State of Human Trafficking in the World in 2022

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The umbrella terms like “Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are often interchangeably used 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. Concepts like slavery and forced labor are old issues that have persisted for the majority of human history. In the recent decades, the topic, however, has become a global concern, generating a tremendous amount of public attention and receiving growing coverage in the international media. More than ever in human history, the global community is now more vigilant about issues like human rights violation, forced labor, labor bondage, sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation. Anti-trafficking activism has skyrocketed and most countries have created new policies, laws, and enforcement mechanisms to tackle the problem.

The initiatives at the regional and global levels are also most noticeable and the provision for anti-trafficking has even been incorporated into the global declarations like SDGs–2015, where the target 8.7 commits to end modern slavery among children by 2025, and universally by 2030. However, the reality is far from the targeted standard and today millions of men, women and children are still fall victim of human trafficking, who are being exploited or being forced to engage in labor or sexual acts against their will in every corner of the globe.

Human Trafficking and Misperception

In the twenty-first century, human trafficking can be compared to slavery and is characterized by similar motivations as the “illegal trading of individuals for exploitation or commercial gain”. It is the culmination of several factors, but it is mostly associated with issues of social inequality and lack of access to fundamental human rights. Coercion, fraud, and deceit are the components of human trafficking through which the weaker and more vulnerable section of the population are compelled or coerced into the sale of human bodies and different forms of forced labor. The traffickers lure victims with false promises of economic opportunity or romantic relationships and after having the target under their control they would withhold their identification and travel documents, use or threaten to use of violence, keep them under surveillance, bondage them in debt repayment or would force them to work with little or almost no wages.  Women and girls are particularly most vulnerable to this because of persistent disparities in society, which is a result of organized gender inequality. According to the United Nations, human trafficking is the illegal recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of individuals for unlawful purposes, such as forced labor or sexual exploitation, through inappropriate means such as force, abduction, deception, or coercion (UNODC).

The most common misconception with human trafficking is people treat it as equivalent to human smuggling and assume that in order to identify someone as trafficked person one has to cross border. Although human smuggling is a related practice, both are distinct due to a subtle principle of consent. In case of human smuggling there is a consent of the person being smuggled across the international border. However, a case of smuggling can descend into human trafficking if the people are held against their will through acts of coercion, and forced to work for or provide services to the trafficker or others.  So an all-encompassing definition of the concept would be the one provided by US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which incorporates the concept of domestic servitude, child labor, bonded labor in addition to the UN recognized forced labor and sexual exploitation. The most striking feature of the definition is that a victim need not have to be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition. It takes place in every country and takes on many forms such as domestic Servitude, sex worker, forced labor, bonded labor, child labor, forced marriage, enforced sexual activities etc.

– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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