Dear Reader:

Antony J. BlinkenThis year’s Trafficking in Persons Report sends a strong message to the world that global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and enduring discriminatory policies and practices, have a disproportionate effect on individuals already oppressed by other injustices.  These challenges further compound existing vulnerabilities to exploitation, including human trafficking.  We must break this inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices if we hope to one day eliminate human trafficking.

The U.S. Department of State strives to advance around the world the security, prosperity, and values that U.S. citizens share.  We know recent events have led our country to grapple with unequal treatment and racism here at home that has reverberated around the world.  As a government and society, we strive to correct past wrongs and advance racial equity in the United States and abroad.  We commit to bringing this dedication to our efforts to fight human trafficking as well.  We will seek to use our year-round engagement with governments, advocates, and the private sector to build a more effective anti-trafficking strategy rooted in equity.  This must include coming to terms with our role in having perpetuated violence and dehumanized people, and we must work to right these past wrongs.

Systemic discrimination creates inequities between communities, whether the discrimination targets perceptions of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other social identities.  It manifests in societal exclusion and prejudices against those communities, which help perpetuate an imbalance of opportunity and support.  These inequities undercut our goal of combating human trafficking and embolden traffickers. We have seen, for instance, how deeply held racial biases and stereotypes inappropriately influence outcomes for those in our criminal justice system as they lead to racially disparate assumptions about who is identified as a trafficker and who is identified as a victim.  This is not a new truth, but it is a somber, unacceptable reality.

Through this report, we call on governments to join the United States in improving our collective efforts to comprehensively address human trafficking.  Doing so requires us to mitigate harmful practices and policies that cause socioeconomic or political vulnerabilities that traffickers often prey on.  Part of this work requires us to acknowledge we will never be able to understand the full scope of what is needed without the expertise of those affected by systemic inequality.  Representation and diversity of experience and thought matter.  Therefore governments, including the United States, must foster an inclusive environment that allows for a thriving, diverse workforce at all levels.

I have said before, building a “more perfect union” is both an acknowledgement of our imperfection and a commitment to continue striving toward progress in a transparent way.  I believe that is true here.  I look forward to the work ahead, knowing there is much still to accomplish, and we will be more successful when we work together to achieve the goals of combating human trafficking and creating a more fair, equitable world.

Antony Blinken

Dear Reader:

Kari JohnstoneIf there is one thing we have learned in the last year, it is that human trafficking does not stop during a pandemic.  The concurrence of the increased number of individuals at risk, traffickers’ ability to capitalize on competing crises, and the diversion of resources to pandemic response efforts has resulted in an ideal environment for human trafficking to flourish and evolve. Yet, despite the added challenges and risks that the pandemic has presented, we have also witnessed the adaptability among those continuing to combat human trafficking and their dedication to ensuring the continuation of anti-trafficking efforts to minimize the effects of the pandemic on victims and the broader anti-trafficking community.  This year, the TIP Report introduction examines the emerging trends, challenges, and adaptations to global anti-trafficking efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this year’s Report we celebrate the efforts of anti-trafficking professionals who continued to serve and identify victims as well as prosecute traffickers amidst the pandemic’s devastating effects on the world’s most vulnerable populations.  We salute the survivor leaders––those with lived experience of human trafficking––who have demonstrated resilience and reaffirm that employing trauma- and survivor-informed approaches is essential, crisis or not.  While acknowledging these leaders, we recognize that many of us have also been touched by trauma, whether through loss of a loved one, our own illness, or dealing with large-scale lockdowns and extreme uncertainty.  A trauma-informed approach is needed now more than ever.  We must ensure that our commitment to victim-centered and trauma- and survivor-informed approaches when serving victims and survivors is uninterrupted.  We must also extend this approach to our interactions with our colleagues throughout the anti-trafficking field.

While hopeful that we’re turning the corner on the pandemic, we know that different countries are at different stages in their pandemic response and recovery.  We call on governments and anti-trafficking actors to draw inspiration from the innovation and leadership this Report highlights to continue and improve the response to combat trafficking even amidst the necessary recovery efforts.  We should also consider the lessons learned over the course of this global health crisis.  It is through collaboration and collective understanding of both the nuances of our profoundly changed world and the needs of those affected most by the compounding effects of both human trafficking and the COVID-19 pandemic that a path forward emerges.

I look forward to once again engaging in-person with government counterparts, NGO representatives, and individuals with lived experience to continue the two decades of progress that was celebrated and recognized last year in the twentieth TIP Report.  Through collaboration, learning, and embracing innovation, I am confident that global anti-trafficking efforts will emerge stronger than ever.

Kari Johnstone

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis with unprecedented repercussions for human rights and economic development globally, including in human trafficking. COVID-19 generated conditions that increased the number of people who experienced vulnerabilities to human trafficking and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions. Governments across the world diverted resources toward the pandemic, often at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts, resulting in decreased protection measures and service provision for victims, reduction of preventative efforts, and hindrances to investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. At the same time, human traffickers quickly adapted to capitalize on the vulnerabilities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Despite the significant disruptions to efforts to combat this crime, the anti-trafficking community found ways to adapt and forged new relationships to overcome the challenges. Some governments and organizations conducted in-depth assessments to identify the changing trends. Others leveraged technology to drive innovative solutions. Many aligned policies and practices to current realities. Nonetheless, the challenges uncovered by COVID-19 are monumental and may be long lasting, requiring sustained collaboration among governments, civil society organizations, private sector leaders, survivor leaders, and other anti-trafficking actors to adjust and respond aptly to overcome these challenges. As a result, this year’s TIP Report introduction highlights human trafficking issues related to COVID-19, with special focus on how anti-trafficking stakeholders adapted in rapidly changing environments. It reflects on the lessons learned from practitioners and offers considerations to rebuild momentum through coordinated anti-trafficking strategies. The introduction also illustrates collaborative ways to reimagine anti-trafficking efforts with an emphasis on preparedness to prevent compounding effects of future crises on trafficking victims and vulnerable individuals, as well as efforts to combat the most recent emerging human trafficking trends.

Changing Human Trafficking Trends Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Growing Number of People Experiencing Economic and Social Vulnerabilities

The economic and social distress generated by the pandemic and related mitigation efforts exacerbated risks for vulnerable and marginalized populations. These included women and children, people affected by travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, communities in areas of food insecurity, and survivors of trafficking, as well as persons directly and indirectly affected by the disruption of economic activities and reduced livelihood options. Due to school closures, some children lacked access to education, shelter, and/or food. Survivors of trafficking faced an increased risk of potential re-victimization due to financial and emotional hardships during the crisis. A survey by the Office of Security and Co-operation in Europe’s OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and UN Women highlights that almost 70 percent of trafficking survivors from 35 countries reported that their financial well-being was heavily impacted by COVID-19, and more than two-thirds attributed a decline in their mental health to government-imposed lockdowns triggering memories of exploitative situations. Many survivors had to close shops or leave jobs due to lockdowns and some were pressured by former traffickers when other employment options dried up. Some survivors had to sell their cell phones to purchase food, further isolating them from potential assistance from case workers. Additionally, COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as stay-at-home orders and travel limitations, increased rates of gender-based violence and substance abuse, both of which put individuals at a higher risk of human traffickers exploiting them. Individuals in underserved communities faced barriers to accessing healthcare, while foreigners were stigmatized as carriers and spreaders of the virus, placing them at higher risk for exploitation and violence. Substantial changes in financial situations, such as the reduction of wages and work hours, closure of workplaces, rising unemployment, and reduced remittances, coupled with the rise in costs of living and disruptions to social safety networks, created newly precarious situations for those not previously vulnerable and even more precarious situations for those who were already at risk of exploitation.

Low-wage and migrant workers and those in the informal economy faced riskier employment conditions, including restricted movement, minimal oversight mechanisms, withheld wages, and increasing debts—all indicators or flags for human trafficking. During stay-at-home orders, workers who lived at their worksites became particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor while being restricted in their ability to seek assistance or leave their situation of exploitation. With minimal oversight mechanisms, many of these worksites remained unmonitored, resulting in fewer opportunities for victim identification. In the Gulf States, an IST Research survey of 6,000 migrant workers concluded employers were 36 percent more likely to confine migrant domestic workers to their workplace and were 240 percent more likely to force those workers to work on rest days than any other migrant workers. In the same survey, more than 50 percent of migrant workers reported bearing new debts because of the pandemic. According to UNODC, migrant workers whose plans were disrupted by COVID-19 travel restrictions, either to travel home or to the workplace, were likely to have already paid recruitment fees or travel costs, placing them at risk of debt bondage. Similarly, a study by the Government of the Philippines also found many overseas Filipino workers were stranded with their savings exhausted during 2020. Sinking demand also led major global retailers to cancel orders and, in many cases, refuse to pay for products their supplier factories had already produced. Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Global Worker Rights and the Worker Rights Consortium reported that this resulted in shutdowns of thousands of factories in producing countries that sent home millions of factory workers, often without legally mandated pay.

Traffickers Quickly Adapt and Exploit COVID-19-related Risks

As COVID-19 caused a global economic downturn and increased the number of individuals vulnerable to human trafficking, traffickers adapted their existing tactics to take advantage of the unique circumstances of the pandemic. Human traffickers targeted the growing number of people unable to mitigate, adapt to, or build resilience against the worsening economic and social effects; they also exploited situations where screening and identification of victims became even more difficult. This included individuals confined to their homes or workplaces, households in dire need of financial support, and workers in the informal sector. Traffickers targeted families experiencing financial difficulties and offered false promises and fraudulent job offers to recruit their children, while other families exploited or sold their children to traffickers to financially support themselves. Business owners and landlords pressured individuals to take out loans in exchange for cheap labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Additionally, traffickers sought to re-exploit survivors who became financially unstable and vulnerable to revictimization.

Some examples include:

  • In India and Nepal, young girls from poor and rural areas were often expected to leave school to help support their families during the economic hardship—some were forced into marriage in exchange for money, while others were forced to work to supplement lost income.
  • Reports from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay illustrate that landlords forced their tenants (often women) to have sex with them when the tenant could not pay rent.
  • During lockdown, traffickers in the Amazon in Brazil changed their patterns by sending child sex trafficking victims to the perpetrators’ private quarters or specific locations instead of the usual places where children were sold to perpetrators.
  • In Haiti, Niger, and Mali, gangs operating in IDP camps took advantage of reduced security and limited protection to force residents at the camp to perform commercial sex acts.
  • In Burma, families experienced drastic declines in household incomes, with 94 percent of households surveyed reporting a reduction of incomes, 81 percent reporting at least one family member losing a job, and 69 percent reporting having to take loans making these families vulnerable to trafficking.

While the number of individuals at risk of trafficking grew during the pandemic, so did the conditions under which traffickers thrive. Traffickers capitalized on the reduced capacity and shifting priorities of law enforcement resulting in greater anonymity and impunity to pursue their crimes. Disruptions to public justice systems and diversion of resources from anti-trafficking efforts during the pandemic increased impunity for traffickers and lowered the odds of their arrest.

An Increase in Forms of Online Sexual Exploitation

Pandemic mitigation efforts forced many people to shift online, including human traffickers. Online recruitment and grooming increased as children spent more time online for virtual learning due to school closures, often with little parental supervision. Reports from several countries demonstrated drastic increases in online commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, including online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC), and demand for and distribution of child sexual exploitation material (CSEM), including content that involved human trafficking victims. The Philippine Department of Justice noted an increase of nearly 300 percent in referrals for potential online sex trafficking and OSEC cases from March to May 2020, the period during which the Philippines was under lockdown or quarantine measures. In India, there was a reported 95 percent rise in online searches for CSEM, and India ranked among the highest countries in the world for material related to child sexual abuse found online with a total of 11.6 percent of a global compilation of reports in 2020. The U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported a 98.66 percent increase in online enticement reports between January and September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, and reports to their CyberTipline doubled to 1.6 million. While traffickers used the opportunity of increased numbers of children online to expand their operations, it should be noted that a portion of the increase resulted from the recirculation of sensationalized trafficking-related stories and misinformation on social media platforms. This included individuals who reshared CSEM content in hopes of helping the victim and raising awareness, but inadvertently contributed to reporting spikes leaving less time and resources to pursue every incident. With enough time for traffickers to establish effective methods to recruit and groom their victims and insufficient avenues to prosecute various forms of online sexual exploitation, the pandemic accelerated and accrued the challenges to combating online sex trafficking.

Impacts of COVID-19 on the Anti-Trafficking Community

Governments, donors, and civil society organizations faced practical and ethical dilemmas reconciling pandemic mitigation strategies with the implementation of anti-trafficking activities.  In the resulting absence of adequate anti-trafficking responses around the world, victims went unidentified, survivors were underserved, and traffickers were not held accountable.

Competing Priorities and Reduced Capacity

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, governments faced the predicament of shifting priorities to focus on growing health and economic concerns, which drew attention and resources away from anti-trafficking efforts. Prevention efforts decreased as some governments suspended awareness campaigns, which often focused on areas less frequented during the pandemic, including airports, border crossings, bus and train stations, schools, and venues for large gatherings. Conversations related to human trafficking typically held by community, tribal, and religious leaders were often cancelled or postponed. Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions made it more difficult for front-line officials to protect individuals through proper identification and screening techniques, leaving officials to rely on victims to self-identify during the pandemic, which already occurs rarely. In many countries, law enforcement agencies reassigned personnel responsible for investigating human trafficking to enforcing lockdowns and public health measures. Since the declaration of a national state of emergency in Peru, the assignments of police units, including those focused on anti-trafficking efforts, shifted to enforcing the government-imposed isolation measures. This, coupled with a shortage of protective equipment to supply police, resulted in many law enforcement officers and other specialized anti-trafficking officials becoming infected with COVID-19, some of whom died.

It is undeniably essential for governments to execute effective, coordinated public health responses to prevent further loss of life and economic damage as a result of the pandemic. But, it also is important to maintain political will and capacity to focus on other priorities to avoid backsliding on progress made in the anti-trafficking field or contributing to challenges in combating the crime. As vulnerabilities increase and human traffickers quickly adapt, governments must take steps to address anti-trafficking efforts in their COVID-19 strategies, including by supporting and cooperating with the anti-trafficking community as it adjusts to the pandemic operating environment.

Decreased Financial and Human Resources

Anti-trafficking actors experienced an all-around decrease in resources and operations. NGOs from various countries separately reported significant funding cuts due to COVID-19, which forced some to halt all assistance or cancel certain victim-support services. In 2019, official development assistance (ODA) made up one-tenth of external financial flows to developing countries, according to the OECD, which further predicted a decline of up to 8 percent in 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19 on economies. In the first seven months of the pandemic, the International Aid Transparency Initiative noted a reduction of 17 percent in bilateral donor commitments between 2019 and 2020, which included a five percent decline in ODA. Within this decrease in obligated funds, donors shifted support to humanitarian and health sectors, consequently resulting in lower commitments to prevent conflict and support peace, security, and human rights. This has had cascading effects for local anti-trafficking organizations and their efforts, as many donors reneged on promised funds and funding opportunities diminished across the sector. According to the joint survey by OSCE and UN Women, only 24 percent of the 385 anti-trafficking organizations that responded to the survey could remain fully operational during the pandemic.

Challenges Facing Victims and Survivors

Victims and survivors faced obstacles accessing assistance and support as lockdowns, social distancing protocols, and a lack of resources caused service providers to close shelters and reduce services. Providers struggled not only to maintain services for identified individuals, but also to create safe spaces in accordance with capacity and social distancing protocols to allow service provision for future identified individuals. Other traditional emergency response and support services, such as shelters, hospitals, and clinics, where victims might be identified were overburdened, at reduced capacity, or closed due to COVID-related restrictions or surges. Self-disclosing one’s trafficking experience also became riskier, especially for victims quarantined with their trafficker, given reduced opportunities for movement and the risk of COVID-19 infection posed by fleeing into the community. Moreover, the OSCE/UN Women survey concluded that only 14 percent of national referral mechanisms were fully operational, due in part to “government employees working from home” and low technological literacy and capacity. For foreign national trafficking victims, closed borders meant repatriation remained a key challenge, resulting in service providers supporting victims for longer periods with dwindling resources. In Nigeria, IOM and the Nigerian government supported the repatriation of more than 7,000 trafficking survivors in both 2018 and 2019 but were only able to repatriate 620 individuals from January to July 2020. Regardless of whether the process was delayed or expedited, repatriation of trafficking victims had the potential to lead to serious health and protection risks in the countries of return, as well as increased costs and added difficulty due to quarantine requirements upon arrival.

The OSCE/UN Women survey demonstrated the overall plight of survivors during the pandemic, noting that access to employment decreased by 85 percent, medical services by 73 percent, social services by 70 percent, legal assistance and access to food and water by 66 percent, psychological assistance by 64 percent, and access to safe accommodation by 63 percent. With limited access to wraparound services that, in many cases, are integral to survivors’ independence and well-being, trafficking survivors are at an increased risk of re-victimization. Many COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as mask wearing, virtual engagements, and self-isolation, could re-traumatize survivors. Masks and other personal protective equipment, as well as virtual engagements, reduce the ability to read facial and non-verbal cues and body language, which can be a survival mechanism for survivors. Survivors might associate stay-at-home orders and self-isolation with movement restrictions and feeling there are fewer places to which to “flee,” which may induce or exacerbate a trauma response for some survivors. Overall, the intensified impact on the mental health and physical well-being of trafficking victims and survivors from long-term isolation, reduced access to services, and general COVID-related risks reaffirms the need for comprehensive, trauma- and survivor-informed, and victim-centered anti-trafficking responses during the pandemic.

Prosecution Challenges

Criminal justice systems often delayed and suspended overall prosecution efforts while law enforcement officials worked to manage COVID-19 outbreaks, even within their own units. Law enforcement officers were unable to conduct proper investigations and interviews with individuals to obtain the necessary evidence to prosecute human trafficking cases. When investigations and prosecutions did proceed, the coordination of extra safety precautions that met the victims’ and the prosecution team’s level of comfort further delayed the process in some cases. In other cases, the default method of conducting interviews virtually may not have been optimal for victims, who have reported feeling more comfortable developing a relationship with investigators before sharing their experience. Members of prosecution teams were obliged to think creatively to meet the victims’ needs while considering their own health and safety. Whether in-person or virtual interviews were held, prosecutors often avoided interviewing the victims multiple times, limiting the ability of investigators to follow-up and confirm details. Access to information and translation services for trafficking victims was also a challenge, as victim support networks reduced services to a minimum. Further, judicial officials postponed prosecutions and court proceedings due to delays in investigations, efforts to maintain safe social distancing regulations, and focus on competing priorities. Court closures at the onset of the pandemic also delayed prosecutions, contributing significantly to judicial systems’ backlog of cases. While many countries shifted to conducting court proceedings virtually, limited to no internet connectivity and cost-related barriers to internet access for rural or underserved communities in some countries, such as The Gambia, made it challenging for victims to participate in virtual courts. These delays decreased victims’ access to justice and legal assistance, which hampered victims’ emotional well-being, recovery, and repatriation, while allowing traffickers to continue their criminal activities and intimidate victims from pressing charges.

The multi-faceted challenges generated by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve and expose vulnerability in individuals, as well as systemic gaps. Overcoming and adapting to these broad impacts of the pandemic remain critical to an effective response against human trafficking.

Adaptations to Anti-Trafficking Efforts in Response to COVID-19

In response to emerging challenges, governments and civil society organizations conducted in-depth research assessments on the impacts of COVID-19, leveraged technology as a method to address emerging trends, adapted policy approaches, and sought to expand protections for victims. There were and continue to be survivor-led and -informed innovative solutions not only to ensure the continuation of anti-trafficking efforts but also to promote safety and security during the pandemic. The anti-trafficking community pivoted to address new circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrated resilience, and produced advanced solutions that could be beneficial even after the pandemic, but many challenges still exist and continue to emerge.

Fact-Finding and Research Assessments

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, a lack of credible and accurate data posed a challenge to effective and efficient anti-trafficking efforts around the world. It was clear that COVID-19 exacerbated the vulnerabilities of millions of individuals and adversely affected efforts to combat human trafficking, but little concrete information existed to confirm the trends, understand the impacts, and shape the anti-trafficking response. International organizations conducted and produced most of the initial comprehensive assessments of the impact of COVID-19 on anti-trafficking efforts and highlighted areas in which to adapt policy approaches and target resources. For example:

  • The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GIATOC) published a policy brief in May 2020 highlighting initial trends in human trafficking during the pandemic and challenges to traditional responses.
  • OSCE/UN Women conducted a robust survey shining a light on the issues victims and service providers faced.
  • IOM conducted rapid assessments in various countries to address the multiple effects of the pandemic on populations vulnerable to trafficking, such as the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on labor migration in the Pacific Region.
  • UNODC’s partner NGOs that work on human trafficking reported that pandemic-related measures led their beneficiaries to lose income and access to food.

With an anticipated increase in poverty rates for the first time in two decades, further research on the economic effects of COVID-19 remains essential to understanding the ensuing large-scale unemployment, particularly in the informal job sector, and how it will drive known and new forms of trafficking.

Technological Innovations

As seen in most fields during the pandemic, technology has become a powerful means to connect people and collect information, while limiting individuals’ exposure to the virus. Despite widespread challenges adapting to a remote, digital work environment, anti-trafficking stakeholders leveraged technology to identify victims, support victims and survivors, and increase collaboration.

Although the pandemic resulted in the reduction or suspension of many support networks for victims, service providers shifted to online and virtual platforms to continue supporting victims as much as possible. A service provider in Colombia ensured that all trafficking victims they served had access to the internet and a smartphone to receive online counseling services and mobile vouchers for food and hygienic products. In addition, some service providers offered telephone and online counseling and legal aid sessions, including filing temporary protection orders by email and providing legal representation via online platforms.

Civil society organizations collaborated to promote information sharing and the availability of COVID-related service provision and anti-trafficking guidance remotely. Many organizations consolidated lists of resources and online guidance on promising practices to provide support services to victims and survivors during the pandemic.

