and job training.
Join in the UN campaign against trafficking in people on 30 July 2023 under the title “Reach every victim of Trafficking, Leave no one behind”. Add the blue heart to your social media profile pictures here and utilize the hashtag #EndHumanTrafficking.
You can also donate to the UN’s Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking.