This paper reviews literature to explore human trafficking including its definition, the nature and scope, epidemiology, the causes and risk factors, and the intervention strategies. Human trafficking entails the recruitment, conveyance, and reception of people by exercising force, threats, coercion, or deception. More than 21 million victims are suffering from the effects of human trafficking worldwide. Among the victims 12.5 million are females and 9.5 million are men, while 4.5 million are trafficked for sexual exploitation. The US and many other industrialized nations like Japan and Germany are the leading destinations of the trafficked victims. The highest prevalence of the problem is reported in African and Asian countries, especially in the areas that experience economic and political instability. Poverty, the urge to migrate to foreign countries in search of jobs, illiteracy, gender discrimination, biological and reproductive challenges, and abuse are some of the risk factors that predispose the victims to the global menace. However, the international United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is fully committed to preventing this problem from occurring, protecting the victims, and prosecuting the culprits. The US has adopted the same strategy by creating legislations to empower relevant agencies to intensify the fight. Other countries should take similar measures and work in order to find solutions to the problem because it traverses the international boundaries.

In fact, slave trade and slavery were practiced in the previous centuries. Slave trade was associated with the confiscation and selling of the human beings in the form of commodities to the slave trade merchants by warriors and kings in exchange for goods. Some of the items provided by the merchants comprised of guns and other forms of ammunition needed to fuel the community crises and increase the supply of slaves. Inhuman treatment directed towards the slaves and their families met colossal resistance that resulted in the abolition of such form of trade. The end of the slave trade was supposed to stop any trade that exploits humans at the benefits of the perpetrator. Unfortunately, slave trade has resurfaced in a more horrific and dangerous form for the past few decades that may be termed as a modern day slavery. Modern trade of humans involves the trafficking of victims from the areas of their residence to the destinations designed by the perpetrators. Actually, the trade benefits only the perpetrators, not the victims. Human trafficking is a widespread illegal practice that has a rich history. Thus, the causes and risk factors of the issue can be identified and the solutions to the problem can be found.

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Definition and Meaning of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking has different definitions that try to explain the concept. According to the World Health Organization [WHO], human trafficking and trafficking in persons are two concepts used as an umbrella for the acts that involves recruitment, harboring, obtaining or providing a person for commercial sex works or compelled services through coercion, fraud, or force. In fact, such a definition is widely used because it comes from the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking. The Protocol defines human trafficking as the act and process of recruiting, conveying, receiving or harboring people by the use of force, threats and other forms of deception, fraud, abduction, or the abuse of power. Additionally, the definition encompasses the deception or the provision of payments to obtain the consent of the individual, who controls the victim for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes not only the exploitative prostitution of others but also the use of others for the provision of forced labor and other services, removal of organs, and slavery or other similar practices. Therefore, human trafficking involves the perpetrators, who benefit from the exploitation of the victims.

The definition has three essential elements of human trafficking, which makes it widely endorsed and accepted in law transformations. In law, wherever any of the three aspects of human trafficking are used, the consent of the victims is meaningless. Actually, the victim may only be compelled to give consent because of the threats, coercion, and deception that is associated with the modern day slavery. The three elements include the act, the means, and the purpose. The act describes the operational concept of victim transportation such as receiving, harboring, transferring, or recruiting people. Conversely, the element of means is the intervention of intermediaries using coercion, force, deception, fraud, power abuse, threats, and the provision of benefits to the individual, who has control over the victim. The purpose entails the reason for the performance of the act of trafficking. The core objective of exploiting victims is to induce them to prostitution, to engage them in forced labor, sexual exploitation, practices of slavery, and to use them as donors of organs that threatens their lives.

Nature and Scope of Trafficking in Persons

Trafficking in persons is clandestine in nature; as a criminal endeavor, it is conducted in secret by the perpetrators, who form a criminal network. External trafficking of people occurs, when a victim is transported out of the native country to a foreign nation, while internal trafficking involves transporting the victim from one community or state to the other within the same country. The principal aim of internal trafficking of individuals is to exploit the victims for domestic labor, illegal adoption, child labor, sexual exploitation, performance of rituals, and organ harvesting. Conversely, external trafficking occurs mainly in order to obtain the victims for labor and sexual exploitation.

