The hidden nature of trafficking in persons prevents a precise count of the number of victims around the world, but available research indicates that, when trafficking within a country’s borders is included in the count, more people fall victim to labor forms of trafficking than sex trafficking. Although labor trafficking and sex trafficking are usually analyzed as separate trafficking in persons issues, victims of both forms of trafficking often share a common denominator: their trafficking ordeal started with a migration in search of economic alternatives.
The theme of migration is often heard in reporting on trafficking in persons and indeed the movement of victims is a common trait in many trafficking crimes. Yet servitude can also occur without the movement of a person. In analyzing trafficking in persons issues and designing effective responses, the focus should be on the exploitation and control of a person through force, fraud, or coercion—not on the movement of that person.
Neither the international definition of trafficking in persons, as defined in the 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, nor the U.S. definition of severe forms of trafficking in persons, as defined in federal law, requires the movement of the victim. Movement is not necessary, as any person who is recruited, harbored, provided, or obtained through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, forced labor, or commercial sex qualifies as a trafficking victim.
Major Forms of Trafficking in Persons
Madesh was only eight years old when his family sent him to work in a brick kiln. He labored every day carrying 40-pound loads of bricks on his head and engaging in other hard physical labor. After 10 years at the kiln, he moved to another facility, accepting an advance of about $150 to meet his immediate needs. At the new kiln, the owner inflated Madesh’s debt through fraudulent fees, and coerced him into servitude to pay off the insurmountable debt. “This is how they forced me to work,” Madesh recalls. “I was not even sure if the debt was real.” After more than 15 years in slavery, Madesh was released through the intervention of local officials in partnership with an NGO. Madesh used the rehabilitation funds provided by the Indian government to open his own brick kiln, where today he employs several relatives and community members and pays them all fair wages.
One form of force or coercion is the use of a bond, or debt, to keep a person under subjugation. This is referred to in law and policy as “bonded labor” or “debt bondage.” It is criminalized under U.S. law and included as a form of exploitation related to trafficking in the UN TIP Protocol. Many workers around the world fall victim to debt bondage when traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment, or when workers inherit debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor. Traditional bonded labor in South Asia enslaves huge numbers of people from generation to generation.
Debt Bondage and Involuntary Servitude Among Migrant Laborers
The vulnerability of migrant laborers to trafficking schemes is especially disturbing because this population is so sizeable in some regions. Three potential contributors can be discerned: 1) Abuse of contracts; 2) Inadequate local laws governing the recruitment and employment of migrant laborers; and 3) The intentional imposition of exploitative and often illegal costs and debts on these laborers in the source country or state, often with the complicity and/or support of labor agencies and employers in the destination country or state.
Some abuses of contracts and hazardous conditions of employment do not in themselves constitute involuntary servitude, though use or threat of physical force or restraint to compel a worker to enter into or continue labor or service may convert a situation into one of forced labor. Costs imposed on laborers for the “privilege” of working abroad can place laborers in a situation highly vulnerable to debt bondage. However, these costs alone do not constitute debt bondage or involuntary servitude. When combined with exploitation by unscrupulous labor agents or employers in the destination country, these costs or debts, when excessive, can become a form of debt bondage.
Involuntary Domestic Servitude
Domestic workers may be trapped in servitude through the use of force or coercion, such as physical (including sexual) or emotional abuse. Children are particularly vulnerable. Domestic servitude is particularly difficult to detect because it occurs in private homes, which are often unregulated by public authorities. For example, there is great demand in some wealthier countries of Asia and the Middle East for domestic servants who sometimes fall victim to conditions of involuntary servitude.
Forced Child Labor
Most international organizations and national laws recognize that children may legally engage in light work. In contrast, the worst forms of child labor are being targeted for eradication by nations across the globe. The sale and trafficking of children and their entrapment in bonded and forced labor are clearly among the worst forms of child labor. Any child who is subject to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, peonage, or slavery through the use of force, fraud, or coercion is a victim of trafficking in persons regardless of the location of that exploitation.
Child soldiering is a unique and severe manifestation of trafficking in persons that involves the unlawful recruitment of children through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Such unlawful practices may be perpetrated by government forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 are currently being exploited in more than 30 armed conflicts worldwide. While the majority of child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, some are as young as 7 or 8 years of age.
Many children are abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made unlawfully to serve as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Many young girls are forced to marry or have sex with male combatants and are at high risk of unwanted pregnancies. Male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Some children have been forced to commit atrocities against their families and communities. Child soldiers are often killed or wounded, with survivors often suffering multiple traumas and psychological scarring. Their personal development is often irreparably damaged. Returning child soldiers are often rejected by their home communities.
Child soldiers are a global phenomenon. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, but armed groups in the Americas and the Middle East also unlawfully use children in conflict areas. All nations must work together with international organizations and NGOs to take urgent action to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate child soldiers.
Sex Trafficking and Prostitution
Nineteen-year-old So-Young stands at less than five feet tall after being chronically malnourished in North Korea. A refugee, she crossed illegally into China with hopes of a better life, but found instead a nightmare of sexual exploitation. An “employer” offered her approximately $1.40 per day in exchange for work—money that So- Young planned on sending back to her family. Deceived by this empty promise, So-Young spent the next several months being passed between handlers. Just days before she was to be purchased by a forty-year-old Chinese man, So-Young managed to escape with the help of a local pastor. Three years later, she was forcibly repatriated to North Korea where she was imprisoned for six months before escaping once more to China. Traffickers kidnapped her once again, repeatedly raping her prior to her sale. Her new “husband” also raped her multiple times before she was able to escape. So-Young remains in hiding today: “There are many people coming out of North Korea, but they don’t have anywhere to go and no other choice but to go that route [into China].”
The United States Government opposes prostitution and any related activities, including pimping, pandering, or maintaining brothels as contributing to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons, and maintains that these activities should not be regulated as a legitimate form of work for any human being. Those who patronize the commercial sex industry form a demand which traffickers seek to satisfy.
Children Exploited for Commercial Sex
Each year, more than two million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Many of these children are trapped in prostitution. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is trafficking, regardless of circumstances. International covenants and protocols obligate criminalization of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. law and the U.N. TIP Protocol. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socio-economic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Terms such as “child sex worker” are unacceptable because they falsely sanitize the brutality of this exploitation.
Child Sex Tourism
Child sex tourism (CST) involves people who travel from their own country—often a country where child sexual exploitation is illegal or culturally abhorrent—to another country where they engage in commercial sex acts with children. CST is a shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of violent child abuse. The commercial sexual exploitation of children has devastating consequences for minors, which may include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possibly death.
Tourists engaging in CST often travel to developing countries looking for anonymity and the availability of children in prostitution. The crime is typically fueled by weak law enforcement, corruption, the Internet, ease of travel, and poverty. Sex offenders come from all socio-economic backgrounds and may in some cases hold positions of trust. Cases of child sex tourism involving U.S. citizens have included a pediatrician, a retired Army sergeant, a dentist, and a university professor. Child pornography is frequently involved in these cases, and drugs may also be used to solicit or control the minors.