Some examples of online collaboration between anti-trafficking stakeholders include:

  • The Human Trafficking Foundation started a Google group, and the Freedom Collaborative initiated a COVID-19 Response Facebook group.
  • In Uganda, the Human Trafficking Institute (HTI) developed a forum via WhatsApp to establish communication among police and prosecutors during the shutdown. The WhatsApp forum allowed the nearly 350 police and prosecutor participants to share tips and resources on effective methods for trafficking investigations and prosecutions. It also allowed the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Trafficking Prosecutor and HTI’s legal expert to provide mentorship and technical assistance on trafficking cases to forum participants across the country.
  • In Kosovo, Terre des Hommes, along with partners, organized and conducted webinars on case management, challenges, and sustainability of delivering services to victims of trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some organizations leveraged technology to innovate systems for victim identification and referrals while others, even some governments, expanded access to training to national and global audiences. For example:

  • IOM adapted its existing MigApp for migrant workers in the Americas to include a new section to highlight official health recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus, capture changes across countries—such as border restrictions, COVID-19 hotlines, or migration status changes—and produce surveys to better understand the COVID-related challenges migrants faced. In Colombia, IOM also designed a geo-referencing, GPS-based mobile application for members of the counter-trafficking national taskforce to detect trafficking victims and activate immediate direct assistance.
  • UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section (HTMSS) began providing alternative methods to deliver technical assistance by establishing an online center of excellence that will allow for delivery of trainings, webinars, and blended and self-paced learning, as well as interaction among practitioners to foster HTMSS’ community of practice.
  • Estonia launched a nationwide e-learning initiative in schools, led by law enforcement organizations and anti-trafficking experts, to combat and raise awareness of the rise of online sex trafficking and child exploitation during the pandemic.

In some countries, prosecutors and courts utilized technology to safely continue prosecution efforts while employing a victim-centered approach. Prosecutors typically conducted interviews with victims virtually and less frequently to prevent re-traumatization. Judges admitted virtual victim testimony via livestream in a separate room to allow victims to feel safer and prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. Some governments expanded protective services, such as admitting live teleconference testimony in court or providing victims the option to testify remotely to avoid interacting with their traffickers. In June 2020, Mexico secured its first trafficking in persons conviction from a virtual court session; however, the risk of traffickers and other abusers intercepting victims’ phone calls, text messages, or other forms of communication has been heightened in a remote environment in which victims and prosecutorial investigators are unable to develop a relationship. This emphasizes the importance of prioritizing safety, privacy, and informed use of technology when facilitating virtual trafficking assessments, investigations, and coordination of services with trafficking victims.

While technology allowed the anti-trafficking community to navigate more easily the myriad challenges caused by the pandemic, its expanded use highlighted the importance of ensuring victims’ access to technology and online services, as well as their safety and privacy when using technology to receive victim assistance. Anti-trafficking approaches should continue to incorporate technological innovations responsibly to improve anti-trafficking responses. Collaboration between the technology industry and the anti-trafficking field should also be encouraged to promote the development of technologies designed to better support anti-trafficking missions and meet the needs of victims and survivors.

Survivor-led and Survivor-informed Solutions

Survivor leaders and their organizations were resilient and essential throughout the pandemic. Since traditional forms of community outreach were less accessible or no longer possible, survivor leaders leveraged their networks and expertise to engage with vulnerable populations and victims through informal channels to share information on available support in a given area. Survivors also supported broader community responses to COVID-19. In Lesotho, a group of trafficking survivors in a shelter produced masks for themselves and the local community, contributing to the fight against the pandemic. Likewise, Sewing New Futures, a nonprofit social enterprise that employs women and girls who have survived sex trafficking in northern India, expanded their product line to include cloth face masks. The organization also donated proceeds from the production of artisan goods, including the masks, towards medical care and social services for survivors.

Many anti-trafficking organizations also responded to the pandemic by emphasizing staff wellness, especially for employees with lived experience of human trafficking who are at risk of heightened responses to the stress caused by the pandemic. Acknowledging the emotional weight of bringing trafficking-related casework into one’s home, survivor-led and survivor-informed organizations were mindful of staff needs when managing cases remotely, offering resources and opportunities to support the staff’s emotional well-being. This application of trauma-informed principles during a time of collective trauma reflects the success—and the necessity—of the push from survivors in recent years for the anti-trafficking movement as a whole to become more survivor- and trauma-informed.

Increased Assistance and Protections

Governments and anti-trafficking organizations responded to the increased vulnerabilities due to the pandemic through efforts to reduce the risk of trafficking and expand protection measures for victims. Some countries automatically extended temporary and transitory visas for migrant workers, while others suspended fines for unauthorized stays or extended medical coverage to anyone awaiting a decision on their immigration status. The Government of Thailand issued a Cabinet Resolution in August 2020 that made it easier to obtain new work permits and provided extensions for migrants working in Thailand. The Government of Maldives incorporated questions on labor exploitation and unethical recruitment into health screenings and COVID-19 contact tracing for all foreign workers. In June 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka approved a National COVID-19 Response Plan for Migrant Workers that covered prevention and the protection of trafficking victims, while the UK government extended public-funded safe accommodation for current victims and survivors for an additional three months. Similarly, the Australian Border Force issued an information sheet on modern slavery and COVID-19 that provided guidance on how to reduce the risk of workers becoming more vulnerable to human traffickers as a result of the pandemic. In Zimbabwe, local anti-trafficking organizations developed isolation cabins at three shelters to continue supporting individuals waiting for their COVID-19 test results without putting existing shelter residents at risk. The tendency of this pandemic to aggravate hardship requires the responsible implementation of increased protection measures that are responsive to the needs of individuals with coexisting vulnerabilities to human trafficking and COVID-19 infection.

Building Upon Crisis Frameworks

Crises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, exacerbating the conditions for victims of human trafficking and increasing the risk of human trafficking for others. Successful counter-measures often require anti-trafficking actors to build upon existing crisis frameworks and promising practices to include anti-trafficking responses that are trauma-informed and victim-centered. The Jordanian police counter-trafficking unit worked with UNODC to implement a coordinated COVID-19 mitigation plan to protect first responders by procuring sanitation materials, protective equipment, medical kits, and COVID-19 testing units. In response to the risks of carrying out in-person research activities in communities that are vulnerable to both COVID-19 and trafficking, Freedom Fund drew on multisectoral best practices and guidance to create criteria for determining whether in-person research during COVID-19 can be safely conducted, as well as health and safety procedures to ensuring safe interactions. The criteria and procedures were designed to minimize risks to project team members and research participants by considering the best-available national and project-level information and the latest public health recommendations for COVID-19 mitigation. Other collaborative efforts have provided anti-trafficking stakeholders, including service providers, investigators, prosecutors, and first responders, with the tools, equipment, and guidance to protect themselves against and screen for the virus, which is essential to ensuring the health and safety of victims, survivors, and vulnerable populations.

Navigating not only the continuation of but also the increased need for anti-trafficking responses during a global health crisis proved to be exceptionally challenging. Despite this, the successes, the failures, and even the unknown results of the anti-trafficking response to COVID-19 allowed for new insights and solutions to pave a better path forward.

Considerations for the Anti-Trafficking Field’s Response to COVID-19 and Beyond

The anti-trafficking community made a concerted effort to incorporate anti-trafficking efforts into broader crisis responses in the past through building capacity, developing guidance and trainings, and supporting coordination of actors in the field. This has been seen through other crisis situations, such as the Darfur Genocide in 2003, the emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2009, the Philippines Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, the emergence of the migrant crisis in Europe in 2015, and the Rohingya exodus in Burma in 2017, to name a few. As the world endures its second year fighting the global pandemic, the anti-trafficking community must emphasize learning and collaboration to deliver a continued and improved response to combating trafficking in this challenging environment. Drawing on lessons learned from the pandemic response thus far, there are four main considerations that aim to mitigate impacts of crises and guide the path forward for the anti-trafficking community:

  1. The value of collaboration between anti-trafficking actors.
  2. The need to incorporate anti-trafficking efforts into existing responses in other contexts, such as in humanitarian settings.
  3. The importance of proactive response and crisis mitigation planning to anti-trafficking activities.
  4. The application of equity-based approaches.

Addressing human trafficking during a global pandemic requires the full range of actors in the anti-trafficking community to bridge the gap and establish a comprehensive coordinated response. Governments should continue working with neighbors and NGOs to address cross-border trafficking issues and support strong collaboration at the borders to identify and prevent trafficking. Service providers should continue information-sharing efforts to develop and promote promising practices for supporting identified victims and vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Many organizations have published collaborative reports, such as Road to Recovery produced by Restore NYC, a U.S.-based service provider, in partnership with eight other anti-trafficking organizations, many of which were survivor-led and from various regions of the country, to present shared experiences and findings from service provision and organizational adaptations during COVID-19, as well as forward-looking takeaways. Anti-trafficking actors in all sectors should increase collaboration with the private sector to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts that encourage and support prevention of forced labor in supply chains, especially as companies aim to make up for pandemic-related production disruptions and widespread unemployment drives vulnerability. For example, Winrock International’s How to Build Cross-Sectoral Collaboration to Protect Workers in the Age of COVID-19, seeks to initiate cross-sector collaboration and provide guidance for the private sector and anti-trafficking organizations to address increased vulnerability to human trafficking, particularly forced labor, for job seekers, migrant workers, and individuals from vulnerable communities. In the long term, private-sector collaboration should aim to improve the ability of companies to withstand shocks from crises that could leave portions of their workforce vulnerable to trafficking.

To navigate the challenges posed by stretched resources, competing priorities, and reduced capacity or political will of governments to combat trafficking, governments and NGOs should consider systemically integrating anti-trafficking efforts into existing response plans and practices in humanitarian and crisis contexts. Governments and other anti-trafficking organizations are already taking action to weave anti-trafficking measures into crisis responses. For example, IOM has developed resources for its staff to incorporate anti-trafficking into its own work in humanitarian and other emergency settings. In addition, IOM developed free, publicly available tools, such as its online course, Countering Human Trafficking in Humanitarian Settings and its publication, Counter-Trafficking in Emergencies: Information Management Guide, to encourage humanitarians, government staff, anti-trafficking experts, and others to integrate anti-trafficking into their response work routinely. When responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, it is important that those working on safety and security measures are equipped with the knowledge and resources to identify and refer cases of human trafficking. For example, training on trafficking indicators should be expanded to healthcare workers, such as those supporting COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts as they might be the few people a victim could interact with in public.

The response to the impacts of the pandemic on anti-trafficking efforts thus far has largely been reactive as stakeholders work to understand the effects and adapt. To continue responding in the long term—whether amid the COVID-19 pandemic or other future crises—stakeholders should consider proactive planning for adaptation and flexibility to future crises through extensive risk mitigation and management tools. This includes conducting awareness raising campaigns when stay-at-home orders remain in place, providing services to identified victims when there are no safe spaces available, and intervening in stalled public justice systems to ensure minimal disruption and deter traffickers from expanding their activities. A crucial step for combating human trafficking in and out of the pandemic context is establishing specialized trafficking committees, offices, and/or units committed to ensuring anti-trafficking efforts are maintained and resources are less likely to be diverted. Anti-trafficking actors from all sectors should develop concrete risk mitigation and management plans to effectively respond to a variety of crises, including natural disasters, conflict scenarios, health crises, or a combination of emergencies that could exacerbate vulnerabilities to trafficking and the experiences of victims. Effective risk mitigation and management plans should responsibly incorporate survivor-informed, trauma-informed, and victim-centered approaches to meet the needs of survivors and minimize the chances of re-traumatization during crises.

Given the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on marginalized communities, an equity-based approach is critical to reducing vulnerabilities. Applying an equity-based lens involves evaluating and understanding how individual organizations perpetuate the marginalization of vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, indigenous peoples, and members of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups. Governments can enhance efforts to reduce disparities that widened during the pandemic—which also contributed to trafficking risks and emboldened traffickers—by formulating policies and programs that meet the needs of underserved communities. Service providers should examine how they can more meaningfully engage and collaborate with historically underserved populations to achieve inclusive and culturally responsive service delivery. Likewise, law enforcement should address biases to improve identification and protection efforts for victims from marginalized communities while preventing re-traumatization. Indeed, in many places the diversion of law enforcement attention from human trafficking toward enforcing pandemic-related measures has resulted in other community actors carrying out identification efforts, often in ways that are more culturally responsive and less likely to re-traumatize victims. As the pandemic taught anti-trafficking actors to adapt and view challenges from new perspectives, it is apparent that an equity-based approach is essential to the remainder of the pandemic response, as well as the future of the anti-trafficking field.

In the face of this crisis and future crises, it is the responsibility of the international community to work together toward the shared goal of preventing and combating human trafficking, protecting victims, and empowering survivors. Though difficult work remains ahead, the past year has already demonstrated stakeholders’ unwavering determination and promising innovations amid exceptional challenges. With continued collaboration, adaptation, and commitment to serving the needs of victims, survivors, and vulnerable populations, anti-trafficking efforts will emerge stronger in the post-pandemic era.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended (TVPA), defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition.

“Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are umbrella terms—often used interchangeably—to refer to a crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. When a person younger than 18 is used to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion.

The United States recognizes two primary forms of trafficking in persons: forced labor and sex trafficking. The basic meaning of these forms of human trafficking and some unique characteristics of each are set forth below, followed by several key principles and concepts that relate to all forms of human trafficking.

More than 175 countries have ratified or acceded to the UN TIP Protocol which defines trafficking in persons and contains obligations to prevent and combat the crime.

The United States’ TVPA and the UN TIP Protocol contain similar definitions of human trafficking. The elements of both definitions can be described using a three-element framework focused on the trafficker’s 1) acts; 2) means; and 3) purpose. All three elements are essential to form a human trafficking violation.

Forced Labor

Forced labor, also referred to as “labor trafficking,” encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to obtain the labor or services of another person.

The “acts” element of forced labor is met when the trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains a person for labor or services.

The “means” element of forced labor includes a trafficker’s use of force, fraud, or coercion. The coercive scheme can include threats of force, debt manipulation, withholding of pay, confiscation of identity documents, psychological coercion, reputational harm, manipulation of the use of addictive substances, threats to other people, or other forms of coercion.

The “purpose” element focuses on the perpetrator’s goal to secure labor or services. There is no limit on the location or type of industry. Traffickers can commit this crime in any sector or setting, whether legal or illicit, including but not limited to agricultural fields, factories, restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, retail stores, fishing vessels, mines, private homes, or drug trafficking operations.

All three elements are essential to constitute the crime of forced labor.

There are certain types of forced labor that are frequently distinguished for emphasis or because they are widespread:

Domestic Servitude

“Domestic servitude” is a form of forced labor in which the trafficker requires a victim to perform work in a private residence. Such circumstances create unique vulnerabilities. Domestic workers are often isolated and may work alone in a house. Their employer often controls their access to food, transportation, and housing. What happens in a private residence is hidden from the world—including from law enforcement and labor inspectors—resulting in barriers to victim identification. Foreign domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse due to language and cultural barriers, as well as a lack of community ties. Some perpetrators use these types of conditions as part of their coercive schemes to compel the labor of domestic workers with little risk of detection.

Forced Child Labor

The term “forced child labor” describes forced labor schemes in which traffickers compel children to work. Traffickers often target children because they are more vulnerable. Although some children may legally engage in certain forms of work, forcing or coercing children to work remains illegal. Forms of slavery or slavery-like practices—including the sale of children, forced or compulsory child labor, and debt bondage and serfdom of children—continue to exist, despite legal prohibitions and widespread condemnation. Some indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member and the child’s work financially benefits someone outside the child’s family; or the denial of food, rest, or schooling to a child who is working.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking encompasses the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act.

The crime of sex trafficking can also be understood through the “acts,” “means,” and “purpose” framework. All three elements are required to establish a sex trafficking crime (except in the case of child sex trafficking where the means are irrelevant).

The “acts” element of sex trafficking is met when a trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, patronizes, or solicits another person to engage in commercial sex.

The “means” element of sex trafficking occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion. Coercion in the case of sex trafficking includes the broad array of nonviolent means included in the forced labor definition. These can include serious harm, psychosocial harm, reputational harm, threats to others, and debt manipulation.

The “purpose” element in every sex trafficking case is the same: to engage in a commercial sex act. Sex trafficking can take place in private homes, massage parlors, hotels, or brothels, among other locations, as well as on the internet.

Child Sex Trafficking

In cases where an individual engages in any of the specified “acts” with a child (under the age of 18), the means element is irrelevant regardless of whether evidence of force, fraud, or coercion exists. The use of children in commercial sex is prohibited by law in the United States and most countries around the world.

Key Principles and Concepts

These key principles and concepts relate to all forms of trafficking in persons, including forced labor and sex trafficking.


Human trafficking can take place even if the victim initially consented to providing labor, services, or commercial sex acts. The analysis is primarily focused on the trafficker’s conduct and not that of the victim. A trafficker can target a victim after a victim applies for a job or migrates to earn a living. The trafficker’s coercive scheme is what matters, not a victim’s prior consent or ability to meaningfully consent thereafter. Likewise, in a sex trafficking case, an adult victim’s initial willingness to engage in commercial sex acts is not relevant where a perpetrator subsequently uses coercion to exploit the victim and cause them to continue engaging in the same acts. In the case of child sex trafficking, the consent of the victim is never relevant as a child cannot legally consent to commercial sex.


Neither U.S. law nor international law requires that a trafficker or victim move across a border for a human trafficking offense to take place. Trafficking in persons is a crime of exploitation and coercion, and not movement. Traffickers can use schemes that take victims hundreds of miles away from their homes, or exploit them in the same neighborhoods where they were born.

Debt Bondage

“Debt bondage” is focused on human trafficking crimes in which the trafficker’s primary means of coercion is debt manipulation. U.S. law prohibits perpetrators from using debts as part of their scheme, plan, or pattern to compel a person to work or engage in commercial sex. Traffickers target some individuals with an initial debt assumed willingly as a condition of future employment, while in certain countries traffickers tell individuals they “inherited” the debt from relatives. Traffickers can also manipulate debts after the economic relationship begins by withholding earnings or forcing the victim to assume debts for expenses like food, housing, or transportation. They can also manipulate debts a victim owes to other people. When traffickers use debts as a means to compel labor or commercial sex, they have committed a crime.


Consistent with the definition of human trafficking, governments should not penalize or prosecute victims of trafficking in persons for the unlawful acts their trafficker compelled them to commit. This principle aims to protect victims from being held legally responsible for conduct that was not their choice, but rather was driven by their trafficker. If a government has penalized or punished a victim in such a way, the government should vacate the conviction and/or expunge the victim’s record.

State-Sponsored Human Trafficking

While the TVPA and UN TIP Protocol call on governments to proactively address trafficking crimes, some governments are part of the problem, directly compelling their citizens into sexual slavery or forced labor schemes. From forced labor in local or national public work projects, military operations, and economically important sectors, or as part of government-funded projects or missions abroad, officials use their power to exploit their nationals. To extract this work, governments coerce by threatening the withdrawal of public benefits, withholding salaries, failing to adhere to limits on national service, manipulating the lack of legal status of stateless individuals and other minority groups, threatening to punish family members, or conditioning services or freedom of movement on labor or sex. In 2019, Congress amended the TVPA to acknowledge that governments can also act as traffickers, referring specifically to a “government policy or pattern” of human trafficking, trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers.

Unlawful Recruitment or Use of Child Soldiers

Another manifestation of human trafficking occurs when a governmental armed group (including police or other security forces), paramilitary organization, rebel group, or other non-state armed group unlawfully recruits or uses children—through force, fraud, or coercion—as combatants or in support roles. Such support roles include children serving as cooks, porters, guards, messengers, medics, servants, or spies. Children are also used as sex slaves. Sexual slavery, as referred to here, occurs when armed groups force or coerce children to “marry” or be raped by commanders or combatants. Both male and female children are often sexually abused or exploited by members of armed groups and suffer the same types of devastating physical and psychological consequences associated with sex trafficking.

Accountability in Supply Chains

Forced labor is well documented in the private economy, particularly in agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, construction, and domestic work; but no sector is immune. Sex trafficking occurs in several industries as well. Most well-known is the hospitality industry, but the crime also occurs in connection with extractive industries where activities are often remote and lack meaningful government presence. Governments should hold all entities, including businesses, accountable for human trafficking. In some countries, the law provides for corporate accountability in both the civil and criminal justice systems. The TVPA provides such liability for any legal person, including a business that benefits financially from its involvement in a human trafficking scheme, provided that the business knew or should have known of the scheme.

Navigating the Unique Complexities in Familial Trafficking

The following is a product of the Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network (the Network)  funded by the TIP Office. The purpose of the Network is to engage experts, particularly those with lived experience of human trafficking, to provide expertise and input on Department of State anti-trafficking policies, strategies, and products. The author has a range of expertise related to human trafficking, familial trafficking, marginalized communities, trauma and resiliency, education, and survivor leadership. Additionally, the author holds a Master’s degree in Intercultural Studies with Children at Risk and a Bachelor’s degree in Education.

In 2017, IOM estimated that 41 percent of child trafficking experiences are facilitated by family members and/or caregivers. Notably, governments and anti-trafficking stakeholders overlook familial trafficking, which is when a family member or guardian is the victim’s trafficker or the one who sells the child to a third-party trafficker. The anti-trafficking field has identified and delineated the recruitment, grooming, and exploitation practices traffickers use in various scenarios of both sex and labor trafficking. Based on this knowledge, the field has adapted anti-trafficking efforts to support survivors in specific, appropriate, and effective ways. However, familial trafficking, which is unique and just beginning to be understood in the field, is difficult to identify because it takes place within family networks and victimizes children, many of whom are under 12 years of age, who may not realize they are victims. Because of this, the indicators for familial trafficking are different than indicators for other types of trafficking.