Traffickers use different forms of coercion so that the victims can reach the desired employers. In most cases, traffickers promise education, good jobs, citizenship in foreign countries, or even false marriage proposals. Husbands, parents, and close people sell the majority of the victims; the traffickers kidnap other victims with the use of force against their will. According to Deshpande and Nour, the most common form of coercion is debt bondage, where victims have to pledge personal services to repay such debts as living expenses or transportation to foreign countries. The employers provide constant demand for the traffickers to supply the victims with particular characteristics. Sex traffickers approach women prostitutes for transportation to overseas countries or families engulfed in poverty to purchase their female children with a promise that the victims will enjoy a better life in a developed country. Sometimes, victims may be threatened with death. Therefore, the victims are exploited easily due to the fear of dying whenever they resist the exploitative actions.

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Epidemiology of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking transpires in most nations around the globe that affects millions of people. However, it is hard to covertly measure the extent of the problem. On a yearly basis, more than 400,000 people reach Europe and more than 850,000 reach the United States as illegal immigrants. Such numbers comprise of the trafficked victims and those, who have paid smugglers. According to Niewiarowska, thousands of people move to foreign countries legally, where they realize that they were deceived of getting good and well-paying jobs and that they are enslaved. Mabel is a 35-year-old worker from the Philippines, who moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2012, due to the promise to work in the office only; Mabel was given a job in the home and abused several times. This behavior is a form of human trafficking that is rampant in Arabic countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which represent some of the destinations of trafficked victims.

Women and children represent the majority of trafficked victims due to their increased vulnerability. Eighty percent of the trafficked victims rerpesent females, fifty percent are minors, and seventy percent are the women trafficked to be exploited as commercial sex workers. Similarly, Odukwu explains that more than 27 million people in the world have faced the vice of trafficking; eighty percent of the trafficked victims comprise of women and children. The renowned International Labor Organization [ILO] reports that 2.44 out of the estimated 12 million taking part in forced sexual servitude, child labor and bonded labor are under exploitation in forced labor attributed to human traffickin. Thus, children and women are the most susceptible victims of human trafficking in the world. Niewiarowska reiterates that women and children constitute the majority of the trafficked victims in the world; thus, the media majorly focuses on the two groups of people once the modern-day slavery comes into account. Women can be exploited for sexual and labor benefits, which increase their vulnerability.

In the world, almost all the countries take part in this illegitimate form of slavery; although some countries are highly affected. Niewiarowska reports that more than 21 million people have fallen victims of trafficking in the entire world; 124 countries were found to have trafficking victims with more than 154 different citizenships. Both Pakistan and India are the major destinations of victims; the largest population comes from Southeast Asia. ILO estimates that, out of the 21 million victims, 9.5 million are men and the rest are women, and 4.5 million of females are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Therefore, trafficking has traversed national boundaries because of the widespread occurrence.

Africa and the US are the countries that are most affected by trafficking. From the beginning of 2008 to the end of June 2010, American task forces had opened more than 2,500 human trafficking investigations, 82% of which were sex trafficking cases. Of the cases classified under sex trafficking, 83% involved US citizen victims, 40% of which represented sexual exploitation or prostitution of children. The findings mimic the report of ILO that stated that about 17,500 nationals from foreign countries are trafficked into the US, while the individuals trafficked within that country exceed 200,000 Americans yearly. Thus, internal trafficking in the US is more rampant than the external one; children represent one of the most susceptible societal group. In 2013, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) received information on more than 4,880 cases of potential trafficking, 69% of which were sex trafficking incidents and 31% involved minor victims. In fact, this figure is below the actual prevalence of the problem because many cases of human trafficking stay unreported due to the illegal nature of the smuggling trade. The US is among the leading destinations for sex trafficking in the world, while US citizens are trafficked to other industrialized countries such as Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands (Deshpande & Nour, 2013). The victims of sex trafficking in the US come mainly from East Asia, Mexico, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Africa, Central and Western regions bear the largest responsibility for the problem; although other regions of the continent still experience the problem. ILO reports that Africa is the only continent, where the largest proportion of children is offered exploitative labor; 80 million of children between five and fourteen years of age are the victims of human trafficking. Every year, Western and Central Africa provides between 200,000 and 300,000 children for trafficking to be exploited sexually or through forced labor. Most of the countries that are vulnerable to trafficking have uncertain political and economic environments. Odukwu reiterates that foreign victims of trafficking mainly come from developing countries in Eastern and Central Europe, Asia, and Africa, while the developed nations represent the major destinations. Therefore, Africa may be the most vulnerable continent to the illegal trade.

