about human trafficking

"You can’t take the evil of slavery out of the world and abolish it without making the world more just. You will never prevent people living in bonded labor or from getting caught up in sex trafficking while they are so desperate that they have no other choice but to sell themselves. As long as we in the West crave ever more excess, we conspire in their desperation, exploiting it and make ourselves sick in the process" (Clare Short, member of British Parliament and former Secretary of State for International Development).

Facts about human trafficking

As many as 27 million people are caught in the trap of modern-day slavery (human trafficking)—80 percent of them female and up to 50 percent children (2006 Trafficking in Persons Report).

The majority of trafficking victims are used for sexual exploitation and others for bonded labor, domestic work, military conscription, marriage, illicit adoption, sport, begging or organ harvesting (Combating Child Trafficking, UNICEF 2005).

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing transnational crimes, generating an estimated $10 billion per year (Combating Child Trafficking, UNICEF 2005).

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 makes trafficking illegal in the United States. It defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:

  1. “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
  2. “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.”

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children is the primary international law against trafficking.

How human trafficking happens

A young village girl, probably from a poor family, is lured, tricked or cajoled by a “trafficker” who promises a good job, a marriage or a better life in the city. The “trafficker” could be a woman who has previously been prostituted herself, a young man promising marriage or jobs, or a family member. The young girl is illiterate (or close to it), unsuspecting and has hopes for a better life for herself and/or her family, but she soon finds herself in a horrible nightmare of slavery from which she will likely never be able to escape.

Who is vulnerable to being trafficked and prostituted?

Both personal circumstances and socio-structural forces are at work in the lives of those who are most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Some of the main risk factors are:

  • Economic depravation (a high percentage of trafficked persons belong to low-income groups)
  • Low literacy
  • Physical disability
  • Family breakdown
  • Divorce or widowhood at an early age
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of awareness (i.e. family member may trick or traffic a trusting girl)
  • Lack of government infrastructure
  • Poor labor market

Human trafficking in Kolkata

Kolkata's red-light districts are home to approximately 20,000 female commercial sex workers plus their families. It is estimated that these women see an average of three to four clients daily, (so) then between 60,000 to 80,000 men are visiting commercial sex workers every day." (Guilty Without Trial)

Another source cites the number of women in the sex trade in Kolkata as much higher. "Although exact numbers are not known it is estimated that there are more than 60,000 brothel-based women and girls in prostitution in Kolkata" (Jose Vetticattil and Sunitha Krishnan, The Shattered Innocence: A Field Study on Interstate Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation from Andhra Pradesh; Hyderabad, India: Prajwala Anti-Trafficking Cell, 2002).

“The majority of sex workers who come to Kolkata via trafficking are not kidnapped but lured, coaxed and cajoled with false promises or some offer of help out of a dead-end or crisis situation. Force is used later after the women (girls) have already been sold. Mashis (brothel owners/older sex workers) use friendship, sympathy, also veiled threats to convince the women that it is now in their best interest to conform and begin working.” (Guilty Without Trial).

“India is mainly a receiving country, a reception center for women from Bangladesh and Nepal. It also acts as a transit country and, being so large, has its own internal sending, transit and receiving areas. Kolkata is an important receiver. It also functions as a transit place from where Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi women who come to the city, either independently or through agents, are taken to red-light areas in other cities such as Bombay, or even to other countries in the Middle East.” (Guilty Without Trial).

“It is estimated that roughly 100,000 to 160,000 Nepalese girls and women are working as sex workers in India. Roughly 20 percent of them are estimated to be under age (under 18), with 35 percent abducted under the pretense of marriage or jobs.” (Guilty Without Trial).

Some estimates say that as many as 100,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked every year from Nepal to India.

Some girls are sold directly into prostitution, but, in terms of sheer numbers, the most common path to sexual slavery is that walked by girls who are searching for an escape from poverty (Sex Slaves).

By transporting people from their homes, often out of their original countries, traffickers make these vulnerable people even more vulnerable. They remove them from their social support networks and place them in an environment in which the language, customs and work patterns may be unfamiliar. Trafficked people are easy to manipulate and exploit because they are made to be dependent on others. This is why the sex industry likes trafficked girls. A trafficked woman who is prostituted, however, will almost invariably find herself in the very worst of exploitative situations (Sex Slaves).

What can I do?

Be informed. Learn as much as you can about trafficking—how it happens and who is vulnerable—by reading books and news, watching documentaries and doing internet searches.

Be aware of how you may be benefiting from injustice and take action. For example, you can choose to purchase fairly traded products and a support companies who have fair labor practices and policies both in the United States and around the world.

Take a stand against all industries that demoralize women and exploit any human being. In this way you help break the cycle of supply and demand that must exist in order for an industry such as human trafficking to be a lucrative activity.

Raise awareness. Share what you learn with friends and family; sponsor an event to raise awareness in your community, religious organization or school. Share this page on Facebook.

Advocate. Contact your elected officials and encourage them to sponsor and support legislation that deals with trafficking and related crimes.

Support organizations that are on the frontlines of today’s abolition movement.

Purchase products made by survivors.