In these cases, the trafficker may begin grooming the victim at an early age, using their close proximity to take advantage of the child’s developmental stage and inability to verbally express concerns or safety issues. One study estimates that the trafficker is a family member in about 31 percent of child sex trafficking cases. In these cases, the child’s inherent loyalty to and reliance on the family structure make familial trafficking difficult to identify and challenging to prosecute. Harmful misperceptions about where and how familial trafficking happens, such as the belief that familial trafficking only occurs within neighborhoods, communities, or countries of low socioeconomic status, contributes to challenges to prosecution, prevention, and protection efforts. Addressing familial trafficking requires an interdisciplinary approach to ensure recovery of mental and physical health, trauma-informed investigation and prosecutorial efforts, survivor-led and -centered practices and interventions, and larger societal education and awareness.

When the family member is the trafficker, the exploitation is often normalized and accepted within the family culture, sometimes spanning generations. This normalization of exploitation may also occur when the familial trafficking is tied to economic and cultural factors, such as in some cases of forced child labor in agriculture. If another family member notices the exploitation of the child, there is a strong incentive to look the other way to protect the family, both physically and in reputation, from outside interventions. Family members entrusted with caring for the children are often the ones grooming, manipulating, abusing, and exploiting them. In many of these cases, children may simply have no other trusted adults actively engaged in their lives. They also may not have the physical and mental development to identify coercive tactics being used by an individual they have bonded with, trust, and love. Because children are dependent on their families for their basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing, they are often faced with having basic needs unmet or physical violence if they don’t comply with the trafficker. The traumatic impacts are severe because children have little psychological recourse for protecting themselves from the trafficker, who may also wield significant power by nature of the familial relationship alone.

When the family member or guardian is the victim’s trafficker, it may not be apparent that human trafficking is occurring, especially because the victim lives with or near the perpetrator. Whether the parent or guardian is the trafficker or sells the child who is then placed in the care of another trafficker, the trafficker is both that child’s exploiter and caregiver. In either case, a missing person’s report would not be filed, and child protective services or other welfare agencies would not be notified. Because a child in this situation is often trained not to report what is happening, interactions with adults who might otherwise notice a problem or identify the child as vulnerable, such as teachers, neighbors, doctors, and other adults in the community, instead see the child as shy or failing to thrive. Furthermore, victims of familial trafficking might not be able to comprehend or identify with the indicators featured in most public awareness and outreach campaigns that share information on how to seek help. These campaigns typically target audiences who are much older than those exploited in familial trafficking. The reality is that abuse, pain, torture, and exploitation is the only existence these survivors may have known.

The impacts of familial trafficking, both visible and not, and subsequent needs of survivors are often severe and complex, and they can be exacerbated by the onset of trauma during key childhood developmental stages. When children experience familial trafficking, they may develop educational and social delays, physical health problems, and psychological disorders, such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder and attachment disorders. Survivors may encounter a large number of health indicators and somatic complaints due to having to endure trauma for a long period of time at an early age, including head, stomach, and body aches; throat and urinary tract infections; interrupted sleep due to nightmares and flashbacks; difficulty concentrating; asthma; and more. Survivors of familial trafficking have a range of responses to the traditional educational system: some are reported to have learning challenges, including illiteracy and processing challenges. Other children excel, whether because school is where they feel safe or because they have been conditioned to please adults in their lives or developed resiliency and survival skills early in life. Furthermore, familial trafficking situations may have prevented survivors from developing key healthy social skills, including how to make and maintain friends, relate to other children and adults, ask for assistance, and recognize their own self-worth. Having a family member as the main perpetrator and trafficker may also result in many victims feeling unable to speak about the experiences they endured due to the shame it may bring upon their families, communities, and themselves. Regardless of socioeconomic background, child survivors of familial trafficking situations often have limited avenues for resources when seeking assistance.

Frequently, service providers use the same approaches and resources for familial trafficking that are used for all types of human trafficking, which can be inappropriate and even harmful. Few resources have been developed to address the particularities of familial trafficking. The ways in which a service provider would engage with an eight-year-old child exploited by a family member will need to be different than when engaging with a child who has a safe home with a trusted adult. A child who has been exploited by a family member will mostly likely need services to address complex trauma, attachment, and severe exploitation. While awareness of familial trafficking is increasing, more research is needed.

Still, the specific and long-term needs of survivors of familial trafficking can be met in a variety of ways. For example, many children would benefit from having one-on-one support to develop an individualized program with the survivor and meet with them several times a week. Most importantly, age- and culturally appropriate comprehensive programs need to be developed with consideration of each unique survivor in mind. Positive connection, the freedom to experience developmentally appropriate activities, and even fun, sometimes for the first time, are healing elements that should be emphasized in these programs. Through programs with an increased focus on familial trafficking, survivors learn they are not alone in their journey and that someone is there to walk beside them through every step.

Unifying Trauma-Informed Practices and Voices of Survivor Leadership

This narrative was written by a consultant for the Network funded by the TIP Office.  The purpose of the Network is to engage experts, particularly those with lived experience of human trafficking, to provide expertise and input on Department of State anti-trafficking policies, strategies, and products.  The author has a range of expertise related to human trafficking, marginalized communities, trauma recovery, education, mental health care, and survivor leadership.

Over the past decade, two of the most highlighted conversations in the anti-trafficking movement have centered on the need to incorporate trauma-informed practices into anti-trafficking work and to invite survivors into leadership positions within organizations. As the anti-trafficking community has grappled with how to integrate these ideals, it often conflates them. For example, organizations will prioritize hiring a survivor as a staff member or consultant and then equate that action with becoming a fully trauma-informed entity, while failing to use a trauma-informed approach to care, which often retraumatizes individuals receiving services. This limited approach to realizing both goals causes harm, especially when those organizations then claim they are “survivor-informed” but only focus on the survivor’s story or benefits to the organization and decline to implement the survivors’ recommendations or consider their feedback. Disrespecting survivor leaders and their experiences hurts and further exploits survivors, who are key stakeholders in the anti-trafficking movement, and it ultimately perpetuates a harmful and deficient understanding of what it means to be survivor-informed. These dual harms raise the need for additional trainings to teach organizations how to properly incorporate survivor feedback and adopt a comprehensive, trauma-informed approach in practice.

Organizations must incorporate the voices of multiple survivors into their trauma-informed practices. Outlined below is a description of what it means to be both trauma- and survivor-informed, as well as recommendations on integrating both approaches as one, comprehensive effort.


Trauma-informed practices build upon understanding the impact of trauma not only on individuals seeking services but also on all staff members and consultants working within an organization. As such, vicarious trauma and the mental health needs of all consultants and staff members should also be prioritized, as opposed to singling out survivor leaders as the only individuals affected by trafficking or other sources of trauma. Because trauma-informed practices assume that every human being has experienced trauma of some kind, organizational structures should reflect the need for sensitivity and care surrounding all interactions and communications.

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a trauma-informed lens upholds each person as an active agent of their own recovery process, the ability of individuals to recognize symptoms of trauma in others, and the integration of a “do no harm” approach into the creation of policies, procedures, and practices. In addition, SAMHSA’s Six Key Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach refers to the necessity of creating and protecting psychological and physical safety within the organization, fostering trust through transparency, providing peer support, and leveling power differences through collaboration, empowerment, and cultural humility.


In 2013, the United States’ Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States (Plan) identified the importance of engaging with survivors in decision-making processes as anti-trafficking leaders. Federal agencies responded by sharing plans to apply a survivor-informed approach for human trafficking. In 2015, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking was established to advise federal agencies on their anti-trafficking policies and programs, including on the application of this approach to their efforts. Despite the attention towards and growth in understanding of a survivor-informed approach, gaps arose in how different agencies and organizations in various settings applied it. To address these gaps, the 2017 Human Trafficking Leadership Academy fellows, organized by the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center (NHTTAC), defined a survivor-informed practice as the “meaningful input from a diverse community of survivors at all stages of a program or project, including development, implementation and evaluation.”

The integration of survivor leadership and trauma-informed practices requires inclusive interactions with survivors of all forms of human trafficking with a diversity of perspectives, such as gender, national origin, race, and sexuality. It is essential to have various survivor voices lending feedback into all areas of an organization’s work. Organizations must listen to survivors and determine how best to adapt practices that honor and incorporate their input. This process includes evaluating programs and policies with humility and commitment to change wherever possible, even where those changes will be difficult to implement. It also must include supporting additional research on the brain’s response to trauma and on the ways traffickers adapt their criminal enterprises to societal changes. Organizations can set themselves up for success in a manner that is adaptive—not stagnant—to meet the evolving challenges of anti-trafficking efforts by mindfully weaving together survivor-leadership and trauma-informed approaches for the collective good of all who engage in anti-trafficking spaces.

Organizations might be in different stages of understanding and implementing trauma-informed and survivor-centered processes. The following recommendations may be applicable for organizations at multiple stages of integration.


Hiring Survivors and Ensuring a Trauma-informed Work Environment

  • Invite a diversity of lived experience experts to be part of organizational staffing, not only because of what they have survived but also for the professional skills and expertise they offer. When asking for the opinions and suggestions of these voices, be a conscious listener and follow through with implementing changes. Communicate updates on the progression of these changes.
  • Create protocols for what all staff should do if they feel exploited by the organization or individuals within the organization.
  • Recognize that trauma is not unique to an individual who identifies as a survivor leader; it has affected the entire team in distinct ways. The way survivors in leadership positions are treated should mirror the way that staff members without lived experience of human trafficking are treated, and vice versa.
  • Implement intentional self-care as part of organizational culture to build resilience and help mitigate vicarious trauma, including executive leadership modeling self-care best practices and encouraging staff to engage in healthy coping skills and take care of their emotional and physical health. Organizations can also implement paid mental health days, self-care plans as part of employee reviews, and organization-wide education encompassing individual wellness.

Empowering Survivors in the Workplace

  • Never ask survivors in leadership, or in any other role, to share their story and never share their story for them.
  • Empower survivors to outgrow the label of only a survivor. Treat them as more than the trauma they have experienced and foster their strengths so, if they desire, they could successfully run the organization or get a job in the field of their choice.
  • Design opportunities for survivors in the organization to receive continuing education on leadership and professional development.

Establishing Administrative Processes for a Trauma-informed Workplace

  • Ensure that benefits include mental health care for all staff members, including any survivors that are hired.
  • Prioritize and institutionalize survivor engagement by creating a budget line within the organization for consultations with lived experience experts.
  • Compensate survivors in leadership commensurate with other leadership.
  • Employ a third-party reviewer to assess the organization’s integration of survivor leadership and trauma-informed approaches.

For tips on how to build a survivor-informed organization, please see the NHTTAC toolkit on this topic.  If looking for more information on survivor-informed best practices, please see NHTTAC’s Survivor-Informed Practice: Definition, Best Practices, and Recommendations.

The Negative Impacts of Human Trafficking Misinformation

For many people, human trafficking evokes images of women and children being forcibly taken and sold into sexual slavery by strangers, or of people locked in rooms or vehicles far from home. These images, however, do not capture the reality of most cases of sex and labor trafficking. Human trafficking is typically not so simple or salacious. Most victims are not kidnapped by strangers or secretive syndicates. Instead, it is often their neighbors, relatives, romantic partners, or other acquaintances who exploit them. Traffickers often use fraudulent, psychologically manipulative, or coercive recruitment methods so they need not kidnap or even physically restrain their victims.

Unfortunately, enduring misconceptions about human trafficking have helped misinformation and rumors about the crime spread rapidly throughout communities and through social media, particularly in the United States. In recent years, participants in online forums have spread a number of false and misleading claims about child sex trafficking, sometimes deliberately deceiving the public through disinformation efforts connected to conspiracy theories unrelated to human trafficking. This content often becomes viral on mainstream social media platforms, taking advantage of well-intentioned members of the public, including those who want to take action to make a difference. Rumors and theories that a global cabal of politicians and celebrities are exploiting children, that companies selling furniture or other high-priced items online are also selling missing children, or that phishing texts are tricking people into human trafficking schemes are all unfounded and perpetuate false narratives about the realities of human trafficking.

More concerning, this spread of misinformation has real and detrimental impacts on the ability of the anti-trafficking community to protect those who have or are currently experiencing human trafficking and to bring traffickers to justice. It is imperative that the public fully understand the negative effects that spreading and acting on these rumors and misinformation can have on service providers, victims and survivors, and the broader anti-trafficking field.

When false or misleading rumors about human trafficking quickly spread online and through social media, concerned individuals may want to take action because they genuinely believe the information. While the help of the public is a crucial part of anti-trafficking efforts, the public can inadvertently interfere when its actions are based on false information or on tips from individuals with no direct knowledge of human trafficking situations. Such interference can have damaging effects on the ability of law enforcement, NGOs, and other victim service providers to respond to real cases. For example, law enforcement may become inundated with false information they are required to follow up on or investigate, especially when reports relate to children, stretching already limited time and resources.

In addition, a barrage of calls and tips related to misinformation about human trafficking online can overwhelm systems of intervention and care that have been established to respond to potential and confirmed cases of human trafficking. Under such a deluge, someone with information about a case or who may be a victim in real crisis will face longer service wait times and may miss their momentary chance to connect to a service provider. Advocates and service providers must take all reports of human trafficking seriously, which means that increased reports based on false information make it more difficult for responders to provide support to victims of human trafficking.

The spread of misinformation about human trafficking also means that anti-trafficking experts and organizations need to allocate time and resources to re-educate the public. Allocating resources to debunk myths and misinformation about human trafficking takes time away from critical services including responding to survivors seeking help. Resources for these organizations are often already strained and should be directed towards evidence-based solutions to combat human trafficking.

NGOs have also reported experiencing cyberattacks and threats on social media when they post statements debunking misinformation. Some employees of NGOs that help identify and provide services to survivors of human trafficking have even faced threats of violence by followers of these theories. These attacks and threats may require that the organizations divert even more resources away from victim services to improve cyber security and personal security for NGO staff. Another serious concern is the emotional strain and trauma experienced by staff at these NGOs. Individuals working to support survivors of human trafficking, including those who have dedicated their lives to this work, can become discouraged as the spread of misinformation distracts from providing services.

Survivors report having seen stories based on false information and feeling re-exploited because the trauma they faced is now being questioned or used for nefarious, and sometimes political, purposes. Privacy intrusions are also a concern and occur when information or images about people mistakenly believed to be trafficking victims, or those of actual victims, are shared in connection to conspiracy misinformation or disinformation.

Of further concern, experts have identified the strategic production and dissemination of false narratives about sex trafficking by white supremacists and other extremists, including violent extremists, in the United States as a means of recruiting new members. These groups have found success in exploiting the public’s concerns about child sex trafficking, using false information as a gateway to radicalize members. Thus, it is imperative to stop the spread of misinformation, including conspiracy theories, both to combat sex and labor trafficking and to prevent violent extremism and counter threats to U.S. national security.

It is easy to understand why individuals would see something online about human trafficking, especially when it involves children, and feel the need to share or act on the information. At first, it may not be apparent that acting on this information could have any harmful consequences. The recent scale of misinformation about human trafficking, however, distracts from the real crime, and may have long-lasting negative effects on efforts to combat it and to aid actual victims of human trafficking.

Individuals who wish to learn more about what human trafficking looks like in their own communities should seek out resources from established organizations and government agencies that use evidence-based solutions to address the crime. Many reputable sources publish information online to help the public understand when information being shared about human trafficking is misleading or false. Often the people in the best position to identify a potential case of human trafficking are neighbors, family members, friends, or others close to victims or traffickers. An important component of any successful anti-trafficking strategy is a well-informed public that understands the real indicators of the crime and can identify it when it happens in their own communities.

The Role of the Financial Sector: Promising Practices in the Eradication of Trafficking in Persons

Human trafficking is a widespread and highly profitable crime that generates an estimated $150 billion worldwide per year with a significant portion of those profits passing through legitimate financial services businesses. The illicit financial activity that human trafficking generates includes, but is not limited to: payments associated with the transport of victims and other logistics such as hotels or plane tickets; collection of proceeds generated by the exploitation of trafficking victims and by the sale of goods produced through their exploitation; movement of proceeds; and bribery and corrupt dealings to facilitate human trafficking.

One of the most effective ways to identify broader criminal networks and take the profit out of this crime is to follow the financial trail human traffickers leave behind. With proper training and guidance, financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses are able to identify illicit finance related to human trafficking and report potential cases. In addition, legal experts state that taking a “financial crimes approach” to human trafficking is highly effective in generating financial evidence that allows law enforcement to differentiate the traffickers from their victims, document the traffickers’ motives and knowledge, corroborate victim testimony, and assist in identifying affiliates. Proactive partnerships between governments, financial institutions, law enforcement, civil society, and survivor experts are critical to identifying illicit financial activity associated with human trafficking. Removing the ability to profit from the crime disincentivizes traffickers and serves as a crucial deterrent to prevent the crime altogether.


The UN TIP Protocol, which is widely ratified, mandates the criminalization of money laundering when proceeds are derived from human trafficking and encourages signatories to promote international cooperation between their respective national authorities addressing money laundering. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the global standard-setting body for anti-money laundering (AML), countering the financing of terrorism, and countering proliferation financing. More than 200 countries have agreed to implement the FATF Recommendations, which require member countries to identify, assess, and understand money laundering and illicit finance risks and to mitigate those risks. The FATF Recommendations provide a useful framework for jurisdictions to address illicit finance related to human trafficking by strengthening their national AML laws and policies and by improving coordination and information sharing domestically and internationally. The FATF Recommendations also encourage jurisdictions to undertake proactive parallel financial investigations, including by collaborating with public and private financial institutions, as a standard practice when investigating and prosecuting human trafficking crimes, with a view to tracing, freezing, and confiscating proceeds acquired through this crime.

In the United States, the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) mandates that financial institutions monitor and report suspected illegal activity, such as human trafficking, as well as certain high-dollar cash transactions. The BSA permits financial institutions to share information relevant to money laundering and terrorist financing under the legal safe harbor provided by the USA PATRIOT Act Section 314(b). This reporting and information sharing can be highly useful in tracking and tracing proceeds related to human trafficking.

It is essential that financial institutions train staff on techniques human traffickers use to launder money and the behavioral and financial red flag indicators of human trafficking. Trained customer-facing staff can recognize, document, and report behavioral indicators of human trafficking. Financial institutions are required to comply with law enforcement processes seeking to identify traffickers’ assets, which can be seized, forfeited, and used toward restitution for victims. Further, financial institutions can engage with survivors of human trafficking to inform their efforts, including on the development of training programs to enhance the ability of frontline staff and other industry professionals to detect transactions connected to human trafficking, how and when to intervene, and how to determine when a third party is benefitting from the exploitation of another. Consulting with survivors to review existing AML protocols and systems could help to identify gaps and possible improvements.

In 2020, the Government of Canada launched Project PROTECT to increase awareness of sex trafficking, as well as the quantity and quality of suspicious transaction reporting. Canadian financial institutions, FINTRAC (Canada’s Financial Intelligence Unit), financial regulators, law enforcement, non-profit organizations, and technology companies collaborated to develop indicia of suspicious transactions of money laundering from sex trafficking. As a result, there was a significant increase in suspicious transaction reports filed by financial institutions related to this activity. FINTRAC disclosed this information to law enforcement to help expand or refine the scope of their cases, uncover new targets, obtain search warrants, and identify assets for seizure or forfeiture. Canadian authorities provided disclosures to counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, Jamaica, and Brazil, demonstrating the transnational nature of human trafficking and the importance of international cooperation to end it.


Perpetrators use technology in human trafficking schemes. Human trafficking rings often use instant and secure communication mechanisms to facilitate activities among members and employ GPS location applications as one way to remotely control victims. Technology also can play a critical role in combating these crimes, increase law enforcement’s ability to identify victims and perpetrators, and help deliver financial assistance and other victim support services to victims as they work to rebuild their lives.

While human trafficking actors and organizations typically generate illicit proceeds in cash or through the traditional financial system, they sometimes use cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency transactions, including those involving human trafficking, are recorded on public blockchains. Depending on whether and to what extent anonymizing technologies are applied, blockchain transactions can be analyzed to identify patterns indicative of criminal activity. For example, experts have developed techniques to link some cryptocurrency transaction records to online commercial sex advertisements, which can provide additional information on human trafficking networks. Innovative AML compliance solutions that use big data, advanced analytics, network analysis, and, increasingly, artificial intelligence to monitor transactions and identify and report suspicious transactions can assist governments and the private sector in identifying and combating human trafficking networks.

Traffickers also exploit financial sector innovations, such as prepaid cards and mobile payment applications, to accept payments or move funds through the financial system. Authorities have detected the use of third-party payment processors (TPPPs) by traffickers and their facilitators to wire funds, which gives the appearance that the TPPP is the originator or beneficiary of the wire transfer and conceals the true originator or beneficiary. The use of these innovations leaves digital footprints, which may be detected as these transactions pass through the financial system.


Survivors of human trafficking often discover that human traffickers have taken control of their financial identity or banking products and limited or prevented their access to the financial system, spoiling their credit record and hindering their financial reintegration. Financial institutions and civil society can play an important role in assisting survivors in the recovery process by providing them access to digital financial services, such as online microcredit, without requiring traditional identity documentation. Governments can also play a role by supporting the use of digital financial services and innovative tools to assist victims who have been harmed financially. Digital identity solutions and access to digital financial services can help victims securely obtain financial assistance from governments or NGOs, access victim support services, repair their credit, and receive restitution payments when appropriate and available.

Enabling human trafficking survivors’ participation in the regulated financial sector is critical. The Liechtenstein Initiative for Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking is a public-private partnership launched in September 2018 to respond to calls from the G7, the G20, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council for governments to partner with the private sector to address human trafficking. Its Survivor Inclusion Initiative works to facilitate survivor access to basic banking services, such as checking and savings accounts by connecting survivors to financial institutions. To support survivors in rebuilding their lives and preventing further exploitation, the financial sector can offer account qualification exception programs and low-to-no fee second chance accounts. Governments, investors, researchers, and civil-society actors should explore how microfinance and other forms of social finance can support survivors.

