The Phenomenon of Human Trafficking

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The phenomenon of human trafficking or modern-day slavery has received increased media coverage globally; this is because millions of people around the world suffer in silence under slave-like conditions of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation from which they cannot free themselves.

Human trafficking not only continues but appears to be on the rise worldwide primarily because most countries are involved in human trafficking to some extent, either as a place of recruitment, transit or the destination for trafficked individuals. This essay addresses the phenomenon of human trafficking as a form of victimisation and will define key concepts, identify and discuss victims of human trafficking and its trends. The discussion will further look in to the causes of vulnerability to trafficking, reasons for trafficking, strategies for recruiting trafficked people and the responses or courses of action to reduce human trafficking.

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A case study of recent trafficking issue will also be provided to show the reality of the problem and lastly the conclusion will sum up the discussion in a nutshell. Definition of Key terms; 1 Human trafficking Hodge and Lietz (2007; 163) explain that human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people, by the use of force, threat or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, and deception. It also includes the abuse of power and position by giving or receiving payments to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation as explained by Hodge and Lietz (2007; 163) include forced prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour and services, servitude and the involuntary removal of organs. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime explain human trafficking as an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them (UNODC, 2010).


According to Howley and Dorris (2007; 229) victims are persons who have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering including grief, economic loss and/or substantial impairment of rights accorded them by the state law through acts or omissions that are in violation of the criminal law operating in the territory. Victims of human trafficking Winterdyk and Reichel (2010; 5) states that human traffickers tend to victimize the most vulnerable of the global community consisting mostly young women and children and to a certain extent men.

According to Winterdyk and Reichel (2010; 5) victims live in desperate, brutal circumstances behind a wall of secrecy and deception and the victims are often sick due to physical and psychological trauma they experience especially when they try to escape. Bales (2004; 56) further elaborates that traffickers instil trauma through a sense of terror and helplessness and by destroying the victims sense of self. Perpetrators also threaten death and serious harm against victims and their families, they also isolate their victims from sources of information and emotional support where they can get help (Bales, 2004; 56).

An explanation by Fichtelberg (2008; 151) clearly states that victims of human trafficking are forced into sex trade industry which includes prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, strip dancing, live-sex shows, servile marriages or illegal labour markets such as sweatshops, farm work, domestic work , industrial work, begging, child soldiers, participating in crime or other activities they did not agree to engage in.

Fichtelberg (2008; 152) further elaborates that victims are often “invisible” as they are often isolated from their family members and other members of their ethnic and religious community and therefore unable to speak the local language and unfamiliar with the culture. Victims may not self-identify themselves as victims of human trafficking due to lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system of the host country, fear of retribution against themselves and their families by traffickers, fear of accusation within their families, post traumatic stress disorder and stigma (Fichtelberg, 2008; 152).

Trends in human trafficking According to Hodge & Lietz (2007; 163) determining the number of individuals who are trafficked is difficult due to high levels of secrecy and corruption within the human trafficking industry. Furthermore, victims are often hesitant to share their experiences due to fear of reprisals and as a result estimates of the prevalence of trafficking have varied considerably.

Hodge & Lietz (2007;163) further states that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders annually, of which 70- 80% are female and approximately 50% are children. Among all females, approximately 70% are trafficked for prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, while the remaining are males trafficked for forced labour and performing criminal activities for their traffickers (Hodge & Lietz, 2007;163).

Causes of human trafficking

  • Poverty and desire for better life of exploited victims

According to Logan, Walker and Hunt (2009; 10) poverty is one most important factor in becoming a target of human trafficking because the poverty that the trafficked immigrants experience in their countries of origin is too extreme that it threatens even basic survival, thus making them vulnerable to any promises of better livelihood.

Logan, Walker and Hunt (2009; 10) further elaborates that vulnerability to trafficking is on the rise due to a mix of poverty and high levels of population density, infant mortality rate, children younger than 14, civil unrest and violence, cultural acceptance of trafficking and lower levels of food security in those poverty stricken nations.

In addition, Logan, Walker and Hunt (2009; 10) explain that impoverished people often want to go to stable and wealthy countries like America for a better life then criminals use their dreams against them and put them into trafficking as they are desperate and willing to accept any opportunity to better their livelihood and help their family members who are also struggling.

  • Corruption and the abuse of influence

Surtees (2008;49) explains that corruption of government authorities including politicians, state functionaries, law enforcement officers and immigration officials play a critical role in the operation of human trafficking networks and allows trafficking to continue from, through, and within their countries.

