Anti-trafficking policies

The USA publishes a Trafficking in Persons Report annually ( and the United Nations has produced two reports on global trafficking. The USA’s Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA, 2000) encourages governments to join in the fight against human trafficking.

The TVPA contains three main components:

  • protection – increased efforts to protect foreign national victims as well as non-immigrants;
  • prosecution – of traffickers related to forced labour and sexual exploitation
  • prevention – to assist other governments to reduce trafficking.

Attempts to reduce trafficking include increased public awareness about the risks involved as well as designing policies to reduce trafficking. Governments can start by having up-to-date registration of births and migration into an area. By allowing trade unions, workers’ rights are more likely to be protected, and trafficking reduced.

Human trafficking occurs in most countries, and is often a trans-border phenomenon. In the past, trafficking may have been more likely between two nations whereas now it is more likely to be a multi-national phenomenon. In the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, anti-trafficking measures were incorporated into three of the seventeen goals.

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Find out which of the SDGs contain anti-trafficking measures.

It is likely that no single measure nor any single country can end human trafficking, and a multi-governmental approach with many responses will be needed to reduce trafficking. Approximately, 90% of countries have now become parties to the United Nations 2003 Protocol to Prevent, Support and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. In November 2003, around two-thirds of countries lacked specific offences that criminalised trafficking. By 2006, this had fallen to just over one-quarter. In 2015 South Korea, Singapore and Sri Lanka became parties to the Protocol.

Eight countries in Africa and the Middle East lack anti-trafficking legislation. However, some of these contain large populations, so the number of people unprotected is large. Also, some large populations in Asia and South America have only partial coverage. Overall, some two billion people live in areas where trafficking is not criminalised.

Populations at risk

Certain populations are at an increased risk of discrimination or marginalization. These include refugees and migrants; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI); religious minorities; people with disabilities, and those who are stateless. All of these are at increased risk of human trafficking.

In 2015, UNHCR reported that there were 76 countries that criminalised same-sex sexual relationships, and seven countries had the death penalty for such activities. In the USA, NGOs report that LGBTI adolescents make up a disproportionate number of runaway and homeless people. Elsewhere, religious minorities have an increased vulnerability to trafficking.

Since 2015, the increased number of migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe has been associated with an increase in trafficking. Migrants and refugees are also at increased risk of trafficking even when they have reached their destination.  The over-burdened asylum systems in Europe have provided opportunities for traffickers to continue to operate. For migrants that arrive without papers, the risk of being trafficked increases.

Governments could reduce the risk of trafficking among migrants and refugees by increasing staffing levels at entry ports, and distributing information sheets to migrants and refugees about the risk of trafficking and the support that is available. Inspectors could inspect documentation at workplaces to ensure that everything is legal.

Children with disabilities have been targeted by traffickers, on account of their potential to beg. National and local governments can reduce the risk of trafficking by banning discrimination, and offering a range of community-based support systems for people with disabilities.

Stateless people are also at risk of trafficking. The UNHCR estimate that there are some 10 million stateless people, one-third of whom are children. In Burma, the 800,000 Rohingya people who live in Rakhine state are denied citizenship. Their lack of legal status and identity documents increases the risk of labour and sex-trafficking.

Criminal justice response

Figure 0 Criminalisation of trafficking in persons with a specific offence, number and share of countries, 2003-2014.


Source UNODC, 20124, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, Fig. 27, p. 52

According to the UN, the number of convictions for trafficking remains very low. Of the 128 countries covered in the latest UN report, 15% did not record a single conviction. In addition, the number of countries that punished traffickers operating in their territory was very limited. Moreover, the pattern shows little change. When the ratio of convictions per population is compared, Europe and Asia have over 0.3 convictions per 100,000, South Asia and East Asia around 0.3, and the Americas and Africa and the Middle east less than 0.1. Globally, less than a quarter of suspects are convicted although about one in three suspects in Western and Central Europe are convicted.

Many governments and MGOs believe that confiscating the proceeds of crime is appropriate and effective as a punishment and a deterrent. It also disrupts criminal activity by cutting off some of the funding available, creates an image that crime does not pay, and helps win over public support. However, support for the victims is less forthcoming. Although many countries have laws that allow victims to claim compensation, trafficked people rarely receive any compensation.

Case study

Many women are trafficked between Nigeria and Western Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It is one of Europe’s most persistent trafficking flows. Nigerian women frequently account for over 10% of the trafficked people in Western and Central Europe. The women sign a contract in Nigeria which is ‘blessed’ in a ritual (called juju) by a priest. Having been trafficked to Europe they are forced to pay back a debt, some as high as €40,000-70,000. Threats made be made to family members, and the women are controlled by madams, older Nigerian women who have themselves been victims in the past. UN evidence suggests that corruption and blackmail is rife, and the prostitution gangs may also be engaged in the distribution of drugs on Europe’s streets.

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