Acknowledging Historical and Ongoing Harm: The Connections between Systemic Racism and Human Trafficking

In many ways, the United States and other governments face human trafficking challenges and trends today that reflect the living legacy of the systemic racism and colonization globalized during the transatlantic slave trade through chattel slavery and regional practices of indigenous dispossession. U.S. and global data show human traffickers disproportionately target those in positions of socioeconomic or political vulnerability due to discriminatory policies, who are often people of color or part of a racial minority. While U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking have grown in magnitude and sophistication over the years, the United States still struggles with how to address the disparate effects of human trafficking on racial minority communities. To be truly effective, a comprehensive approach to prosecution, protection, and—most of all—prevention must embed racial justice and equity across its policies and programs. The U.S. Department of State leads the U.S. government’s global engagement to combat human trafficking and chairs the federal interagency anti-trafficking task force. As part of this work, it commits to engaging with its interagency, civil society, private sector, multilateral, and survivor leader partners to better understand systemic racism’s effects on the human trafficking field and to integrate racial equity more intentionally into the U.S. anti-trafficking response.

Years of studies, data, and the direct knowledge of those with lived experience of human trafficking demonstrate that systemic racism undercuts the intended goals of prosecuting traffickers, protecting those victimized, and preventing human trafficking in significant ways. This body of information provides a strong foundation from which to learn. For instance, advocates, survivors, and other experts have found that ingrained racial biases and stereotypes, which were created as a way to dehumanize certain racial communities to justify their exploitation and exclusion, hinder progress in anti-trafficking efforts because they lead to racially disparate assumptions about who is a trafficker and who should have access to victim protection and services. These stereotypes may affect, for example, which communities law enforcement target for anti-trafficking operations, which victim witnesses the criminal justice system deems credible, and which individuals process their experiences as exploitation and seek help. Traffickers, in turn, factor these racial biases and stereotypes into schemes and strategies aimed at reducing their own risk of getting caught while increasing the risk of law enforcement improperly penalizing victims.

Another powerful way systemic racism has perpetuated human trafficking and hindered anti-trafficking efforts is through discriminatory government policies and private practices that create disparities in access to economic means or opportunities, which traffickers exploit to compel victims in sex trafficking or forced labor. Predatory and exclusionary practices that keep certain racial communities from attaining financial stability and building generational wealth provide traffickers ample opportunity to offer tempting alternatives. These harmful practices include redlining, lending discrimination, unequal distribution of government subsidies and services, restricted entry into white collar or higher paying jobs, and intentional exclusions of certain professions from worker protections.

The inequities created by systemic racism have survived in part because of the intentional destruction of certain racial groups’ social support networks. Traffickers often seek out individuals with weaker community or family connections, knowing they have fewer safeguards. The chattel slavery system relied on the separation of family units during auctions and trading of enslaved people. It restricted where and how enslaved people could gather or socialize to weaken communal bonds to avoid a unified rebellion for freedom. This pattern of fracturing families and communities has led to an unjust overrepresentation of Black individuals in other systems, like prisons, runaway and homeless youth services, and foster or institutional care, that exacerbate the social isolation and vulnerability on which traffickers prey. Similar family separation policies were used to weaken or destroy indigenous families and communities, including forcibly removing Native children from their families and tribes to send them to “boarding schools” with the intention of forcing them to assimilate and no longer identify with their culture. Such policies have resulted in an ongoing disproportionate number of Native children in the child welfare system, increasing their vulnerability to human trafficking.

These are only a few of the many manifestations of systemic racism that inhibit an effective anti-trafficking response. The following excerpts highlight the reflections of some who have directly experienced the ways in which systemic racism intersects with human trafficking in the United States and provide insight and guidance on how best to move forward.

“It was only when I decided to escape my trafficker that I realized how pronounced racial injustice was in my community, particularly against human trafficking survivors with previous arrest records…. Human trafficking continues to be a critical threat to Black communities. We need better support that doesn’t criminalize survivors but protects our rights instead. Standing in solidarity with Black lives also means speaking up for the injustices plaguing Black communities that are overwhelmed with trafficking victims. First, we must understand the disparities that disproportionately affect Black trafficking survivors. Then, we must do a better job supporting survivors when they escape. Many victims struggle with a long list of criminal offenses that follow them for the rest of their lives.”

– Lyresh Magee,
Entrepreneur, Cosmotologist, Graduate from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (Cast), Los Angeles

“Racism has made Black trafficking survivors and other survivors of color feel invisible. It has exacerbated our isolation, increased our stress, and undermined our efforts to recover from trauma…. Survivors have known that the justice system is flawed: just ask the victims arrested and prosecuted for their traffickers’ crimes.”

– Fainess Lipenga,
Training Advisor to The Human Trafficking Legal Center

“We were sold for a certain amount of money for 30 minutes or an hour. Allow me to repeat myself: we were SOLD. In my case, being a person of color sold by a white person to other white people was painful on multiple levels. It wasn’t until my adult years that I was able to process how closely this aligned with racial oppression. I can’t compare one victim’s experience to another’s, but I will say that race can add an additional layer of oppression.”

– A survivor’s account,
as featured by Yvette Young, Bree’Ana Johnson, Christopher Bidorini, and Erin Williamson

“There are many jurisdictions that are predominantly White yet the most being exploited, arrested and children taken into custody are women of color. There is a big problem of Black and Brown bodies being treated differently from White bodies. It’s not that people of color do more drugs, are more engaged in criminal behavior, it’s that they are more vulnerable, more targeted by the police for prostitution and other crimes. There is a connection and a disparity from police profiling, arrest, incarceration rates, sentencing, and recidivism. When a White person goes missing, you hear about it every five minutes. In contrast, when Black and Brown bodies go missing you don’t hear about their disappearance anywhere near as often, if at all.”

– Autumn Burris,
Founding CEO, Survivors for Solutions, featured in ECPAT-USA’s “Survivor Perspective” blog series

Building a just world, where traffickers can no longer capitalize on and abuse systemic inequities, requires addressing the underlying causes of those inequities by first acknowledging the structures of power and historical context behind unequal distribution of privilege and protection, including the government’s role. While the racial dimensions of human trafficking manifest in different ways in each country, human trafficking still mirrors—and thrives because of—widespread inequities between racial groups. This is seen, for example, in the overrepresentation of human trafficking victims among Black populations in some parts of South America, the lack of protections afforded to migrant workers in the Gulf that creates a dependence on others that traffickers can exploit, and the intentional targeting of Roma communities through law enforcement anti-trafficking operations in Eastern Europe. For the United States, this means confronting its history of chattel slavery, indigenous dispossession, and the centuries-long racial campaigns of violence, fear, and trauma that followed. As the United States strives to grapple with its past and increasingly root its anti-trafficking work in racial equity, it must also draw from the courage, expertise, and leadership of communities harmed by the interlocking cruelties of systemic racism and human trafficking. We invite other governments and global partners to join in this effort and hold each other accountable.

Child-Friendly Spaces for Survivors of Human Trafficking

The needs of child trafficking victims and the related legal reporting requirements differ significantly from those of adult victims. Government authorities and service providers should take special measures to ensure appropriate and tailored support and care are available to them. Children should receive immediate support and assistance in a safe and comfortable setting that is not intimidating or retraumatizing. Child-friendly spaces are an essential component to holistic victim-centered and trauma-informed care for child survivors of human trafficking.

Child-friendly spaces have traditionally been used in refugee camps or after natural disasters, but increasingly those in the anti-trafficking field are using them to provide comprehensive assistance and support to child trafficking victims in other settings. These spaces, which can be a separate room or even just a corner of a regular interview room, are typically located in existing structures such as police stations or hospitals and are administered by the government or an NGO. The use of child-friendly spaces reflects a multidisciplinary approach, providing a place for children to feel safe in the wake of trauma and for social workers, medical professionals, law enforcement, and others to conduct victim interviews, psychosocial counseling, and medical care all in the same location. In addition to putting a child trafficking victim at ease by providing a safe and structured environment for play and learning, such spaces also can help facilitate the prosecution of human traffickers by offering critical support to children as they provide information to law enforcement to help hold perpetrators accountable.

While they may look slightly different depending on their particular function, the country in which they operate, or the level of resources available, effective child-friendly spaces often share common features that can be replicated as promising practices.

First, child-friendly spaces provide a calm and reassuring physical environment. This is accomplished by providing age-appropriate furniture and decorations, painting the walls in calming colors, and displaying children’s artwork or murals. Toys, art supplies, and age-appropriate books are also provided. A comforting environment and informal play can assist survivors in expressing their feelings of fear and distress while also supporting their resiliency.

Second, ensuring that a child feels safe is crucial, which means that the physical space must be easily accessible, ideally through its own entrance and exit, and separates the survivor from the perpetrator to prevent further trauma. A safe space affords children privacy so they can talk about their experiences more freely. Staff and relevant stakeholders should be able to observe the child from a separate room, where appropriate.

Third, a multidisciplinary child-friendly space provides survivors with an array of comprehensive services and referral networks in one place. In addition to addressing immediate needs by providing food, water, and sanitary facilities, a child-friendly space should address longer-term needs through the provision of medical screening and services, psychosocial counseling, referrals, and information about legal proceedings. Receiving various services in one place and during the same timeframe shields the survivor from having to repeat the story of what happened to them multiple times.

Finally, all services provided in the space should be trauma-informed, age-appropriate, and culturally and linguistically sensitive. This means that service providers can recognize signs of trauma in individuals and respond by integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, practices, and settings. This approach considers the vulnerabilities and experiences of trauma survivors and places priority on restoring a survivor’s feelings of safety, choice, and control. Service providers should make sure children understand their rights and are empowered to make decisions about their own care, where appropriate. A trauma-informed approach should ultimately build trust and transparency between survivors and service providers, and it must also be responsive to gender, age, ethnic, and cultural differences. This last component is crucial, as interviewing and service provision that is not trauma-informed or in the best interest of the child can be retraumatizing and inhibit a successful recovery.

Given constraints around physical space and financial resources, service providers and NGOs may need to develop creative ways to establish a child-friendly space. If a separate room is not available, a child-friendly corner of a larger interview room can also serve as a designated section that is welcoming to children. When assessing needs, a child-friendly waiting room might take priority.

The COVID-19 pandemic increases children’s vulnerability to trafficking for several cross-cutting reasons. Families may require children to find work due to lost income, government and NGO protection services may be reduced, and children might not be attending school where they have access to trusted adults. Because of this increased vulnerability, establishing and maintaining child-friendly spaces is critical to prioritize during the pandemic; they can even be a safe place where children learn about public health protections such as social distancing, mask wearing, and proper hygiene.

The Kafala System

Every year adults and, to a lesser extent, children migrate voluntarily to countries in the Middle East to work in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, construction, and domestic service. Many of these migrant workers must abide by the kafala system, in effect mostly in the Gulf states (Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), Jordan, and Lebanon.

The kafala system is a sponsorship-based visa category that gives employers full control over the migrant workers’ residency permits, movements in and out of the country, and ability to change employers. Under this sponsorship system, migrant workers who leave their place of employment without permission from their employer forfeit their legal status and thereby increase their risk of arrest and deportation.

The kafala system’s rules and limitations enable abusive employers’ to use unscrupulous employment practices that can constitute forced labor; including excessive work hours; retention of passports and travel documents by the employer; non-payment of wages; and physical, psychological, and sexual abuse or threats of abuse. These trafficking victims have little or no recourse; they are coerced either to remain in an exploitative position or leave their sponsor and face arrest, detention, or deportation for immigration offenses, or even punishment for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit.


Allowing migrant workers to have full freedom of movement and to switch employers without penalty would help prevent human trafficking. In addition, providing migrant workers with information on their rights and obligations, on complaint mechanisms in case of abuse, and on how to access assistance and remedies, would empower them to identify and leave exploitative situations. Efforts to reform the kafala system and develop non-exploitative policies would benefit from input and recommendations from survivors who experienced forced labor under this system.

In addition to reforming the kafala system, governments should also consider ratifying the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) and draw on its Recommendation (R201), which offers concrete actions to help prevent domestic servitude. States can take additional measures to address the vulnerabilities to human trafficking created by the kafala system, such as those described below.

Labor-Sending Countries and Pre-departure Measures:

  • Public Outreach: Use information and communication technologies, such as websites, digital links, and apps, to provide information to prospective workers in languages they understand on labor and immigration laws in the destination country, jobs available, the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers, model or standard government-approved contracts, indicators of human trafficking, contact information for relevant hotlines or missions abroad, and reputable recruitment agencies.
  • Prevention through Responsible Recruitment: Provide adequate government oversight of recruitment agencies and provide prospective applicants with information on means to verify recruitment agencies’ legitimacy and licensing. Migrant workers should be provided with their own copy of a work contract, clearly outlining the terms and conditions of employment and residency, including their wages, hours of work and rest, and mode of payment. To avoid debt manipulation, workers should not be subject to recruitment or work visa fees by their recruiters or employers—all costs associated with getting the job should be paid by the employer—nor should the cost of their live-in accommodation and work-related items, such as uniforms or tools, be deducted from their remuneration.
  • Visa Application: Encourage in-person visa applications on the part of destination countries, including for domestic workers. During visa processing, provide applicants with information pamphlets on their rights and obligations, and those of employers, as well as their entitlements to retain a copy of their contract and original travel and identity documents. Inform visa applicants about available legal protections against crimes such as violence, trafficking in persons, and deprivation of liberty, including complaint mechanisms and hotline numbers.


  • Visa Sponsorship: Reform the kafala system to allow all workers to have full freedom of movement and to change their sponsor or employer voluntarily and without prior sponsor permission, fees, penalties, or loss of residency status. Provide migrant workers with information on their rights and obligations, as well as on access to grievance mechanisms and to appropriate and effective remedies, such as compensation. Provide protection to victims, including temporary or permanent residency status to foreign victims along with access to services such as food, shelter, and medical and psycho-social assistance, while giving them the option to remain in the country and switch employers or return to their home country, or a third country for those who cannot return home.
  • Hotlines: Provide workers information on their rights and obligations, including access to help and information on labor rights, grievance mechanisms, and proper reporting channels. Inform workers about the availability of hotlines operated 24 hours every day, staffed with Arabic and English interpreters, and with on-call contractors for languages spoken by foreign workers’ most common nationalities.
  • Identification and Prosecution: Proactively and effectively identify victims of forced labor and investigate, prosecute, and convict those who commit or facilitate forced labor under anti-trafficking laws, rather than treating instances of forced labor as administrative violations. Punish perpetrators and facilitators with significant prison terms under anti-trafficking laws and deny or restrict unscrupulous employers and sponsors from hiring migrant workers, including domestic workers. Ensure domestic workers are included in anti-trafficking and labor law protections.
  • Prevention through Responsible Recruitment: Provide adequate government oversight of recruitment agencies, including through registration, licensing, and monitoring. Governments should publish the names and contact details of all licensed and registered recruiters, as well as those under investigation for non-compliance or whose licenses have been revoked. Recruitment agencies should be held accountable in a manner to deter their engaging in activities that exacerbate workers’ vulnerability to human trafficking—such as visa trading, charging workers for the cost of recruitment, and contract switching.
  • Specialized Units: Establish specialized units in concerned ministries and agencies focused on human trafficking, including forced labor, and provide training to law enforcement, labor, and judicial officials on trafficking indicators and victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches. Empower units with mandates to proactively investigate labor exploitation cases and conduct parallel financial investigations with a view to identify human trafficking and related money laundering. Encourage collaboration across directorates and ministries, including labor, as well as public and private financial institutions, to facilitate criminal prosecution of forced labor cases.
  • Screening and Assistance: Implement formal identification, referral, and assistance procedures, including in detention centers and among vulnerable populations, using a victim-centered approach that is also informed by the input and recommendations of survivors. Facilitate access to complaint mechanisms and dispute resolution, arbitration, and pro-bono representation to help victims pursue legal civil and criminal remedies. Allow victims to submit testimony in written form or via recording to protect them. Advise them on how to secure restitution and payment of back wages.


  • Memoranda of Understanding with Governments: Strengthen and enforce bilateral labor agreements with labor sending countries to include provisions on minimum wages, recruitment oversight, and entitlements such as work hours, mandatory time off, and in-home living and working conditions. Agreements could also include methods of coordination and cooperation on active cross-border human trafficking cases that involve victims and perpetrators from both countries. Governments should actively implement these agreements and ensure their offered protections are implemented in practice.
  • Diplomatic Households: Increase efforts to inform and train diplomatic personnel about the crime of human trafficking and the applicable anti-trafficking law in the country of residence. Institute a system of in-person registration and interviews for domestic workers of diplomatic personnel, so as to regularize communication, monitor their treatment, and potentially identify instances of abuse or human trafficking.
  • Cross-country Collaboration: Investigate allegations of forced labor reported by repatriated victims, offer judicial assistance such as providing remote statements from victims to be used in court proceedings, and extradite traffickers. Facilitate accreditation and monitoring of recruitment agencies between countries of origin and destination. Cooperate with the corporate business sector to encourage and facilitate ethical sourcing in supply chains. Establish a regional research and training center to train frontline stakeholders on human trafficking case identification and management.

Letter on LGBTQI+ Vulnerability to Human Trafficking

The Department of State received the following letter in response to its annual “Federal Register” notice requesting information relevant to countries’ progress in addressing human trafficking.  By publishing it, with the author’s consent, the Department seeks to shine a light on a population particularly vulnerable to human trafficking that is often misunderstood and overlooked.  The Department has highlighted the vulnerability of LGBTQI+ individuals, the trafficking risks they face, and the challenges associated with victim identification and protection around the world.  The circumstances of LGBTQI+ individuals, including threats of public disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are not isolated to foreign countries.

Dear Reader,

It was the winter after my 19th year; my mother was informed that I was seeing a boy. The conversation started, “I have never been so humiliated; how was I supposed to maintain my composure?” After a few moments of inquiring, I was informed of what was so humiliating to her, me. I knew my family loathed gays. I had grown up in the United States during the AIDS pandemic, hearing “the only good [expletive] is a dead one,” or “it is their punishment for being how they are, they deserve it.” My family openly praised my uncle’s contraction of HIV and waited for his death. When the tables turned onto me, I already knew their opinions. When I was told, “you will either be a child of mine or gay,” I simply said fine and walked out the door with the few items I could carry. That was the year Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead hanging on a fence.

That first month I was learning the ‘safe’ spots to park my car to sleep. I was cleaning up in bathrooms and going to college and work. Then the church started the process of ex-communication to revoke my college scholarships because they believed I was willingly living my life in sin. I finished out the semester and decided I would wait for a bit to finish college. After four years and three promotions at work, I was told, “you are too gay; if you want to continue working here, you will go back in the closet.” I figured within the previous two months I had already lost my house, my family, and my college scholarship—at that point, what was my job? I went to the city north of my hometown and started couch surfing with people from the clubs I went to.

I then started working in escorting services through a bar where I didn’t know the rates charged, didn’t handle the money, and had little to no control over refusing clients who were violent or wouldn’t use condoms. Some of us were there to pay off the debts owed to the bar owner. We were given drugs that kept us numb. Our debts were too high. We paid daily for a bed, for the space at the bar, for the help the bar owners gave us. When we couldn’t pay, we slept on subways, in empty warehouses, in cars, or on couches. We traveled a lot; we were always on the road between cities, between states, and wherever we were told to go. Thankfully, a bar owner friend would stitch us up without a hospital visit when we were hurt, so we didn’t have another bill. There were always lies, and it was never as glamorous as we were promised. Do you get to choose to be abused in a society where death is the alternative?

Living in abandoned places meant our cars were taken, we were mugged, we had our modest apartments broke into—life was hard. In three years, I had slept with over 500 people. When there was an error at the local health clinic, and my blood got mixed up with another person’s, I tested false positive for AIDS. I always expected to test positive, so when I retested, I was in shock when it came back negative. I left the escort service at that point. I knew I was playing with fire.

Many of us loathe the churches that allowed us to be abused with their hatred of us from the pulpit. Many of us are sexually assaulted by family, peers in schools, our ministers, or coaches. Over half of us on the streets are there because we were thrown out for being ourselves. Forty percent of those on the streets are LGBTQI+. We are the unwanted, the forgotten, the lost kids of the streets that no one misses or looks for. We aren’t victims because we “chose” this life. We are trafficked to survive; we are abused because we are unwanted, and we have to fight to be heard in the society we live in. Our bodies are lying in alleys and warehouses unnoticed; we are pawns in a system that doesn’t care about us. We need to overcome the years of institutional bias and discrimination by politicians trying to criminalize our use of bathrooms or marriages. We need to be seen as people. We need to be seen as people experiencing victimization. We need to be told this isn’t normal and that we are experiencing victimization.

–Nat Paul
Subject Matter Expert with Lived Experience of Human Trafficking

When the Government is the Trafficker: State-Sponsored Trafficking in Persons

While the TVPA and the UN TIP Protocol call on governments to proactively address trafficking crimes, some governments are part of the problem, directly compelling their citizens into sex trafficking or forced labor.  From forced labor in local or national public work projects, military operations, economically important sectors, or as part of government-funded projects or missions abroad to sexual slavery on government compounds, officials use their power to exploit their nationals.  To extract this work or service, governments coerce by threatening the withdrawal of public benefits, withholding salaries, failing to adhere to limits on national service, manipulating the lack of legal status of stateless individuals and other minority groups, threatening to punish family members, or conditioning services, food, or freedom of movement on labor or sex.

In 2019, Congress amended the TVPA to acknowledge that governments can also act as traffickers, referring specifically to a “government policy or pattern” of human trafficking, human trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers.  While the TVPA already directs the Secretary to consider the extent to which officials participated in, facilitated, condoned, or were otherwise complicit in trafficking when determining tier rankings, this new section more directly links government involvement in trafficking crimes to a Tier 3 ranking.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report marked the first time the U.S. Department of State applied this new provision, finding 12 governments had a “policy or pattern” of trafficking, including:  Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.