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Causes and Risks for Human Trafficking

Different forms of child abuse, biological and reproductive challenges, and social isolation are the major risk factors for the trafficking of children. In fact, from 33 to 90 percent of the children victims of sexual exploitation have experienced different forms of abuse that include neglect, maltreatment, and childhood or youthful sexual abuse among others. Lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender youths are five times more likely to be trafficked than their heterosexual colleagues due to the feelings of alienation and rejection. Moreover, it becomes difficult to identify children victims due to their reluctance to expose the vice because of the sense fear and shame, stigma associated with trafficking, the power and control of the traffickers, and the inability of recognizing the problem.

The desire to migrate and poverty of victims predispose them to the international problem of trafficking. The desire increases the vulnerability of victims to trafficking once the traffickers come in to offer disguised help only to gain control over them and then advance their manipulative and exploitative agendas. According to Khowaja et al., poverty deprives people from the necessary resources that increase their search for wealth and escalates the risk of trafficking. Sometimes, poverty may compel parents and families to sell their children into servitude, forced marriage, and prostitution. In Pakistan, poverty, low education levels, and ignorance of individual rights of women represent the primary reasons behind human trafficking. Niewiarowska reiterates that poverty and economic hardships make people search for new employment opportunities even if the process involves taking risks in new countries. Such a situation predisposes the poor to the illegitimate form of slavery.

Gender disparities, illiteracy, ineffective laws, and poor implementation of the existing anti-trafficking legislations are some of the predisposing factors of human trafficking, especially, in women. Many societies favor male children and view women as a financial burden; this problem is rampant in Pakistan that predisposes women to early marriages or exploitation by traffickers for financial benefit of their families. Low levels of women literacy are observed in many countries that deprive females from the opportunity to be economically empowered and understand their rights in the society. Moreover, discriminated women also lack a chance to acquire health and sex education. According to Khowaja et al., although Pakistanis have the right to legal protection against trafficking, the legislations are not only ineffective but also poorly enforced; thus, it is hard to protect the vulnerable population against the menace due to the threats of terror. Therefore, the smugglers have an easy way of propagating the trade of humans due to the legal loopholes, while the victims lack the virtual legal protection.

Interventions to Mitigate Trafficking of Persons

Many countries, especially the US, are working with the United Nations to prevent trafficking, persecute the perpetrators, and protect the victims. In countering the menace, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) spreads information to the vulnerable groups of many countries through educational and information sharing campaigns. For instance, UNODC has funded non-governmental organizations in both Bosnia and Croatia in order to run prevention campaigns in vulnerable asylum seekers. Furthermore, the protection of victims and vulnerable people requires working procedures for the criminal justice staffs and the police to ensure safety, and privacy protection against the traffickers, the issues this organization considers a part of its police, judge, and prosecutor training initiative. The agency also helps the countries all over the world to formulate the laws and strengthen existing law enforcement bodies to prosecute the perpetrators of the human trafficking. Therefore, the world is united in the fight against the global modern-day slavery.

The US is working in partnership with many countries across the globe in order to mitigate the menace of human trafficking. The nation developed the Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act (TVPA) based on the UNODC that requires all the states to criminalize trafficking, as they work under the guidance of many national agencies such as the Departments of Labor, Justice, Education, and Homeland Security among others. The law requires the federal agencies to follow both criminal and labor laws, identify victims and protect them, enhance partnerships with other countries, educate and create public awareness, and engage in international diplomacy in order to resolve the global problem. Much effort should be dedicated to streamline victim reporting of the human trafficking.


Human trafficking is an international problem that involves the exploitation of vulnerable people in the society for the benefit of the perpetrators. In fact, African countries and other developing nations represent the primary sources of external trafficking, while the US and industrialized countries represent the major destinations. Women and children from poor backgrounds are the most vulnerable groups, particularly, for the case of labor and sexual exploitation. Apart from poverty and illiteracy, gender discrimination, ineffective anti-trafficking laws and poor implementation of the laws, the urge to migrate and find better job opportunities predisposes the victims to trafficking. However, countries should work in cooperation to unify the war against this form of slavery and slave trade by protecting the victims, prosecuting the perpetrators, and preventing human trafficking from occurring.

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