What is Human Trafficking?


Trafficking in human beings was internationally defined in 2000, by one of the three United Nations Convention Protocols against Transnational organized crime, The Palermo Protocol and more specifically its additional protocol on trafficking in human beings.

Article 3 of the Protocol defines trafficking as follows:

(a) “Trafficking in persons” indicates recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, position of vulnerability, giving or receiving payments, benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes minimally, the exploitation on prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons referred to as exploitation in subparagraph (a) of this article becomes irrelevant when any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

(c)The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph;

(d) “Child” means any person under eighteen years of age.

Therefore, the constitutive elements included in the definition include the act which is achieved by the organisers, the means used to achieve it and the purpose of their behaviour:

  • The Act – Recruitment (for example through a job offer either abroad or locally), transportation or transfer (between countries or as a local transfer) , harbouring or receipt of persons;
  • The use of Means for the purpose above mentioned, as threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim; ;
  • The purpose of exploitation, which can include sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, servitude or organ removal.

Trafficking in human beings should not be confused with smuggling of migrants(1), which is the illegal transfer of one or more people, from a country to another, which involves the consent of the people involved and the purpose is not for exploitation. The main difference between the two is that, while during smuggling the migrant has an active role in contacting the organization, there exists an agreement between the two parties, in human trafficking, we observe the use of force and coercion, or at least, the use of misleading means of persuasion.

Furthermore, in  smuggling the relationship between the migrant and the trafficker ends once the migrant gets to the destination, while in human trafficking the arrival coincides with the beginning of the exploitation. 

These two concepts often overlap as it can happen that a person becomes the victim of trafficking only after the beginning of the travel that they spontaneously decided to undertake because of the debt incurred the debt that is contracted or through deception by the trafficker.

(1) https://www.unodc.org/romena/en/human-trafficking-and-migrant-smuggling.html