The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report includes the following 11 governments with a documented “policy or pattern” of human trafficking, trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers:

Korea, North
South Sudan

The 2021 narratives provided detailed examples to justify this assessment, such as:

  • The Government of Burma had a policy or pattern of use of children for forced labor by the military.  The international monitor-verified use of children in labor and support roles by certain military battalions increased in conflict zones, predominantly in Rakhine and Kachin States.  Additionally, the military continued to rely on local communities to source labor and supplies, thereby perpetuating conditions enabling the forced labor of adults and children.
  • The Chinese government had a government policy or pattern of widespread forced labor, including through the continued mass arbitrary detention of more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang).  Authorities continued to implement these policies in other provinces, targeted other religious minorities under their auspices, and sought the coerced repatriation and internment of religious and ethnic minorities living abroad through the use of surveillance, harassment and threats against them and their family members, and extradition requests.  The government also reportedly placed ethnic Tibetans in vocational training and manufacturing jobs as part of an ostensible “poverty alleviation” and “labor transfer program” that featured overt coercive elements.
  • The Government of Russia had a government policy or pattern of trafficking.  The government was actively complicit in the forced labor of North Korean workers.  The government did not screen North Korean workers for trafficking indicators or identify any North Korean trafficking victims, despite credible reports in previous years that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) operated work camps in Russia and exploited thousands of North Korean workers in forced labor.  Although the government took steps to repatriate North Korean workers in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs), citizens from the DPRK continued to arrive throughout the year, many of whom likely engaged in informal labor.  While the Russian government reported the number of North Korean workers in Russia declined in 2020, the government issued almost 3,000 new tourist and student visas to North Koreans in 2020 in an apparent attempt to circumvent the UNSCRs.

Forced Labor in China’s Xinjiang Region

Over the last four years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has carried out a mass detention and political indoctrination campaign against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), a large region in western China.  The courageous voices of survivors, their family members abroad, researchers, and international advocacy groups have thoroughly documented the PRC’s discriminatory use of surveillance technologies and trumped-up administrative and criminal charges to abduct and detain more than one million Muslims, including Uyghurs, ethnic Hui, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, ethnic Tajiks, and ethnic Uzbeks, in as many as 1,200 state-run internment camps throughout Xinjiang.  Detention in these camps is intended to erase ethnic and religious identities under the pretext of “vocational training.”  Forced labor is a central tactic used for this repression.

In Xinjiang, the government is the trafficker.  Authorities use threats of physical violence, forcible drug intake, physical and sexual abuse, and torture to force detainees to work in adjacent or off-site factories or worksites producing garments, footwear, carpets, yarn, food products, holiday decorations, building materials, extractives, materials for solar power equipment and other renewable energy components, consumer electronics, bedding, hair products, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, face masks, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other goods—and these goods are finding their way into businesses and homes around the world.

International outcry has grown since these abuses were first made public.  The PRC initially denied all allegations, dismissing them as international “interference” in its domestic affairs.  Confronted, however, with eyewitness testimony and thoroughly researched reporting from multiple sources, the PRC eventually admitted the existence of the camps.  PRC officials then defended the facilities as necessary measures to counter “terrorism,” while also claiming that many of them had already been closed.  In reality, they had grown in number and in size, with hundreds of thousands of victims “graduating” and being sent to larger and more technologically advanced prisons under false terrorism-related charges.  The government also began transferring many thousands of camp detainees elsewhere in Xinjiang and to other provinces throughout the country under the guise of a “poverty alleviation” program in which companies and local governments received subsidies for forcing them to labor in manufacturing.

With so many disappeared into and abused within this system, entire communities in Xinjiang—communities with rich histories and immeasurable cultural significance—have become ghost towns.  Those who have managed to avoid detention are still at risk of state-sponsored forced labor and other abuses.  The PRC government’s Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (Bingtuan), an economic and paramilitary organization with administrative control over several areas in the region comprising nearly three million personnel, forces members of prison populations and local communities alike to work in hazardous mining, construction, manufacturing, food processing, and—for many thousands of Uyghur adults and children—cotton harvesting.  These products and raw materials are injected into international supply chains, spreading the PRC’s forced labor complicity around the globe.

The international community has taken tough action to promote accountability for the PRC’s actions and strengthen market defenses against the import of these goods.  For example, in the United States, the Departments of State, the Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security released the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory to alert businesses and other entities to the reputational, economic, and legal risks of involvement with entities in or linked to Xinjiang.  In addition, since 2019 the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has issued 10 Withhold Release Orders against goods and companies connected to forced labor in Xinjiang to block their entry into the United States.  Likewise, many companies have taken a stand against the use of forced labor in China by cutting ties with suppliers in Xinjiang or those connected to the PRC’s campaign of repression—at times earning them heavy consumer and state-run media backlash within the Chinese domestic market.

Governments should protect and serve their citizens—not terrorize and subjugate them for profit.  Around the world, governments, companies, and consumers committed to eliminating human trafficking from global supply chains can all play a role in demanding an end to the use of forced labor in Xinjiang and beyond.

Section 402 of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, as amended (CSPA) requires publication in the annual TIP Report of a list of foreign governments identified during the previous year as having governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces, or government-supported armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers, as defined in the CSPA. These determinations cover the reporting period beginning April 1, 2020 and ending March 31, 2021.

For the purpose of the CSPA, and generally consistent with the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the term “child soldier” means:

i. any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces;

ii. any person under 18 years of age who has been compulsorily recruited into governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces;

iii. any person under 15 years of age who has been voluntarily recruited into governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces; or

iv. any person under 18 years of age who has been recruited or used in hostilities by armed forces distinct from the armed forces of a state.

The term “child soldier” includes any person described in clauses (ii), (iii), or (iv) who is serving in any capacity, including in a support role, such as a “cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.”

Governments identified on the list are subject to restrictions, in the following fiscal year, on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment. The CSPA prohibits assistance to governments that are identified in the list under the following authorities: International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing, Excess Defense Articles, and Peacekeeping Operations, with exceptions for some programs undertaken pursuant to the Peacekeeping Operations authority. The CSPA also prohibits the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of military equipment to such governments. Beginning October 1, 2021, and effective throughout Fiscal Year 2022, these restrictions will apply to the listed countries, absent a presidential waiver, applicable exception, or reinstatement of assistance pursuant to the terms of the CSPA. The determination to include a government in the CSPA list is informed by a range of sources, including first-hand observation by U.S. government personnel and research and credible reporting from various UN entities, international organizations, local and international NGOs, and international and domestic media outlets.

The 2021 CSPA List Includes Governments of the Following Countries: 

Congo, Democratic Republic of the
South Sudan

The Department of State prepared this Report using information from U.S. embassies, government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, consultations with authorities and organizations in every region of the world, and information submitted to  This email address provides a means by which organizations and individuals can share information with the Department of State throughout the year on government progress in addressing human trafficking.

U.S. diplomatic posts and domestic agencies reported on the human trafficking situation and governmental action to fight trafficking based on thorough research that included meetings with a wide variety of government officials, local and international NGO representatives, officials of international organizations, journalists, academics, and survivors.  U.S. missions overseas are dedicated to covering human trafficking issues year-round.  The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report covers government efforts undertaken from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.

Tier Placement

The Department places each country in this Report onto one of four tiers, as mandated by the TVPA.  This placement is based not on the size of a country’s problem but on the extent of government efforts to meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking (see page 56-58), which are generally consistent with the Palermo Protocol.

While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the crime.  Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has made efforts to address the problem that meet the TVPA’s minimum standards.  To maintain a Tier 1 ranking, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress each year in combating trafficking.  Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve.

Tier rankings and narratives in the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report reflect an assessment of the following:

  • enactment of laws prohibiting severe forms of trafficking in persons, as defined by the TVPA, and provision of criminal punishments for trafficking crimes;
  • criminal penalties prescribed for human trafficking crimes with a maximum of at least four years’ deprivation of liberty, or a more severe penalty;
  • implementation of human trafficking laws through vigorous prosecution of the prevalent forms of trafficking in the country and sentencing of traffickers;
  • proactive victim identification measures with systematic procedures to guide law enforcement and other government-supported front-line responders in the process of victim identification;
  • government funding and partnerships with NGOs to provide victims with access to primary health care, counseling, and shelter, allowing them to recount their trafficking experiences to trained counselors and law enforcement in an environment of minimal pressure;
  • victim protection efforts that include access to services and shelter without detention and with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship;
  • the extent to which a government ensures victims are provided with legal and other assistance and that, consistent with domestic law, proceedings are not prejudicial to victims’ rights, dignity, or psychological well-being;
  • the extent to which a government ensures the safe, humane, and to the extent possible, voluntary repatriation and reintegration of victims;
  • governmental measures to prevent human trafficking, including efforts to curb practices identified as contributing factors to human trafficking, such as employers’ confiscation of foreign workers’ passports and allowing labor recruiters to charge fees to prospective migrants; and
  • governmental efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and international sex tourism.

Tier rankings and narratives are NOT affected by the following:

  • efforts, however laudable, undertaken exclusively by nongovernmental actors in the country;
  • general public awareness events—government-sponsored or otherwise—lacking concrete ties to the prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims, or prevention of trafficking; and
  • broad-based law enforcement or developmental initiatives.

A Guide to the Tiers

Tier 1

Countries whose governments fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Tier 2

Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Tier 2 Watch List

Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and for which:

  • the estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions; or
  • there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials.

Tier 3

Countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

The TVPA, as amended, lists additional factors to determine whether a country should be on Tier 2 (or Tier 2 Watch List) versus Tier 3:

  • the extent to which the country is a country of origin, transit, or destination for severe forms of trafficking;
  • the extent to which the country’s government does not meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and, in particular, the extent to which officials or government employees have been complicit in severe forms of trafficking;
  • reasonable measures that the government would need to undertake to be in compliance with the minimum standards in light of the government’s resources and capabilities to address and eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons;
  • the extent to which the government is devoting sufficient budgetary resources to investigate and prosecute human trafficking, convict and sentence traffickers; and obtain restitution for victims of human trafficking; and
  • the extent to which the government is devoting sufficient budgetary resources to protect victims and prevent the crime from occurring.

In addition, the TVPA directs the Secretary of State to consider, as proof of a country’s failure to make significant efforts to fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, a government policy or pattern of: trafficking; trafficking in government-funded programs; forced labor (in government-affiliated medical services, agriculture, forestry, mining, construction, or other sectors); sexual slavery in government camps, compounds, or outposts; or employing or recruiting child soldiers.

The TVPA also provides that any country that has been ranked Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years and that would otherwise be ranked Tier 2 Watch List for the next year will instead be ranked Tier 3 in that third year.  The Secretary of State is authorized to waive this automatic downgrade only once, in that third year, based on credible evidence that a waiver is justified because the government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement the plan.  The following year, a country must either go up to Tier 2 or down to Tier 3.  Finally, the TVPA limits a country to one year on Tier 2 Watch List after that country received a waiver to stay on the Watch List and was subsequently downgraded to Tier 3.

Funding Restrictions for Tier 3 Countries

Pursuant to the TVPA, governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on foreign assistance, whereby the President may determine not to provide U.S. government nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance as defined in the TVPA.  In addition, the President may determine to withhold funding for government official or employee participation in educational and cultural exchange programs in the case of certain Tier 3 countries.  Consistent with the TVPA, the President may also determine to instruct the U.S. Executive Director of each multilateral development bank and the International Monetary Fund to vote against and use their best efforts to deny any loans or other uses of the institutions’ funds to a designated Tier 3 country for most purposes (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance).  Alternatively, the President may waive application of the foregoing restrictions upon a determination that the provision to a Tier 3 country of such assistance would promote the purposes of the TVPA or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States.  The TVPA also authorizes the President to waive these restrictions if necessary to avoid significant adverse effects on vulnerable populations, including women and girls, and children.

Applicable assistance restrictions apply for the next Fiscal Year, which begins October 1, 2021.

No tier ranking is permanent.  Every country, including the United States, can do more.  All countries must continually increase efforts to combat trafficking.

Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Div. A of Pub. L. No. 106-386, § 108, as amended.

1. The government of the country should prohibit severe forms of trafficking in persons and punish acts of such trafficking.

2. For the knowing commission of any act of sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion, or in which the victim of sex trafficking is a child incapable of giving meaningful consent, or of trafficking which includes rape or kidnapping or which causes a death, the government of the country should prescribe punishment commensurate with that for grave crimes, such as forcible sexual assault.

3. For the knowing commission of any act of a severe form of trafficking in persons, the government of the country should prescribe punishment that is sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflects the heinous nature of the offense.

4. The government of the country should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.

Indicia of “Serious and Sustained Efforts”

1. Whether the government of the country vigorously investigates and prosecutes acts of severe forms of trafficking in persons, and convicts and sentences persons responsible for such acts, that take place wholly or partly within the territory of the country, including, as appropriate, requiring incarceration of individuals convicted of such acts. For purposes of the preceding sentence, suspended or significantly reduced sentences for convictions of principal actors in cases of severe forms of trafficking in persons shall be considered, on a case-by-case basis, whether to be considered an indicator of serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons. After reasonable requests from the Department of State for data regarding investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences, a government which does not provide such data, consistent with a demonstrably increasing capacity of such government to obtain such data, shall be presumed not to have vigorously investigated, prosecuted, convicted or sentenced such acts.

2. Whether the government of the country protects victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons and encourages their assistance in the investigation and prosecution of such trafficking, including provisions for legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship, and ensures that victims are not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts as a direct result of being trafficked, including by providing training to law enforcement and immigration officials regarding the identification and treatment of trafficking victims using approaches that focus on the needs of the victims.

3. Whether the government of the country has adopted measures to prevent severe forms of trafficking in persons, such as measures to inform and educate the public, including potential victims, about the causes and consequences of severe forms of trafficking in persons, measures to establish the identity of local populations, including birth registration, citizenship, and nationality, measures to ensure that its nationals who are deployed abroad as part of a diplomatic, peacekeeping, or other similar mission do not engage in or facilitate severe forms of trafficking in persons or exploit victims of such trafficking, a transparent system for remediating or punishing such public officials as a deterrent, measures to prevent the use of forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards, effective bilateral, multilateral, or regional information sharing and cooperation arrangements with other countries, and effective policies or laws regulating foreign labor recruiters and holding them civilly and criminally liable for fraudulent recruiting.

4. Whether the government of the country cooperates with other governments in the investigation and prosecution of severe forms of trafficking in persons and has entered into bilateral, multilateral, or regional law enforcement cooperation and coordination arrangements with other countries.

5. Whether the government of the country extradites persons charged with acts of severe forms of trafficking in persons on substantially the same terms and to substantially the same extent as persons charged with other serious crimes (or, to the extent such extradition would be inconsistent with the laws of such country or with international agreements to which the country is a party, whether the government is taking all appropriate measures to modify or replace such laws and treaties so as to permit such extradition).

6. Whether the government of the country monitors immigration and emigration patterns for evidence of severe forms of trafficking in persons and whether law enforcement agencies of the country respond to any such evidence in a manner that is consistent with the vigorous investigation and prosecution of acts of such trafficking, as well as with the protection of human rights of victims and the internationally recognized human right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to one’s own country.

7. Whether the government of the country vigorously investigates, prosecutes, convicts, and sentences public officials, including diplomats and soldiers, who participate in or facilitate severe forms of trafficking in persons, including nationals of the country who are deployed abroad as part of a diplomatic, peacekeeping, or other similar mission who engage in or facilitate severe forms of trafficking in persons or exploit victims of such trafficking, and takes all appropriate measures against officials who condone or enable such trafficking. A government’s failure to appropriately address public allegations against such public officials, especially once such officials have returned to their home countries, shall be considered inaction under these criteria. After reasonable requests from the Department of State for data regarding such investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences, a government which does not provide such data, consistent with a demonstrably increasing capacity of such government to obtain such data, shall be presumed not to have vigorously investigated, prosecuted, convicted, or sentenced such acts.

8. Whether the percentage of victims of severe forms of trafficking in the country that are non-citizens of such countries is insignificant.

9. Whether the government has entered into effective, transparent partnerships, cooperative arrangements, or agreements that have resulted in concrete and measurable outcomes with –

a. domestic civil society organizations, private sector entities, or international nongovernmental organizations, or into multilateral or regional arrangements or agreements, to assist the government’s efforts to prevent trafficking, protect victims, and punish traffickers; or

b. the United States toward agreed goals and objectives in the collective fight against trafficking.

10. Whether the government of the country, consistent with the capacity of such government, systematically monitors its efforts to satisfy the criteria described in paragraphs (1) through (8) and makes available publicly a periodic assessment of such efforts.

11. Whether the government of the country achieves appreciable progress in eliminating severe forms of trafficking when compared to the assessment in the previous year.

12. Whether the government of the country has made serious and sustained efforts to reduce the demand for –

a. commercial sex acts; and

b. participation in international sex tourism by nationals of the country.

Countries in the 2021 TIP Report that are not Party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

Congo, Republic of the
Korea, North
Marshall Islands
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands
South Sudan

Between April 2020 and March 2021, Comoros and Nepal became States Parties to the Protocol.

The 2003 reauthorization of the TVPA added to the original law a new requirement that foreign governments provide the Department of State with data on trafficking investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences in order to fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking (Tier 1). The 2004 TIP Report collected this data for the first time. The 2007 TIP Report showed for the first time a breakout of the number of total prosecutions and convictions that related to labor trafficking, placed in parentheses.

2014 10,051 (418) 4,443 (216) 44,462 (11,438) 20
2015 19,127 (857) 6,615 (456) 77,823 (14,262) 30
2016 14,939 (1,038) 9,072 (717) 68,453 (17,465) 25
2017 17,471 (869) 7,135 (332) 96,960 (23,906) 5
2018 11,096 (457) 7,481 (259) 85,613 (11,009) 5
2019 11,841 (1,024) 9,548 (498) 118,932 (13,875) 7
2020 9,876 (1,115) 5,271 (337) 109,216 (14,448) 16

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.

Each year, the Department of State honors individuals around the world who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. These individuals include NGO workers, lawmakers, government officials, survivors of human trafficking, and concerned citizens. They are recognized for their tireless efforts – despite some working in challenging environments where human trafficking concerns remain pervasive and facing resistance, opposition, or threats to their lives – to protect victims, punish offenders, and mitigate the underlying factors that cause vulnerabilities traffickers often target.

For more information about current and past TIP Report Heroes, please visit the TIP Report Heroes Global Network at

Imelda Poole | Albania

Sister Imelda Poole’s leadership in the fight against human trafficking extends far beyond her own work to inspire others.  A force of nature, she has prioritized achieving systemic change through grassroots action and effective networking.  At the local and regional levels, she is persistent in advancing advocacy, outreach, and rehabilitation services to combat human trafficking.

Poole is a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mary Ward) congregation and serves as president of the Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE), a network of European women religious from 21 countries combating human trafficking.  She has traveled throughout Europe, mentoring and training others and becoming a leading spokesperson for anti-trafficking initiatives in Europe.

Always discerning the needs of the moment, Poole adapts to meet new challenges.  When her ministry moved to Albania in 2005, she quickly established the anti-trafficking NGO Mary Ward Loreto (MWL) in Albania.  Under Poole’s strategic direction, MWL addresses the root causes of human trafficking, focusing on communities where Roma, migrants, women, and children are most vulnerable.  Poole and her staff have worked with more than 3,000 women.  They have set up 16 economic empowerment businesses throughout Albania, which aim to decrease women’s risk of exploitation by providing opportunities to participate in entrepreneurial projects in tourism, design, and education, among others.  In the past year, the MWL team has fervently worked to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and families in Albania affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to human trafficking.

Because of her passion for the cause to which she has committed her life, Poole works across borders to cultivate support for combating human trafficking and protecting vulnerable communities.

Josiane Lina Bemaka-Soui | Central African Republic

Josiane Lina Bemaka-Soui has developed the Central African Republic’s national anti-trafficking response from the ground up.  In her role as Presidential Advisor and the national Disarmament, Demobilization, and Repatriation program’s Strategic Focal Point for Children, Bemaka-Soui operationalized the government’s nascent anti-trafficking interagency committee and led the development and implementation of the country’s first national action plan on human trafficking.  Bemaka-Soui’s tireless leadership and her efforts to forge these institutional frameworks resulted in the critical foundation for the government to steadily improve its efforts to combat human trafficking.

While facing pre- and post-election crises and an ongoing strain on resources, Bemaka-Soui has steadfastly made sure the interagency committee remains consistently engaged on the issue, and she has played a pivotal role in marshalling assistance from key partners and developing key training and outreach programs.  In February 2021, Bemaka-Soui spearheaded and oversaw the launch of  the government’s first radio campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking in the local language of Sango, thereby allowing the government to reach key communities.

Bemaka-Soui is also sensitive to the effects that human trafficking has on individuals and their communities. She has gone out of her way to meet with individuals in facilities for internally displaced persons, who may have been exploited, and made sure they were aware of their rights under the country’s laws.  Equally notable, she has personally assisted former child soldiers released from prison and used her own money to help cover expenses for necessities.

Chantal Sagbo Sasse ep. Guedet Mandzela | Gabon

Chantal Sagbo Sasse has been at the forefront of Gabon’s anti-trafficking movement for more than two decades.  She launched one of the country’s preeminent NGOs dedicated to combating child trafficking, Service International de la Formation des Enfants de la Rue (SIFOS), in 2000 and has led the organization since its founding.

Under Sagbo Sasse’s courageous leadership and vision, SIFOS offers critical education to children who have experienced human trafficking, homelessness, or residential institutionalization.  She has diligently worked with community members, law enforcement and government officials, and other NGOs to ensure the country is proactively identifying victims and referring them to care.  Through her early work, Sagbo Sasse frequently interacted and established a deep connection with children who had survived human trafficking, many who were coming from Benin, her country of origin.  She and her team have developed anti-trafficking monitoring cells throughout the country’s capital composed of community members, whom SIFOS has trained and empowered to identify human trafficking within vulnerable populations, and to safely report suspected cases to authorities.  From 2000 to 2020, SIFOS helped identify 578 child trafficking victims and reintegrate 9,039 children into local society.

Sagbo Sasse was also a crucial member of Gabon’s anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee and remains the country’s foremost leader on this issue.  In this committee, she played a major role in promoting victim identification and protections for child trafficking victims.  While the government disbanded the committee in 2019 due to a lack of funding, Sagbo Sasse continued to give her time to be a key advisor to government officials, closely coordinating with relevant ministries on victim identification and referral efforts.