Surtees (2008;49) further elaborates that these corrupt officials supports trafficking in many ways; through document falsification, illegal border crossings, overlooking prostitution venues in identifying victims, compromising criminal investigations, lack of investigation and judges dismissing cases or imposing minimal sanctions against international human trafficking networks. Lehti and Aromaa (2007; 125) also states that some individuals within international organized crime syndicates are current or former officials and use their position and/or experience to support criminal ventures.

Former members of security agencies, for example, are able to combine their security experience (which includes intimidation and torture) with high-level connections to political, professional and law enforcement agencies, allowing them to function with impunity by hiring legal and business experts as intermediaries or brokers through which they recruit people for trafficking (Lehti and Aromaa, 2007; 125).

  • High profits and Low risk

According to the U.S Department of State (2004) human trafficking is the third most profitable form of international organised crime after narcotics and arms sales. According to this report the sale of trafficked people is generating massive profits for traffickers because unlike narcotics and arms, which are sold once, people who are sold into prostitution and involuntary servitude earn profits continually, year after year, for their exploiters while victims get minimal wages or basically nothing due to debt bondage imposed to them by traffickers (U. S Department of State, 2004).

In addition to high profits, Hodge & Lietz (2007; 166) explains that the risks associated with trafficking are quite minimal because prostitution is legal in many places like Germany and Netherlands therefore complicating efforts to incarcerate traffickers. Hodge & Lietz (2007; 166) further elaborates that even in countries where prostitution is clearly illegal, traffickers often go unpunished for their crimes because cases regularly fall apart due to lack of protection for witnesses, family involvement in the trafficking activity and fear of deportation.

Furthermore, enforcement efforts usually focus on the women instead of the exploiters, consequently people often attempt to remain unnoticed for fear of being charged, particularly if they are trafficked internationally (Hodge & Lietz, 2007; 166). Recruitment strategies for human trafficking victims A study by Skinner (2008; 131) states that people are trafficked in three main ways which include being born into slavery, use of force i. e. being kidnapped, sold, or physically forced and by fraud or being tricked.

Being born in to slavery

According to Skinner (2008; 131) in some countries families may be permanent servants because they were born into it. This is mainly because their families may have been slaves or in debt bondage literally for generations and when they bear children they are automatically under the same circumstances and may be sold to whoever is involved in the human trafficking business.

Use of force

Skinner (2008; 131) contends that in some countries children are literally sold into slavery out of their will by parents or other caregivers mainly because of the economic situations of the families. Skinner (2008; 131) further states that victims are then raped, beaten, intimidated, tortured and confined so as to control them after they have being sold. Forceful violence as explained by Skinner (2008; 131) is used especially during the early stages of victimisation, known as the ‘seasoning process’, which is used to break the victim’s resistance so as to make them easier to control.

In some cases, Skinner (2008; 131) states that people who are often approached to work in the sex industry often refuse and traffickers may kidnap or abduct such individuals and smuggle them to the country of destination to work as slaves or sold to other traffickers.

Fraud Hyland (2001; 31) states that traffickers use seemingly legitimate organizations to recruit young women and children in to trafficking situations. This often involves the use of false advertisements promising desperate people a better life in another, usually richer, nation that offers jobs to work as waitresses, maids, landscapers and dancers.

In other cases, Hyland (2001; 31) explain that women who work in nightclubs may be approached and promised much higher earnings for doing similar work in wealthier nations only to find that they will be forced in to prostitution and sex related exploitations. According to Hyland (2001; 31) some victims may be made to sign false contracts to make the whole experience seem even more legitimate, and sometimes psychologically binding them even more to the trafficker to erase any suspicions from the victim.

Hyland (2001; 32) further states that in some instances, victims are approached by individuals known to their families in their home countries who invite them to come along with them for a job offer but only misleading them into trafficking situations where are often subjected to debt-bondage, usually in the context of paying off transportation fees into the destination countries.


According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000), traffickers often make representations to their victims that physical harm may occur to them or others should the victim escape or attempt to escape.

Such representations can have coercive effects on victims as direct threats to inflict such harm may cause victims to live in fear and become hopeless and hence easy to control. Coercion as explained by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000) means threats of serious harm to or physical restraint of any person, it also includes any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to make a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process

Severe forms of trafficking in persons

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000), severe forms of trafficking in persons’’ involves sex trafficking in which a commercial sex work is imposed on someone by the use of force, fraud, or coercion. It also includes recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Sex Trafficking According to Hodge & Lietz (2007; 165) sex trafficking means the recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex. Hodge & Lietz (2007; 165) further states that sex trafficking is no longer primarily localized in one geographic region but has increasingly become a transnational and a global problem. For example, a young girl may be recruited in Botswana, sold and “trained” in Italy, with the United States being the ultimate destination.