Shoichi Ibusuki | Japan

Shoichi Ibusuki has been an unrelenting champion of protecting foreign workers’ rights, and he has worked tirelessly for years on behalf of foreign technical trainees to assist victims of forced labor and prevent abuse within Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program.  He is the Co-President of the Lawyers’ Network for Technical Intern Trainees, the President of the Lawyers Network for Foreign Workers, and a prominent legal expert in foreign labor issues.  Ibusuki’s advocacy, along with his unwavering and admirable dedication to helping foreign nationals enduring labor exploitation and protecting their human rights, have brought these issues to the forefront and raised their profile within Japan and around the world.

Ibusuki has sought justice on behalf of countless foreign workers by providing legal representation for those who are taking action against former employees for labor law violations.  Ibusuki not only has represented trafficking victims, many of whom participated in Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program, but also has been an outspoken advocate about the presence of forced labor in the program.  These courageous efforts have pushed the government to start identifying these individuals as human trafficking victims.  Ibusuki has gone further by advocating for the government to prohibit employers from retaining foreign workers’ passports and for Japan to impose tighter control on exploitation and human rights violations by labor brokers and intermediaries in sending countries. These measures will go a long way to preventing labor abuse and exploitation, especially forced labor.

Shakhnoza Khassanova | Kazakhstan

Shakhnoza Khassanova is the director of the Legal Center for Women’s Initiatives, “Sana Sezim.”  She has more than a decade of impressive experience raising awareness about human trafficking, advocating for greater victim protections, and aiding migrants and victims of human trafficking from across Central Asia.  Founded in 2001, Sana Sezim has been a premier anti-trafficking organization in Kazakhstan and has greatly advanced efforts within the country to end human trafficking and help labor migrants.

Led by Khassanova, Sana Sezim has worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to keep its shelter open for trafficking victims and to raise awareness about safe migration and human trafficking.  Khassanova and Sana Sezim have bravely remained on the front lines to continue assisting migrants stranded at the Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan border due to pandemic closures, and who thus faced increased risk to human trafficking.  Sana Sezim also negotiated and partnered with government agencies in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to open repatriation channels for more than 100,000 stranded migrants amid government-mandated lockdowns and public health emergencies.

Under the unparalleled leadership and direction of Khassanova, Sana Sezim continues to provide access to justice for victims of trafficking by building the organizational capacity of civil society organizations and the judicial system to combat trafficking in persons.  Khassanova also works closely with local police to assist victims of trafficking who choose to participate in criminal proceedings.

Khassanova is highly respected by government officials and partners from international organizations. She trains government officials regularly, sharing important experiences on working with victims at Sana Sezim’s human trafficking shelter.

Guillermina Cabrera Figueroa | Mexico

Guillermina Cabrera Figueroa is the specialized prosecutor for human trafficking for the State of Mexico.  In addition to her anti-trafficking accomplishments in her current position, she has a track record of championing the rights of trafficking victims and providing them with services.

With her determination, endless work, and leadership while working in the federal government’s Specialized Investigations Office on Organized Crime, Mexico obtained its first criminal sentencing for crimes involving human trafficking and organized crime in June 2011.  In March 2013, Cabrera accepted the position of specialized prosecutor for human trafficking at the State of Mexico Attorney General’s Office.  In this position, Cabrera plays a pivotal role in advancing the office’s ability to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases.  Since joining the Attorney General’s Office, her team has obtained 73 human trafficking convictions, issued 152 indictments for human trafficking, and initiated 941 human trafficking investigations.  She continues to be a guiding force, bringing out the best in her team.

Throughout her longstanding and impressive career in law enforcement, she has led multiple trainings for government personnel.  In an environment with extremely limited access to critical protection services, Cabrera and her office led efforts to secure funding for the creation of three victim shelters in Toluca, Huixquilucan, and Texcoco, which can now house up to 210 victims of trafficking.  Her office oversees the three shelters and partners with the inter-secretarial human trafficking commission, civil society organizations, among others to keep them running and provide services to the residents.

Mohammed al-Obaidly | Qatar

Mohammed al-Obaidly is one of the most important Qatari figures advocating for labor and human trafficking reforms in Qatar.  As an Assistant Undersecretary within the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs, he has initiated or executed many of the policies and programs that have had significant impacts for trafficking victims.  These include the creation of Labor Dispute Resolution Committees, the opening of the first and only shelter in the country for human trafficking victims, the removal of exit permit requirements for migrant workers, implementation of the minimum wage, and abolishment of the No Objection Certificate (migrant workers were previously required to obtain these certificates from their employer to transfer to another employer).

Qatar remains a difficult place for many migrant workers, and forced labor remains a serious concern in the country.  Al-Obaidly has not solved Qatar’s human trafficking or labor rights problems, and he would admit it.  However, he and his team at the Ministry have continued to strive toward the goal of increasing transparency and protections against forced labor for migrant workers.

Al-Obaidly and his team have been strategic and persistent in the drive to instill real change, even when the task at hand seemed impossible.  Despite facing resistance and, at times, criticism, he and his team continue to work toward the implementation of labor reforms and improvement of workers’ lives.  Most striking, al-Obaidly empowers his team and takes every opportunity for them to engage and share information with the public, including vulnerable communities, slowly building a passion for labor reforms within the Ministry.

Rocío Mora-Nieto | Spain

For 26 years, Rocío Mora-Nieto has dedicated her efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of women and, since the 1990s, sex trafficking in Spain through her work as director of the Association for the Prevention, Reintegration and Assistance of Prostituted Women (APRAMP). An outstanding and passionate activist, she has led APRAMP to be a pioneer in the implementation of strategies aimed at improving coordination between the judiciary, state security forces, and the national government, which has resulted in an effective blow against criminal organizations responsible for sex trafficking in Spain.

As APRAMP’s director, Mora has implemented a comprehensive victim-centered approach, which is reflected in APRAMP’s mobile unit. Those with lived experience help run the mobile units, and they are able to effectively identify and approach potential trafficking victims. In addition, APRAMP has a 24-hour hotline, short-term shelters, multidisciplinary care centers, witness protection resources, legal advice, psychological support, a job education center, and self-employment workshops.

During the three months of Spain’s lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, under Mora’s leadership, APRAMP quickly redirected its efforts toward the detection of new spaces where commercial sex was happening. Doing so allowed the organization to continue connecting with potential trafficking victims, now hidden in private apartments and clandestine areas instead of clubs and brothels, which had been ordered to close due to the lockdown along with all other public spaces. As a result, APRAMP was able to remain active in reporting on sex trafficking trends, thus providing strategic information to other relevant stakeholders. During the pandemic, APRAMP also created intervention guides that set the standard for recent government guidelines for serving victims of trafficking.

The victim stories and photographs included in this report are meant to be illustrative [see PDF version for photos].  They characterize the many—though not all—forms of human trafficking and the wide variety of situations and location in which they occur.  Each victim story is based on real experiences, and the victims’ names have been changed as a result.  In many cases, the photographs of individuals used in this report are not images of confirmed human trafficking victims.  When victims or survivors are in a photo, identifying features have been removed or the photographer took the photo in collaboration with the individual pictured.


Liam and Jakob were experiencing homelessness in northern Europe when a person they thought was a prospective employer offered them a job in construction, along with room and board, in a neighboring country.  They left their country with fake passports and worked hard laying asphalt and stone in residential neighborhoods.  Their “employer” forced the men to work long hours, continually reduced their wages, and physically abused them.  They were routinely moved around and often unsure of where they were located.  When their “employer” abruptly left, the men were able to seek assistance at their national embassy.  Eventually, their “employer” was arrested and convicted of human trafficking.


Facing extreme poverty in India due to COVID-19, Aarav’s parents sold him for US $21 to the owner of a bangle factory. The owner locked the 12-year-old in a dirty room with several other children and forced them to make bangles for 15 hours a day, using lacquer melted over dangerous burning coal and making only US $0.70 a week. The owner kept Aarav from communicating with his family and threatened physical abuse if he tried to leave. After receiving a tip from child rights activists, police conducted a raid to remove the children from the factory and arrest the trafficker. The government provided Aarav and the other victims support in the aftermath of the raid.

Venezuela -- Guyana

Katherin paid US $1,500 to escape Venezuela and find security and opportunity in Guyana. Within a month, a man hired her as a bilingual attendant at his store in the capital city of Georgetown.  When she arrived, she learned her boss owned a roadside stall instead of a store.  She also learned she would not have the rent-free apartment he promised.  Instead, Katherin’s boss forced her to stay in his home.  After three weeks of work, she was only paid US $23, far below the promised salary.


At the age of 10, Salih and his schoolmates went outside to play soccer after the school day finished.  While kicking a ball in an abandoned field outside of Marib, Yemen, Houthi rebels came charging for the boys.  The rebels kidnapped and took Salih and his peers to the Houthi home base.

The Houthi rebels gave the boys weapons and forced them to fight and guard checkpoints.  During a raid, Salih managed to run away to a displaced persons camp.  Salih still suffers from hearing loss due to 
explosions and airstrikes.  Many former child soldiers suffer from panic attacks due to trauma.

Kazakhstan -- China

When Mei returned to Xinjiang Region in China to visit her ill father, Chinese officials stopped her at the border with Kazakhstan and seized her passport. They told her she could not go see her father, and that she must participate in 15 days of “education” because she was Muslim and an ethnic Kazakh. Mei instead spent more than a year in Chinese detention facilities where the authorities subjected her to political indoctrination and forced her to work in a factory making gloves for US $0.02 a pair. The Chinese authorities also made Mei stay in cells that were equipped with cameras and a loudspeaker. Eventually, they released Mei and allowed her to go back to Kazakhstan.


Benilda was 12 when her neighbor, Joriz, offered to provide her with an education and a job to pay her siblings’ school fees if she moved with him to Manila.  Benilda’s parents trusted Joriz, so they allowed her to go with him.  At first when she arrived in Manila, nothing seemed wrong; Benilda enjoyed a comfortable life and went to a good school.  That all changed when, after a few months, Joriz took a nude photo of Benilda and then forced her to pose naked in front of a webcam.  Joriz began sexually abusing Benilda on camera, live-streaming it to the internet for money.  From there, Joriz exploited Benilda in another form of sex trafficking by forcing her to engage in commercial sex acts at local hotels.  Law enforcement officers eventually identified Benilda, and social workers assisted her in getting the help she needed.

Chile -- United States

Vicente was thrilled when he was recruited and offered an educational visa to attend community college in the United States.  The college program promised free tuition for a two-year degree program in Culinary Arts, free room and board, and an internship.  After arriving in the United States, Vicente and several other Chilean students learned their program had been changed from a two-year program to a one-year program in food services.  Instead of an internship, the school required the Chilean students to work 40 hours per week in a meat processing plant to pay off a debt for the academic program—that they had been told would be tuition-free—and pay for food and housing out of their wages.  The school administrators forced Vicente and the other students to adhere to an exhausting work and academic schedule and threatened deportation and legal action if they failed to comply or skipped a work shift.  When the school closed the educational visa program after complaints were filed, it encouraged students to self-deport.

Tier Placements

Tier 1

Bahamas, The
Czech Republic
Korea, South
United Kingdom
United States of America

Tier 2

Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Cabo Verde
Central African Republic
Congo, Republic of the
Costa Rica
Cote D’Ivoire
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Kyrgyz Republic
New Zealand
North Macedonia
Saint Lucia
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Slovak Republic
Solomon Islands
United Arab Emirates

Tier 2 Watch List

Burkina Faso
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Equatorial Guinea
Gambia, The
Hong Kong
Marshall Islands
Papua New Guinea
Sint Maarten
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Trinidad and Tobago

Tier 3

Korea, North
South Sudan

Special Case


Regional Maps


2021 Trafficking in Persons Regional Map: Africa – Tier Placements: Tier 1 (green), Tier 2 (yellow), Tier 2 Watch List (orange), Tier 3 (red), Special Case (blue). Boundary representation is not authoritative.

2014 811 (49) 317 (33) 9,523 (1,308) 4
2015 1,517 (53) 719 (8) 12,125 (3,531) 6
2016 1,293 (54) 1,120 (21) 18,296 (13,205) 4
2017 1,325 (98) 515 (34) 26,517 (5,902) 2
2018 1,253 (37) 1,190 (29) 24,407 (3,749) 2
2019 955 (71) 2,122 (32) 42,517 (1,284) 2
2020 1,493 (251) 382 (107) 28,538 (6,947) 8

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.

East Asia & Pacific

2021 Trafficking in Persons Regional Map: East Asia & Pacific – Tier Placements: Tier 1 (green), Tier 2 (yellow), Tier 2 Watch List (orange), Tier 3 (red). Boundary representation is not authoritative.

2014 1,938 (88) 969 (16) 6,349 (1,084) 3
2015 3,414 (193) 1,730 (130) 13,990 (3,533) 10
2016 2,137 (51) 1,953 (31) 9,989 (310) 7
2017 2,949 (77) 3,227 (72) 4,915 (669) 0
2018 2,351 (63) 1,275 (16) 5,466 (291) 1
2019 3,276 (86) 3,662 (20) 14,132 (7,687) 2
2020 1,838 (70) 1,502 (12) 2,884 (691) 1

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.


2021 Trafficking in Persons Regional Map: Europe – Tier Placements: Tier 1 (green), Tier 2 (yellow), Tier 2 Watch List (orange), Tier 3 (red). Boundary representation is not authoritative. * Islands in the Caribbean Sea—although part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are covered by the Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

2014 4,199 (197) 1,585 (69) 11,910 (3,531) 5
2015 4,990 (272) 1,692 (245) 11,112 (3,733) 8
2016 2,703 (201) 1,673 (40) 13,349 (3,192) 3
2017 2,548 (179) 1,257 (53) 12,750 (3,330) 0
2018 2,394 (234) 1,379 (80) 16,838 (2,675) 1
2019 2,896 (106) 1,346 (41) 17,383 (1,369) 2
2020 2,355 (101) 1,291 (33) 18,173 (1,082) 2

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.

* Islands in the Caribbean Sea—although part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are covered by the Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Near East

2021 Trafficking in Persons Regional Map: Near East – Tier Placements: Tier 1 (green), Tier 2 (yellow), Tier 2 Watch List (orange), Tier 3 (red), Special Case (blue). Boundary representation is not authoritative.

2014 320 (5) 144 (25) 3,388 (2,460) 0
2015 480 (31) 343 (31) 6,068 (156) 0
2016 996 (591) 1,187 (582) 3,292 (185) 4
2017 974 (112) 104 (11) 1,834 (53) 0
2018 738 (10) 155 (7) 2,675 (83) 0
2019 788 (44) 419 (22) 3,619 (35) 0
2020 533 (106) 677 (84) 3,461 (1,827) 0

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.

South & Central Asia

2021 Trafficking in Persons Regional Map: South & Central Asia – Tier Placements: Tier 1 (green), Tier 2 (yellow), Tier 2 Watch List (orange), Tier 3 (red). Boundary representation is not authoritative.

2014 1,839 (12) 958 (10) 4,878 (1,041) 3
2015 6,930 (225) 1,468 (16) 24,867 (1,191) 0
2016 6,297 (72) 2,193 (19) 14,706 (464) 5
2017 8,105 (264) 1,063 (48) 40,857 (11,813) 2
2018 3,102 (41) 2,465 (9) 24,544 (1,841) 1
2019 2,602 (616) 1,156 (349) 28,929 (3,227) 1
2020 2,747 (532) 831 (74) 45,060 (3,275) 3

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.

Western Hemisphere

2021 Trafficking in Persons Regional Map: Western Hemisphere – Tier Placements: Tier 1 (green), Tier 2 (yellow), Tier 2 Watch List (orange), Tier 3 (red). Boundary representation is not authoritative.

2014 944 (67) 470 (63) 8,414 (2,014) 5
2015 1,796 (83) 663 (26) 9,661 (2,118) 6
2016 1,513 (69) 946 (24) 8,821 (109) 2
2017 1,571 (139) 969 (114) 10,011 (2,139) 1
2018 1,252 (72) 1,017 (177) 11,683 (2,370) 0
2019 1,324 (101) 843 (34) 12,352 (273) 0
2020 910 (55) 588 (27) 11,100 (626) 2

The above statistics are estimates derived from data provided by foreign governments and other sources and reviewed by the Department of State. Aggregate data fluctuates from one year to the next due to the hidden nature of trafficking crimes, dynamic global events, shifts in government efforts, and a lack of uniformity in national reporting structures. The numbers in parentheses are those of labor trafficking prosecutions, convictions, and victims identified.

This page shows a sample country narrative. The tier ranking justification appears in the first paragraph of each country narrative and includes language that explicitly highlights the factors supporting a given tier ranking. The Prosecution, Protection, and Prevention sections of each country narrative describe how a government has or has not addressed the relevant TVPA minimum standards (see pages 56-58), during the reporting period. This truncated narrative gives a few examples. [See PDF version.]

2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: How To Read a Country Narrative: This page shows a sample country narrative. The tier ranking justification appears in the first paragraph of each country narrative and includes language that explicitly highlights the factors supporting a given tier ranking. The Prosecution, Protection, and Prevention sections of each country narrative describe how a government has or has not addressed the relevant TVPA minimum standards, during the reporting period. This truncated narrative gives a few examples.

The chart below shows the Ratification, Accession (a), or Acceptance (A) of relevant international conventions for those countries that have ratified, acceded to, or accepted any such conventions between April 2020 and March 2021. A complete list that includes all of the countries covered by the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report is available at:

[Scroll bar is available at the bottom of the table. See PDF version.]

Country UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2000) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict (2000) ILO Convention 29 Forced Labour (1930) ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention ILO Convention 105, Abolition of Forced Labour (1957) ILO Convention 182, Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labor, (1999) ILO Convention 189, Domestic Workers (2011)
Chile 2004 2003 2003 1933 2020 (will enter into force on 16 November 2021) 1999 2000 2015
Comoros 2020 (23 June) 2007 1978 1978 2004
Costa Rica 2003 2002 2003 1960 2020 (will enter into force on 16 November 2021) 1959 2001 2014
Kyrgyzstan 2003 2003 2003 1992 2020 (will enter into force on 16 November 2021) 1999 2004
Mexico 2003 2002 2002 1934 1959 2000 2020 (will enter into force on 3 July 2021)
Namibia 2002 2002 2002 2000 2017 2000 2000 2020 (will enter into force on 9 December 2021)
Nepal 2020 (16 June) 2006 2007 2002 2007 2002
Portugal 2004 2003 2003 1956 2020 (will enter into force on 23 December 2021) 1959 2000 2015
Sudan 2014 2004 2005 1957 2021 (will enter into force on 17 March 2022) 1970 2003
Tonga 2020 (will enter into force on 4 August 2021)
Vietnam 2012 2001 2001 2007 2020 (will enter into force on 14 July 2021) 2000

As required by law, this section summarizes actions taken by the UN, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the OSCE to prevent trafficking in persons or the exploitation of victims of trafficking.

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Total Number of Peacekeeping and Support Personnel 81,932 (including 5,763 women) 3,795 15,621
Total Number of Missions 13 16 3
Prevention Policy “Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse” (SEA) (2003) “Code of Conduct for Staff and Mission Members” “NATO Policy on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings” (2004 and 2007)

“NATO Policy on Combatting Sexual Exploitation and Abuse” (2019)

Lead Office Responsible for Implementation Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance Office of Human Resources Human Security Unit
Prevention Training Pre-deployment and at mission, including a new e-learning program Pre-deployment Pre-deployment and at mission

“NATO Guidance for the development of training and educational programmes to support the policy on combating the trafficking in human beings” (2004)

Number of Allegations in 2020 65 allegations were made against military, police, and civilian personnel. The majority of the allegations were in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.

13 of the allegations affected children.

No reported allegations No reported “allegations.” NATO relies on contributing countries to report allegations as early as third quarter 2021
New Initiatives The Secretary-General has institutionalized mechanisms to continue engagement and cohesion across the United Nations system, and prioritized leadership accountability relating to sexual exploitation and abuse through mandated action plans and personal certifications.

To maintain momentum and coordination in implementation, the Secretary-General extended the mandate of the Special Coordinator on improving the UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse until 31 December 2021.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) conducted consultations with staff in high-risk duty stations on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse during COVID-19.

The integration of a victim-centered approach into system-wide efforts on sexual exploitation and abuse, including risks to beneficiaries and others associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, was strengthened in 2020.

The OSCE provides workshops and training to participating States on preventing trafficking in the organization’s supply chains, and identifying and protecting trafficking victims.

Internally, the Office of the Special Representative and Co-Ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (OSR/CTHB) helped develop and adopt contract and tender provisions for OSCE procurement; conducted a pilot assessment of TIP risk in procurement of the OSCE field operation in Serbia, results from which were published in an analysis report; developed guidance for OSCE procurement to prevent TIP, and developed training for OSCE procurement and program staff and launched implementation.

Leading by example, the OSR/CTHB’s collaboration with the Secretariat’s Procurement and Contracting Unit provided for the development of internal measures and capacities to prevent TIP in the OSCE’s procurement. As tasked by MC Decision 6/17, the OSR/CTHB contributed to the development of Guidance for OSCE Procurement on Combating Human Trafficking and Labour Exploitation in Supply Chains as well as to the OSCE Procurement and Contracting Workshop and a pilot training. It also organized a workshop on managing and mitigating TIP risks in procurement for ODIHR.

In line with MC Decision 6/17, in 2020 the OSR/CTHB, in co-operation with anti-trafficking Focal Points and DHR, finalized the development of a learning module on combating TIP for the OSCE executive structures as part of the new All OnBoard programme. In 2021, the roll out of the module in Field Operations has started.

Finally, as co-chair of the Task Force mandated by the UN High-Level Committee on Management to develop a common approach to combat TIP and forced labor in supply chains, the OSCE has closely worked with the UN system to coordinate these efforts among all major IOs.

NATO Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Action Plan to be adopted by October 2020.

NATO Human Trafficking Policy (2004) to be up-dated in 2021.

Links for Additional Information 

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Organizations and Selected Links of Interest Framework Document Relevant to TIP TIP Focal Point
United Nations (UN)

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – Trafficking in Persons

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights

High-level Political Forum on SDGs

The Inter-agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT)

International Labour Organization (ILO)

UN Convention and Protocol:

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (A/RES/55/25) (2000)

United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons (A/RES/64/293) (2010)

Political Declaration on the Implementation of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons (2017) (A/RES/72/1)

UNSC Resolutions:

UNSC Resolutions on Trafficking in Persons in Conflict Situations 2331 (2016) , 2388 (2017) and 2493 (2019 S/RES/2493 )

UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (2020)

Legislative Guide for the Implementation of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2020)

Model Legislative Provisions against Trafficking in Persons (2020)

Female Victims of Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation as Defendants (2021)

UNODC Toolkit for Mainstreaming Human Rights and Gender Equality into Criminal Justice Intervention to Address Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (2021)

UN Sustainable Development Goal targets 5.2, 8.7, and 16.2 (SDGs)

ILO Conventions:–en/index.htm

-C29 Forced Labour Convention (1930)

-P029 Protocol of 2014 and Recommendation R203, supplementing the Forced Labour Convention (1930)

-C105 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (1957)

-C182 Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999)

-C189 Domestic Workers Convention, and its Recommendation R201 (2011)

ILO training package on inspection of labour conditions on board fishing vessels (2020)

UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography

African Union (AU)

Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children (2006)

AU Commission Initiative against Trafficking Campaign (AU.COMMIT)

October 1, 2020, Virtual Event, 2nd Virtual Technical Meeting on Data Collection on Irregular Migration and Associated Protection Risks towards the Production of a Statistical Report on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling in the Horn of Africa and Surrounding Region

January 23-24, 2020, Bishoftu, Ethiopia, National Stakeholder Workshop on the AU-Horn of Africa Mainstreaming Initiative for Countering Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling

Khartoum Process

(EU/Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative)

Khartoum Process Factsheet

Khartoum Declaration on AU-Horn of Africa Initiative on Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants (2014)

Valletta Summit Action Plan (2015)

Valletta Summit Political Declaration (2015)

EU-Africa Action Plan on Migration and Mobility (2014-2017)

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons, Particularly Women and Children (2004)

ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2015)

ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2015)

ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime
Bali Regional Ministerial Conference On People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (Bali Process)

Co Chairs’ Statements of the first (2002), second (2003), third (2009), fourth (2011), fifth (2013), sixth (2016) and seventh (2018) Declaration of the Seventh Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (2018) Policy Guides & Handbooks:

The Bali Process Guidelines for Information Sharing to Address People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime

The Bali Process Handbook on Addressing Irregular Migration through Effective Information Campaigns

The Bali Process Policy Guides on Criminalizing Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons

The Bali Process Policy Guides on Identification and Protection of Victims of Trafficking

The Bali Process Policy Guide on Following the Money in Trafficking in Persons Cases

The Bali Process Policy Guide on Returns and Reintegration

Protecting Migrants at Sea: Practical Guide to Fulfilling International Obligations

Corruption as a facilitator of smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons (2021)

Bali Process Working Group on Trafficking in Persons
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (in Russian only)

Agreement on the Cooperation of the CIS Member States in Combating Trafficking in Persons, Human Organs and Tissues (2005)

Program of Cooperation between the CIS Member States against Trafficking in Persons for 2014–2018

Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT)

COMMIT Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation Against Trafficking in Greater Mekong Sub-Region (2004)

COMMIT 4th Sub-Regional Plan of Action (COMMIT SPA IV 2015-2018)Victim Identification and Referral Mechanisms: Common Guidelines for the Greater Mekong Sub-region

Supporting the Reintegration of Trafficked Persons: A Guidebook for the Greater Mekong Sub-Region:

United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons

Regional COMMIT Task Force (TF)

Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)

A Vision for the Baltic Sea region by 2020, CBSS Summit 2010

Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings Strategic Plan 2020-2025

Human Trafficking 2020 – Baltic Sea Round-up Report

Guidelines for journalists reporting on cases of human trafficking: Media and Trafficking in Human Beings (2019)

Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings (TF-THB)

Expert Group on Children at Risk

Task Force Against Trafficking in Human Beings

Council of Europe (COE)

COE Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (2005)


HELP Online Training Course:

9th General Report on GRETA’s Activities (2019)


Guidance Note on the entitlement of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked, to international protection

GRETA meetings

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)

ECOWAS Initial Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons

ECOWAS Declaration on the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (2001)

Joint ECOWAS/ECCAS Regional Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2006-2008)

Anti-Trafficking Unit

Directive 2011/36/EU on Combating and Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting its Victims EU Anti-Trafficking Action 2017-2019

Third report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings (2020) as required under Article 20 of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims

European Union Anti-Trafficking Coordinator
Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

FATF REPORT Financial Flows from Human Trafficking (2018)

League of Arab States (LAS)

Arab Framework Act on Combating Trafficking in Persons (2008)

Arab Initiative to Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2010

Comprehensive Arab Strategy for Combating

Trafficking in Human Beings (CASCTHB), Council of Arab Ministers of Justice Resolution 15/2/2012

Organization of American States (OAS)

Work Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons in the Western Hemisphere 2010-2012 (AG/RES. 2551 (XL-O/10)

Second Work Plan against Trafficking in Persons in the Western Hemi-sphere 2015-2018 (extended to 2020)

Hemispheric Efforts against Trafficking in Persons “Declaration of Mexico” (2018)

Advancing Hemispheric Security: A Multidimensional Approach (AG/RES. 2950 (L-O/20)

Progress Report: II Work Plan Against Trafficking in Persons In The Western Hemisphere 2015-2018

Recommendations of the Sixth Meeting of National Authorities on Trafficking in Persons “Challenges in the Fight against Trafficking in Times of Pandemic” (2021)

Department of Public Security and Department against Transnational Organized Crime
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector(2017)

OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas(2016)

Trafficking in Persons and Corruption Report (2016)

OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

OSCE Alliance against Trafficking in Persons:

OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings (2003)

Decision No. 1107 Addendum to the OSCE Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Decision No. 1107, 6 December (2013)

Handbook – How to prevent human trafficking for domestic servitude in diplomatic households and protect private domestic workers (2014):

Uniform Guidelines for the Identification and Referral of Victims of Human Trafficking within the Migrant and Refugee Reception Framework in the OSCE Region

Model Guidelines on Government Measures to Prevent Trafficking for Labour Exploitation in Supply Chains (2018)

The Critical Role of Civil Society in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (2018)

From Reception to Recognition: Identifying and Protecting Human Trafficking Victims in Mixed Migration Flows (2018)

Child Trafficking and Child Protection: Ensuring that Child Protection Mechanisms Protect the Rights and Meet the Needs of Child Victims of Human Trafficking (2018)

2020 Report of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings

OSCE Compendium Database, an easy way to access information on prevention of labour exploitation in supply chains, now accessible online (2021)

OSCE: International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (2021)

Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Trafficking in Human Beings
Regional Conference on Migration (RCM) (Puebla Group)

Regional Conference on Migration Plan of Action (updated in 2009) The Liaison Officers Network to Combat Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons
Southern African Development Community (SADC)

SADC Strategic Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Persons, especially women and Children (2009-2019)

Trafficking in Persons in the SADC Region: A Baseline Report (2016)

Trafficking in Persons in the SADC Region: Policy Brief (2016)

Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Persons: Lessons from the SADC Region Booklet (2017)


Sections 405(c) and (d) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) of 2008 (22 U.S.C. 2370c-2(c) and (d))

This report is submitted in accordance with section 405(c) and (d) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (22 U.S.C. 2370c-2(c) and (d)) (CSPA). Section 1 lists the countries identified as being in violation of the standards under the CSPA in 2020. Section 2 provides a description and the amounts of assistance withheld pursuant to section 404(a) of the CSPA. Section 3 provides a list of waivers or exceptions exercised under the CSPA. Section 4 contains the justifications for such waivers. Section 5 provides a description and the amounts of assistance provided to countries pursuant to such waivers.

Section 1. Countries in Violation of the Standards Under the CSPA in 2020.

The Secretary of State identified the following countries as having governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces or government-supported armed groups that recruited or used child soldiers within the meaning of section 404(a) of the CSPA during the reporting period of April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2020: Afghanistan, Burma, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Section 2. Description and Amount of Assistance Withheld Pursuant to Section 404(a).

State withheld $850,000 in FY 2021 International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds for Mali pursuant to section 404(a) and other applicable restrictions.

Section 3. List of Waivers or Exceptions Exercised under Section 404(a).

On October 14, 2020, the President determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Afghanistan, Cameroon, Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria; and to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the DRC to allow for the provision of IMET and Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) assistance, to the extent that the CSPA would restrict such assistance or support; to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Somalia to allow for the provision of IMET and PKO assistance and DoD support provided pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 333, to the extent that the CSPA would restrict such assistance or support; to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to South Sudan to allow for the provision of PKO assistance, to the extent that the CSPA would restrict such assistance or support; and, to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Yemen to allow for the provision of PKO and IMET assistance and DoD support provided pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 333, to the extent that the CSPA would restrict such assistance or support. The President further certified that the governments of the above countries are taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

Section 4. Justifications for Waivers and Exceptions.

Pursuant to section 404 of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA) (22 U.S.C. 2370c-1), the President has determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Afghanistan, Cameroon, Iraq, Libya, and Nigeria; and to waive, in part, the application of the prohibition with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. The President has further certified that the governments of the above countries are taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. The justification for this determination and certification with respect to each country is set forth in this Memorandum.


The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) and has certified that the GOA is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

Security assistance to Afghanistan subject to the CSPA restriction fulfills critical U.S. counterterrorism objectives and fosters conditions that enable an end to the conflict in Afghanistan. For example, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program funds professional military education and training for the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) that improves their capabilities, promotes respect for human rights, improves defense resource management, civil-military cooperation, and education on gender-based violence and women’s health, and enhances interoperability for U.S.-Afghan joint operations.

This sustained assistance to the ANDSF through IMET plays an important role in preserving Afghanistan’s security, political, and economic gains, including by enhancing awareness of and respect for human rights across the ANDSF. Continuing to bolster Afghan military capability and professionalization through military education and training of Afghan security forces will contribute to a climate that is more favorable for achieving a political settlement and implementing its outcomes.

The GOA is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. In 2019, the Afghan Ministry of Interior expanded child protection units (CPUs) to all 34 provinces, an increase from the 27 CPUs in 2018, to prevent the recruitment of children into the Afghan National Police. According to international organizations, the CPUs prevented the recruitment of 439 children in 2019. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF.

The United States will continue engaging with Afghan security forces to encourage implementation of the policies and legal frameworks in place, such as the Ministry of Defense’s Protection of Children in Armed Conflict Policy.


The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Cameroon and has certified that the Government of Cameroon is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

The U.S. government’s current military assistance goals with Cameroon are to increase: 1) military professionalization, 2) maritime security capabilities, and 3) counterterrorism capabilities. The limited U.S. military assistance to Cameroon plays a role in its ability to support regional stability and security, including in the strategically important Gulf of Guinea, and to address the threat in the Lake Chad region from Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. Current military assistance to Cameroon includes IMET and Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) funding. IMET funding for Cameroon increases the professionalization of the military through professional military education (PME) training in the United States. Along with overall PME training, IMET funding for Cameroon also strengthens military justice and civil-military relations, helping make Cameroon’s armed forces more transparent and accountable. PKO funded counter-terrorism assistance to Cameroon helps improve its capabilities to combat Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, which increases stability and protects civilians in the Lake Chad region. PKO funding may also support Cameroon’s maritime security capabilities to combat piracy, a growing regional economic threat. This waiver will allow the U.S. government to provide security assistance to make Cameroon’s military more professional through an appreciation of the importance of human rights and rule of law. It will promote peace and security in the region through maritime security and counterterrorism capacity building.

The Government of Cameroon is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. In November 2018, President Biya announced the creation of a National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Committee. Although the DDR Committee is not specifically dedicated to removing child soldiers from the field of battle, its mission is to facilitate the disarmament and reintegration of ex-fighters of Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa and armed separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, irrespective of their ages. In 2018, the president created regional disarmament centers in Bamenda, Northwest Region, Buea in the Southwest Region, and Mora in the Far North Region. The DDR Committee works to equip former child soldiers with resources for income-generating activities and reintegrate them into their communities. During an early July 2019 evaluation meeting in Yaoundé, the Head of the DDR Committee, Francis Fai Yengo, stated that at least 56 armed separatist fighters in the Northwest and Southwest Regions were reported to have laid down their arms and joined DDR centers, while 109 Boko Haram fighters had laid down their weapons in the Far North Region and were being housed at the DDR center in Mora. The Government of Cameroon also acknowledges that recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed Anglophone separatists and Boko Haram is a problem.

Cameroon has laws and regulations that prohibit the recruitment and use of child soldiers and the government generally enforces these provisions. We are engaging with the government of Cameroon to encourage an investigation of the single case of Cameroon’s security forces using a child for the gathering of intelligence that resulted in their inclusion on the 2020 CSPA list and to prevent similar situations from occurring again.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to DRC to allow for the provision of IMET and PKO assistance and has certified that the Government of the DRC is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

The DRC plays a critical role in regional stability and security as malign influences continue to expand their influence in the region. President Felix Tshisekedi has demonstrated that he is a willing partner committed to addressing instability and conflict in DRC, but needs U.S. security assistance to succeed in defeating armed groups threatening local populations, including the ISIS-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Unlike during the years under former President Kabila, senior Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) leadership now welcomes increased military cooperation with the United States. The country faces numerous longstanding challenges, including: inadequate infrastructure and human resources; the government’s inability to project authority across the sizable country; corruption; a limited capacity to raise and manage revenues; outbreaks of infectious disease; as well as the destabilizing activity of numerous armed groups. PKO and IMET funding for DRC would enable the United States to continue to work to increase professionalization of the military, allowing it to provide security within its territory without resorting to violations or abuses of human rights or violations of international humanitarian law (IHL). In addition, PKO and IMET funding has supported areas such as military justice, civil-military relations, human rights training, IHL training, English language training, military engineering, and resource management and logistics, which not only enhances security provision, but also helps make the FARDC a more transparent, accountable institution. President Tshisekedi has stated that he believes that improved security will enable health workers to counter COVID and other global health threats stem illicit mineral smuggling, other illicit trafficking of natural resources and transnational criminal organizations, catalyze regional economic integration, and provide a much-needed boost to DRC’s development.

A secure DRC is essential to attracting the foreign investment and business necessary to leverage the country’s estimated $24 trillion in mineral wealth and improve the welfare and livelihood of millions of Congolese people. Greater stability and self-reliance is one of our top strategic objectives in the DRC, such that our more than half a billion dollars in annual bilateral assistance can be wound down, and our focus turned more fully toward trade and investment. U.S. security assistance supports a more stable, democratically-governed nation through improving the capacity and governance of core national-level security institutions, creating an environment conducive to economic opportunities, responding to urgent humanitarian needs, and addressing the root causes of conflict. As the DRC’s principal partner in ending its devastating almost 2-year Ebola outbreak in the East and a major contributor to humanitarian assistance overall, the United States can leverage existing relationships to multiply and synergize the impact of PKO assistance. This waiver will allow the United States to provide security assistance that will support improving governance and the rule of law, promoting peace and security, combating corruption, advancing human rights, and creating conditions for greater U.S. investment and economic growth. It also offers an opportunity to improve civil-military relations and influence the next generation of FARDC leadership at a time when the government is undertaking initiatives to transform that historically strained relationship.

The Government of the DRC is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers and these efforts have accelerated since President Tshisekedi took office in January. The number of prosecutions of both state and armed group actors for human rights violations and abuses, including unlawful recruitment and use of children, is at an all-time high, as are the number of separations of children from armed groups. For the fifth consecutive year, there were no cases of unlawful recruitment or use by FARDC. Reports of human rights violations attributable to state security forces is on a downward trend. The government established a formal anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee that monitored shelters, coordinated with NGOs and international organizations to identify and protect victims and drafted and launched the government’s first national anti-trafficking action plan. In partnership with international organizations, the government also continued to undertake measures to prevent and end the use of child soldiers, including separating child soldiers from non-state armed groups, and conducting age verification screening of recruits. The government convicted a former colonel in the FARDC and the leader of an armed group for trafficking crimes, among others; sentenced them to penalties, including significant prison terms; and ordered the leader of an armed group and two accomplices to pay restitution to over 300 victims of sexual enslavement and other crimes. When the FARDC justice system received credible reports that soldiers in the 2105th regiment had abducted underage girls, they quickly opened an investigation and detained suspected abusers. While COVID-19 restrictions have slowed the investigation, two soldiers have been charged and are in prison awaiting trial, while the local prosecutor is pursuing charges against another eight soldiers.


The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Iraq and has certified that the Government of Iraq (GOI) is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

U.S. strategy in Iraq is focused on working with the GOI to achieve a unified, democratic, peaceful, and inclusive Iraq by: defeating the terrorist entity known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); promoting good governance and reform; supporting the increased capacity and professionalization of Iraq’s security forces to bring them more in line with international best practices; promoting human rights; and promoting the protection of Iraq’s diverse and often marginalized communities, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or gender. This waiver will allow the United States to continue to provide the assistance, support, and human rights training necessary to achieve these goals, and to help Iraq build its capacity to conduct effective, sustained counterterrorism operations against ISIS.

The GOI is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. Iraqi law requires all soldiers, including volunteers in Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias, to be of 18 years of age or older, and Iraq is a party to the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC). The number of incidents of child soldier recruitment and use continue to decline, according to data from an international organization in 2019. In December 2019, Iraq presented a proposal to prepare a comprehensive plan to reduce unlawful child recruitment operations in armed and terrorist conflicts to an intragovernmental committee headed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. This proposal was approved by the committee with funding. According to an international organization, in December 2019, the GOI discharged 40 boys who had been recruited by Tribal Mobilization Forces (TMF) and provided them with rehabilitation and integration program in coordination with the international organization. A UN body also reported that the GOI provided training to security forces against child soldiering during the reporting period. In addition, the GOI has made progress centralizing payment systems, including for the PMF, which helps to prevent government salaries from being paid to children.

As part of this effort, the United States government will continue working to encourage the GOI to monitor progress and take additional actions to prevent the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, and to identify, demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate children serving in militias associated with the PMF. The United States government urges the GOI to continue its ongoing attempts to assert command and control over all elements of the PMF.


The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya and has certified the GNA is taking effective and continuing steps to address the issue of child soldiers.

The Department of State assesses that immense social and economic insecurity caused by the current conflict is the primary driver for the ongoing unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers in Libya. In addition to GNA-aligned units, others, including the self-styled Libyan National Army, have engaged in the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Department of State further assesses that the most durable solution to the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers will be a negotiated political settlement that ends Libya’s current conflict. As the UN-recognized government of Libya, the GNA and its military leaders are critical interlocutors in these discussions. Withdrawing security sector assistance at a pivotal stage of negotiations could undermine the U.S. government’s ability to achieve a durable cessation of hostilities in Libya. In the absence of a political settlement, the war in Libya will continue to destabilize the broader region, creating space for violent extremists to regroup.

The United States provides targeted assistance to strengthen key Libyan institutions and build security capacity, promote political reconciliation, and increase Libya’s capacity to stand on its own through more effective governance.

Security sector assistance to Libya, while nascent, is used exclusively to tackle the underlying causes of the Libyan conflict and shape Libya’s security institutions in a positive direction. Our current PKO-funded programming supports planning and capacity building for electoral security as well as planning for an eventual security sector reform (SSR) in the country. These initiatives, as well as any near-term security sector programming, will be used to support the security sector reform/disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (SSR/DDR) and governance needed to end the conflict and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The Department of Defense intends to re-engage with and build the capacity of the Libyan armed forces under 10 U.S.C. 333 in support of U.S. national interests in fighting terrorism, countering violent extremist organizations and illicit smuggling. This support would be intended to provide carefully calibrated capacity-building for units not directly engaged in the current conflict.

The GNA is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers, including by working closely with the U.S. government in the context of our recurring bilateral Security Dialogue to disarm and demobilize the militias, which engage in their recruitment and use. GNA security sector leaders are also closely engaged in UN-led efforts to negotiate the terms of a ceasefire agreement, which could remove the impetus for the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. The U.S. government will continue to engage with the Libyan government to urge militias to cease the unlawful recruitment of children and to make proper referrals for such children. The GNA has also committed to providing unhindered access to an international fact-finding mission created under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020 to document human rights abuses in Libya. The fact-finding mission has a mandate to document abuses by GNA and non-state militias, including child soldier recruitment or use.


The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Government of Nigeria (GON) and has certified that the GON is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

The U.S. government’s current security assistance goals with Nigeria are to: 1) increase the professionalism of the Nigerian armed forces, including respect for human rights and mitigating civilian harm; 2) reduce the threats violent extremist organizations pose to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region; and 3) increase security in the Gulf of Guinea. These goals are directly aligned with the National Security Strategy, Africa Strategy, Africa Bureau, and Mission Nigeria goals for security assistance. Accordingly, it is in the United States’ national interest to continue to pursue these lines of effort.

Security assistance subject to the CSPA restriction that is currently provided to Nigeria includes IMET, Foreign Military Financing (FMF), PKO, Excess Defense Articles (EDA) and Department of Defense support provided pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 333. IMET funding supports the training and education to increase the professionalization of the military through professional military education (PME) training in the United States. FMF has supported Nigeria’s ability to participate in peacekeeping, counterterrorism and maritime security operations. Funds typically support training and equipment sustainment, including spare parts for Nigeria’s C-130 fleet. We also expect that FMF may support elements of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program for the Super Tucanos. Section 333 is used to support the Air-to-Ground Integration (AGI) program, which integrates intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), precision strike, and military intelligence to increase the effectiveness of the Nigerian Air Force while reducing the potential for civilian harm through human rights and IHL training in support of the nationally-funded FMS Super Tucano A-29 lines of effort. Section 333 is used to support a related ISR effort to provide tactical Unmanned Aerospace Systems (UAS). Lastly, section 333 is used to support counter-improvised explosive devices (C-IED) or route clearance programming which enables the Nigerian military to escort humanitarian assistance convoys in the volatile Northeast where the violence wrought by ISIS-West Africa and Boko Haram has displaced 1.8 million civilians and rendered 9.8 million in the Lake Chad region in need of humanitarian assistance. Nigeria may receive EDA for maritime security improvements in the form of former U.S. Coast Guard vessels, which have been used to improve maritime navigation and counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Guinea and Niger Delta. PKO-funded assistance to Nigeria includes AGI advisory support to increase Nigerian Air Force effectiveness and reduce civilian harm; advisory support for Nigerian military intelligence institutions; development of a Fast-Rope Insertion and Extraction System; and Civil-Military Operations training. In FY 2020, support is expected to expand to include efforts to strengthen Nigerian cadre and training facilities at their basic and advanced infantry schools. A full waiver the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Nigeria allows the U.S. government to continue to provide security assistance in delivery of the above lines of efforts.