Moreover, Hodge & Lietz (2007; 165) states that traffickers primarily target young women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, the lack of access to education, chronic unemployment, discrimination, and the lack of economic opportunities in countries of origin. According to Hodge & Lietz (2007; 165) most trafficking victims originate in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and to a lesser extent, Latin America while destination countries tend to be wealthy nations like America in which large sex industries like pornography exist or where prostitution is legalized or broadly tolerated as in the case of Germany and Netherlands.

Prevention of trafficking in humans

Economic alternatives to prevent and deter trafficking According to Beyrer (2001; 547) states that initiatives to enhance economic opportunities for potential victims of trafficking can be used as a method to deter trafficking since the traffickers often target people who live in poverty in the promise for better livelihood. Such initiatives may include microcredit lending programs, training in business development, skills training, and job counselling.

Other alternatives as stated by Beyrer (2001; 547) are the provision of grants to nongovernmental organizations that can help to accelerate and advance the political, economic, social, and educational roles and capacities of women in their countries. Furthermore, countries should initiate programs that promote women’s participation in economic decision which can help to empower women economically as they appear to be the primary target and most vulnerable to human trafficking (Beyrer, 2001; 547).

Public awareness and information

Beyrer (2001; 548) states that countries should establish and carry out programs to increase public awareness on human trafficking particularly among potential victims about the dangers of trafficking and the protections that are available for them. Beyrer (2001; 548) further elaborates that governments should initiate programs to keep children, especially girls, in schools to reduce vulnerability at an early age and to educate persons who have been victims of trafficking. Moreover the development of educational curricula covering issues of human trafficking can also help to create awareness at an early stage Beyrer (2001; 548).

Protection and assistance for victims of trafficking

According to Beyrer (2001; 549) victim protection begins when a victim is rescued and reunited with their family and continues when they are assisted to rebuild their lives. It may include keeping victims safe from threat, violence and abuse, counselling, help with income generation, education and vocational training. Beyrer (2001; 549) further states that prosecution of traffickers ensures the victim receives full justice, including meaningful prosecution of the perpetrator.

It requires vigorous law enforcement, fighting corruption, identifying and monitoring trafficking routes, and cross-border coordination. Moreover, Beyrer (2001; 549) further states that protection and assistance of victims can be achieved through policies or framework including government and NGO guiding principles, plans and strategies, which support all of the anti-trafficking initiatives that assist victims. Case study 9 held for human trafficking – News 24 Ermelo - Nine Nigerian men arrested for alleged human trafficking have appeared in the Ermelo Magistrate's Court, Mpumalanga police said on Tuesday.

Captain Leonard Hlathi said the men appeared in court on Friday, and their case was postponed to April 16 for a bail application. He said it was alleged that the men forcefully took a number of women from around the country to Ermelo, where they were forced into prostitution. They were given R30 a day for food, and from time to time they were forced to take drugs to ensure they remained addicts. The 12 women, between the ages of 18 and 30, told the police the men took all their earnings and they were not paid for the jobs that they were doing. Home affairs officials confirmed that the suspects applied for asylum in South Africa, and according to the information in their application forms, they do not qualify for asylum. " He said they were being charged under the Sexual Offences Act and for kidnapping. "These men can consider themselves a bit lucky as human trafficking laws are in the process of being legislated. These acts of the suspects were exactly equivalent to human trafficking. " Source; news24. com The above case study reflects on the reality of the problem of human trafficking in South Africa as it the case in all countries around the world.

According to the case study it is evident that traffickers target mostly young women who are more vulnerable and defenceless. As already discussed trafficking is a sustained by huge profits due to exploitation of the victims, the case study further support that statement as it states that the victims were given only a little amount enough to buy food and the profit they make from forced prostitution goes to the perpetrators. Conclusion In conclusion, women, children and people in general are not property to be bought and sold, used and discarded.

Rather, they are human beings with certain fundamental human rights that prevent them from being sold into slavery. People should therefore know their rights and exercise them and countries should unite and cooperate in the war against human trafficking because it is a very complicated problem that cannot be solved by one country as it is a multinational crime involving highly organised crime syndicates. Citizens should also assist in the war against human trafficking by avoiding flashy job opportunities which often offer unrealistic rewards. At last people should also report suspicious cases of trafficking as this victims often work in public places including restaurants, hotels and massage parlours.


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The Phenomenon of Human Trafficking. (2018, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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