The Government of Nigeria is taking continuing and effective steps to address the problem of child soldiers. The steps include continuing to support during the reporting period the UN – Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) Action Plan to end use and recruitment of child soldiers. Recruitment and use of child soldiers by the CJTF, a non-governmental self-defense force that receives limited support from the Borno State government, contributed to Nigeria’s listing under the CSPA from 2015-2018 due to its past use of children. In September 2017, the Borno State government witnessed the signature of, and provided administrative support to help implement, an action plan between the CJTF and the UN to end the CJTF’s recruitment and use of children. The UN and the CJTF, with the support of the government, have since identified and formally separated over 1,700 children, including 894 in May 2019. Since the signing of the action plan in 2017, the UN has not reported any further use of children by the CJTF. The Nigerian military has also responded to end the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers when isolated incidents are brought to their attention. In October 2019, at least two children (under the age of 15) were recruited and used in supporting roles at a remote checkpoint in Northeast Nigeria. Following community-level engagement by UNICEF, the use ended. Some military personnel are participating in training programs on children’s rights. There were no other reports of child soldier use in 2019.

The Government of Nigeria should continue to make progress in combating the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. In compliance with the Action Plan signed with the UN, the Borno State government should continue to support the CJTF to release any remaining child soldiers and cease to recruit any new ones. The Embassy will press the Nigerian government to improve the education of its armed forces on the laws and policy against the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and to pay particular attention to remote outposts where such incidents are more likely to occur. The Embassy will continue to collaborate with UNICEF and other NGOs and encourage the government to view them as a resource in the joint effort to eliminate the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.


The President has determined it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Somalia to allow for the provision of IMET, PKO, and support provided pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 333 and has certified that the Government of Somalia is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

The U.S. strategy in Somalia focuses on achieving a unified, peaceful, and democratic Somalia, with a stable and representative government able to defeat the foreign terrorist organization al-Shabaab; prevent terrorists and pirates from using its territory as a safe haven; provide for its own internal defense; and facilitate and foster development, growth, and political inclusion, while progressing towards long-term stability and prosperity. The waiver for IMET assistance will support the professionalization of the Somali military. This assistance enables the U.S. government to continue to fulfill its goal of assisting the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) to build effective and rights-respecting security forces, which are indispensable to achieving greater military effectiveness. The waiver for PKO assistance, used in assisting efforts to form broad-based, multi-clan Somali security forces, will also support this goal. Further, a waiver for support provided by the Department of Defense pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 333 will allow for U.S. government assistance to build the Somali military’s capacity to conduct effective, sustained counterterrorism operations against al-Shabaab and, through cooperation, help reinforce U.S. values including those related to preventing and responding to the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The FGS is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. The FGS agreed on an action plan with the United Nations in 2012 to end the recruitment and use of children by the Somali National Army (SNA). While implementation of the action plan at the subnational level was limited until 2016, the SNA’s Child Protection Unit (CPU), which is partially funded by the United States, put particular emphasis on screening, training and an aggressive media campaign. With U.S. support, the CPU carried out six screening missions that examined over 1,500 SNA troops in 2019, and identified four minors within the SNA, according to the 2019 CPU annual report. They also trained 176 officials in the identification of child soldiers and have training focal points in each SNA sector regarding the prohibition against children in armed conflict. The CPU raised awareness of child protection activities, through inter-ministerial meetings with the Ministry of Women and Human Rights, Internal Security, Justice, Health and Education, and developed and disseminated radio and print media content regarding the prevention of child recruitment and conscription in armed conflict.

In June 2019, the Minister of Justice and Judiciary launched Somalia’s version of a UN advocacy and action campaign called “ACT to Protect,” aimed at protecting children affected by armed conflict, and the CPU established a “Children Affected by Armed Conflict” working group.

The United States continues to work with the FGS, including through the CPU, and the UN to monitor progress on the 2012 action plan and urge additional actions to prevent the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and to demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate children identified in the SNA or associated groups, or children previously associated with al-Shabaab.

South Sudan

The President has determined that it is in the U.S. national interest to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to South Sudan to allow for provision of PKO assistance and has certified that the Government of South Sudan is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

PKO funds will be used to continue to support the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM), which includes regional and international personnel that monitor, identify, and report on parties responsible for violations of the December 2017 Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities (COH) and the ceasefire provisions of the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). PKO funds will also be used to continue support to the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC), which oversees overall implementation of the R-ARCSS. Notably, the R-ARCSS requires the Government of South Sudan to refrain from the recruitment and/or use of child soldiers. PKO funds have been used to support UNICEF child soldier prevention efforts in South Sudan. They may also be used to support the Community of Sant’Egidio’s facilitation of South Sudan peace talks. PKO funds may also support International Code of Conduct Association efforts to improve oversight of private security contractors at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to ensure that UNMISS is able to fulfill its mandate of protection of civilians to help enable the peace process to succeed. Given the essential role that these monitoring mechanisms or efforts play as the parties to the R-ARCSS continue to work to implement the peace agreement and form a transitional government, waiving restrictions to PKO assistance is in the U.S. national interest.

The Government of South Sudan is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. By signing the R-ARCSS it has affirmed its intent to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The government’s efforts to address child soldiers are continually discussed at regular RJMEC and CTSAMVM meetings. South Sudan is party to the OPAC, and in 2019, armed groups released an additional 259 child soldiers, and established a process for identifying others to UNICEF through the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) commission, established under the R-ARCSS. The Government of South Sudan has engaged with the UN on creating an action plan to address “six grave violations against children,” including unlawful recruitment and use. Despite commitments from South Sudan armed groups in February 2019 to prevent and end the “six grave violations” against children, the UN continues to verify reports of such “grave violations” against children committed by all parties to the conflict. Significant work needs to be done to address this practice in South Sudan, and the U.S. government will continue to urge the government to take additional steps to prevent the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers. Multiple NGO reports indicate the continued unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by governmental armed forces and that the collection and verification of information pertaining to child soldier recruitment and use was often hindered by access constraints. A waiver to allow the continuation of PKO assistance to support CTSAMVM and RJMEC will help maintain accountability regarding the Government of South Sudan’s unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by allowing critical funding for the continued operation of these key oversight and monitoring mechanisms.


The President has determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Yemen to allow for provision of PKO, IMET, and support provided pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 333 and has certified that the government of Yemen is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers.

It is in the U.S. national interest to support efforts to bring about a negotiated political settlement led by the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen. This waiver will allow assistance that directly contributes to efforts to advance the UN-led political process. Additionally, a critical element of ending the conflict in Yemen is our counterterrorism campaign and efforts to counter Iranian arms smuggling to the Houthis. Building the capacity of the Republic of Yemen Government to meet these goals furthers important U.S. government security interests to include enhancing homeland security, while simultaneously moving toward the goal of ending the war in Yemen. An end to the conflict will be critical in ending the further deterioration of socio-economic and security conditions, ensuring long-term stability, and securing the space for restoring effective governance institutions that are capable of partnering with the United States and the international community in combatting terrorism. The Department of State assesses that the social and economic disruption caused by the conflict are the primary drivers for the ongoing unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers in Yemen by all parties to the conflict.

To that end, PKO funding may be used to support UN Special Envoy efforts, including the participation of Yemen’s military leadership, to reach an agreement to end the Yemeni conflict and allow for the resumption of a peaceful, inclusive, and Yemeni-led political transition.

IMET funding will be used to build capacity within the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) military by sending selected military officers for the United States for non-technical training. These PME courses would focus on the professionalization of military forces, and would bolster the rule of law within the Yemeni Armed Forces. In turn, this training would support our efforts to prevent recruitment of child soldiers.

The Department of Defense intends to use its authority under 10 U.S.C. 333 to re-engage with and build the capacity of the Yemeni Armed Forces – the military of the recognized government of Yemen – in support of U.S. national interests in fighting terrorism, countering violent extremist organizations and illicit smuggling, and ensuring freedom of navigation through the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait. Critically, this focused support would increase Yemeni capacity to counter malign Iranian activity, including the smuggling of lethal weapons that are contributing to the continuation of the conflict. This carefully calibrated support would be provided to the Yemen Border Guard, Yemen Coast Guard, and Yemen Special Operations Forces units not directly engaged in the current conflict, but rather involved in efforts against malign third party influences contributing to the on-going conflict and crisis.

The ROYG is taking effective and continuing steps to address the problem of child soldiers. In 2019, the Yemeni government took concrete steps to raise awareness of risk factors for child soldier recruitment and use, to rehabilitate child soldiers, and to amplify activists’ calls for the Houthis to stop recruiting and using children. A February 2020 seminar in the government-controlled city of Ma’rib, held by ROYG ministries and NGOs with support from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) addressed strategies to reduce unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, taking into account the social and political contexts of the practice. In March 2020, the government launched a rehabilitation program for Houthi-recruited child soldiers in Ma’rib, in collaboration with NGOs and funding support from KSRelief. In November 2019, the government used official media platforms to amplify calls by Yemeni human rights activists at the UN Human Rights Council for the Houthis to end child recruitment and use, and radicalization to violence.

Public statements by government officials against the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and improvements in reporting, prevention, and protection mechanisms demonstrate that even with its limited capacity the Government of Yemen continues to address the issue. Significant additional work remains to eradicate this practice across Yemen. The most durable solution to the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers will be a political solution that ends the conflict.

Section 5. Description and Amount of Assistance Provided Pursuant to a Waiver.

The information provided below only includes assistance obligated as of April 5, 2021. Additional assistance will be obligated during FY 2021.


International Military Education and Training — $540,950
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.

Excess Defense Articles (EDA) — $3,821,000
As of April 5, $3,821,000 worth of EDA equipment was transferred to Afghanistan.


International Military Education and Training — $205,775
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.

Peacekeeping Operations (PKO)
As of April 5, no PKO funding was obligated in FY 2021.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

International Military Education and Training  — $76,098
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.

Peacekeeping Operations
As of April 5, no PKO funding was obligated in FY 2021.


International Military Education and Training — $197,433
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.


As of April 5, no funds subject to CSPA have been obligated.


International Military Education and Training — $394,066
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.

Peacekeeping Operations
As of April 5, no PKO funding was obligated in FY 2021.

10 U.S.C.333 — $3,705,772
As of April 5, DoD section 333 funding was obligated for the following activities: training and equipment.


International Military Education and Training — $155,282
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.

Peacekeeping Operations — $12,692,025
As of April 5, PKO funding was obligated for the Somali National Army and Somali Ministry of Defense for the following activities: logistical support; stipends; advisory support; training; equipment; and program oversight.

10 U.S.C. 333 — $2,957,240
During FY 2021, DoD section 333 funding was obligated for the following activities: training and equipment.

South Sudan

Peacekeeping Operations
As of April 5, no PKO funds have been obligated in FY 2021.


International Military Education and Training — $154,921
As of April 5, IMET funding was obligated for the following activity: military professionalization training.

ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States
EU European Union
EUROPOL European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation
FARC Revoluntionary Armed Forces of Colombia
GRETA Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings
IDP Internally Displaced Person
ILO International Labour Organization
INTERPOL International Criminal Police Organization
IOM International Organization for Migration
ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
LGBTQI+ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex
NGO Nongovernmental Organization
OAS Organization of American States
OSCE Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
UN United Nations
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund
UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
UN TIP Protocol
(Palermo Protocol))
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime

NOTES: Local currencies have been converted to U.S. dollars ($) using the currency exchange rates reported by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on December 31, 2020. The rates can be found here: 

Inside Front Cover: Panos Pictures/William Daniels
Page iii: © Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos
Page v: Panos Pictures/Karen Robinson
Table of Contents: Picture Alliance
Page 2: Katie Orlinsyky
Page 5: Picture Alliance
Page 6: Picture Alliance
Page 9: Picture Alliance
Page 11: Picture Alliance
Page 13: Smita Sharma
Page 14: Panos Pictures/Adam Dean
Page 15: Picture Alliance
Page 17: Sara Hylton
Page 18-19: Mushfiqual Alam
Page 20: Seivan Salim
Page 23: Picture Alliance
Page 25: Panos Pictures/Karen Robinson
Page 29: Getty/Stefanie Glinski
Page 30: Reuters/Jackson Njehia
Page 32: Sara Hylton
Page 34: Getty-Quynh Anh Nguyen/Contributor
Page 36: Getty-Ina Fassbender/Contributor
Page 38: Panos/ Williams Daniels
Page 40: Picture Alliance
Page 41: Getty/Munir Uz Zaman
Page 42: Picture Alliance
Page 44: Elisabetta Zavoli
Page 45: Adria Malcolm
Page 46: Getty/Greg Baker
Page 49: Matilde Simas
Page 50: Ernst Coppejans
Page 53: Picture Alliance
Page 55: Picture Alliance
Page 57: Getty/Tuul & Bruno Morandi
Page 59: Picture Alliance
Page 61: Picture Alliance
Page 66: Emily Teague
Page 75: Panos Pictures/Samuel Aranda
Page 619: Picture Alliance
Page 627: Panos/Dieter Telemans
Page 638: Sara Hylton
Inside Back Cover: Panos Pictures/Abbie Trayler- Smith

The Staff of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Is:

Hadiyyah A. Abdul-Jalaal
Karen Vierling Allen
Perpetua Anaele
Julia F. Anderson
Andrea Balint
Shonnie R. Ball
Getoria Berry
Brooke Beyer
MacKenzie Bills
Michelle Cooper Bloom
Katherine Borgen
Gregory Borgstede
Kelsey Brennan
Christine Buchholz
Ravi Buck
Carla M. Bury
Erin Chapman
Anisha Choubey
Anna Cornacchio
Chane Corp
Sarah Davis
Steven Davis
Vivian Ekey
Lamiaa Elfar
Mary C. Ellison
Daniel Evensen
Heather Fisher
Mark Forstrom
Rachel Fox Smothermon
Anna Fraser
Lucia Gallegos
Janine Gannon
Beatriz Garcia Velazquez
Timothy Gehring
Brianna Gildner
Natasha Greeberg
Takiyah Golden
Olivia Hasegawa
Patrick Hamilton
Tegan Hare
Jocelyn Harrison
Amy Rustan Haslett
Caitlin B. Heidenreich
Ashley Hernandez
J. Brett Hernandez
Sonia Helmy-Dentzel
Julie Hicks
Crystal Hill
William Hine-Ramsberger
Megan Hjelle-Lantsman
Moira Honohan
Sofia Javed
Jennifer M. Ho
Bethany Hanke Hoang
Ariana Holly
Renee Huffman
Veronica Jablonski
Harold Jahnsen
Sarah Jennings
Maurice W. Johnson
Kari A. Johnstone
Chelsea Kaser
Catherine E. Kay
Emily A. Korenak
Kendra L. Kreider
Rebecca Lesnak
Abigail Long
Jason Martin
Myrtis Martin
Sunny Massa
Monica Maurer
Kerry McBride
Jasmine McClam
Rendi McCoy
Maura K. McManus
Kristy Mordhorst
Rebecca Morgan
Ericka Moten
Ryan Mulvenna
Freedom Mushaw
Cristina Narvaez
Samantha Novick
Amy O’Neill Richard
Leo Page-Blau
Sandy Perez Rousseau
Andrew Pfender
Reimi Pieters
Marissa Pietrobono
Justin D. Pollard
Andrea E. Reed
John Cotton Richmond
Casey Risko
Laura Svat Rundlet
Haley L. Sands
Sarah A. Scott
Adrienne Sgarlato
Steven Shade
Mai Shiozaki-Lynch
Julie Short Echalar
Jane Nady Sigmon
Soumya Silver
Susan Snyder
Whitney Stewart
Desirée Suo Weymont
Francesca J. Tadle
Atsuki Takahashi
James Taylor
Chaiszar Turner
Kathy Unlu
Melissa Verlaque
Kathleen Vogel
Myrna E. Walch
Bianca Washington
Tatum West
Shelly Westebbe
Ben Wiselogle
Joshua Youle
Janet Zinn

Special thanks to Daniel Kim, Lamya Shawki El-Shacke, and the creative services team at Global Publishing Solutions.

Africa (Sub-Saharan)

Angola Cote d’Ivoire Guinea Mozambique South Africa
Benin Democratic Republic of the Congo Guinea-Bissau Namibia South Sudan
Botswana Djibouti Kenya Niger Sudan
Burkina Faso Equatorial Guinea Lesotho Nigeria Tanzania
Burundi Eritrea Liberia Republic of the Congo Togo
Cabo Verde Eswatini Madagascar Rwanda Uganda
Cameroon Ethiopia Malawi Senegal Zambia
Central African Republic Gabon Mali Seychelles Zimbabwe
Chad Gambia Mauritania Sierra Leone
Comoros Ghana Mauritius Somalia

East Asia and Pacific

Australia Hong Kong Marshall Islands Papua New Guinea Thailand
Brunei Indonesia Micronesia Philippines Timor-Leste
Burma Japan Mongolia Singapore Tonga
Cambodia Laos New Zealand Solomon Islands Vanuatu
China Macau North Korea South Korea Vietnam
Fiji Malaysia Palau Taiwan

Europe and Eurasia

Albania Cyprus Hungary Moldova Serbia
Armenia Czech Republic Iceland Montenegro Slovakia
Austria Denmark Ireland Netherlands Slovenia
Azerbaijan Estonia Italy North Macedonia Spain
Belarus Finland Kosovo Norway Sweden
Belgium France Latvia Poland Switzerland
Bosnia and Herzegovina Georgia Lithuania Portugal Turkey
Bulgaria Germany Luxembourg Romania Ukraine
Croatia Greece Malta Russia United Kingdom

Near East (Middle East and North Africa)

Algeria Iraq Lebanon Qatar United Arab Emirates
Bahrain Israel Libya Saudi Arabia Yemen
Egypt Jordan Morocco Syria
Iran Kuwait Oman Tunisia

South and Central Asia

Afghanistan India Maldives Sri Lanka
Bangladesh Kazakhstan Nepal Tajikistan
Bhutan Kyrgyz Republic Pakistan Turkmenistan

Western Hemisphere

Antigua and Barbuda Brazil Dominican Republic Jamaica St. Maarten
Argentina Canada Ecuador Mexico St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Aruba Chile El Salvador Nicaragua Suriname
Bahamas Colombia Guatemala Panama Trinidad and Tobago
Barbados Costa Rica Guyana Paraguay United States
Belize Cuba Haiti Peru Uruguay
Bolivia Curacao Honduras Saint Lucia Venezuela

On This Page

  1. Message From the Secretary of State
  2. Message From the Acting Director
  3. Human Trafficking in the Context of a Global Pandemic
    1. Changing Human Trafficking Trends Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
    2. Impacts of COVID-19 on the Anti-Trafficking Community
    3. Adaptations to Anti-Trafficking Efforts in Response to COVID-19
    4. Considerations for the Anti-Trafficking Field’s Response to COVID-19 and Beyond
  4. Human Trafficking Defined
  5. Understanding Human Trafficking
    1. Forced Labor
    2. Sex Trafficking
    3. Key Principles and Concepts
  6. Topics of Special Interest
    1. Navigating the Unique Complexities in Familial Trafficking
    2. Unifying Trauma-Informed Practices and Voices of Survivor Leadership
    3. The Negative Impacts of Human Trafficking Misinformation
    4. The Role of the Financial Sector: Promising Practices in the Eradication of Trafficking in Persons
    5. Acknowledging Historical and Ongoing Harm: The Connections between Systemic Racism and Human Trafficking
    6. Child-Friendly Spaces for Survivors of Human Trafficking
    7. The Kafala System
    8. Letter on LGBTQI+ Vulnerability to Human Trafficking
    9. When the Government is the Trafficker: State-Sponsored Trafficking in Persons
    10. Forced Labor in China’s Xinjiang Region
  7. Child Soldiers Prevention Act List
  8. Methodology
    1. Tier Placement
    2. A Guide to the Tiers
    3. Funding Restrictions for Tier 3 Countries
  9. TVPA Minimum Standards for the Elimination of Trafficking in Persons
  10. Global Law Enforcement Data
  11. 2021 TIP Report Heroes
    1. Imelda Poole | Albania
    2. Josiane Lina Bemaka-Soui | Central African Republic
    3. Chantal Sagbo Sasse ep. Guedet Mandzela | Gabon
    4. Shoichi Ibusuki | Japan
    5. Shakhnoza Khassanova | Kazakhstan
    6. Guillermina Cabrera Figueroa | Mexico
    7. Mohammed al-Obaidly | Qatar
    8. Rocío Mora-Nieto | Spain
  12. Victim Stories & Photographs
    1. Europe
    2. India
    3. Venezuela -- Guyana
    4. Yemen
    5. Kazakhstan -- China
    6. Philippines
    7. Chile -- United States
  13. Tier Placements and Regional Maps
    1. Tier Placements
    2. Regional Maps
  14. How To Read a Country Narrative
  15. Relevant International Conventions
  16. Stopping Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeepers and Civilian Personnel
  17. International, Regional, and Sub-Regional Organizations Combating Trafficking In Persons
  18. Annual Report on the Use of Child Soldiers
    1. Sections 405(c) and (d) of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) of 2008 (22 U.S.C. 2370c-2(c) and (d))
  19. Glossary of Abbreviations
  20. Photo Credits
  21. Acknowledgments
  22. Country Reports
    1. Africa (Sub-Saharan)
    2. East Asia and Pacific
    3. Europe and Eurasia
    4. Near East (Middle East and North Africa)
    5. South and Central Asia
    6. Western Hemisphere

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future