The Trafficking in Persons or TIP Report is the world’s most comprehensive report on governmental anti-trafficking efforts. It is published by the U.S. State Department every year and ranks each country based on their anti-trafficking efforts. This year the report includes a review of human trafficking globally in light of the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic.
Human Trafficking Defined
“Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are all umbrella terms to describe exploitation of adults or children who have been compelled to perform labour or engage in commercial sex.
At present, more than 175 countries have ratified or acceded to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons which defines human trafficking and contains obligations to prevent and combat the crime. The definition of trafficking includes three essential elements: the act; the means; and purpose:
The “act” is when the trafficker recruits, harbours, transports, provides or obtains another person for forced labour or commercial sex.
The “means” refers a trafficker’s use of force, fraud, or coercion.
The “purpose” is the trafficker’s goal to secure labour or sexual exploitation.
There is no limit on the location or type of industry in which labour trafficking can take place including agriculture, factories, restaurants, hotels, fishing vessels, mines or private homes.
Forced labour, also referred to as “labour trafficking,” encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to obtain the labour or services of another person. There are certain types of forced labour that are frequently distinguished for emphasis or because they are widespread:
Domestic servitude is a form of forced labour in which a victim works in a private residence. Domestic workers are often isolated and may work alone in a house. Their employer often controls their access to food, transport and housing. Foreign domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse due to language and cultural barriers, as well as a lack of community ties.
Forced Child Labour is another serious form of trafficking. Traffickers often target children because they are more vulnerable.
Sex trafficking refers to the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act. All three elements – “acts,” “means,” and “purpose” – are required to establish a sex trafficking crime except in the case of child sex trafficking where the means are irrelevant, as it is always a crime to exploit a child for sex.
Human trafficking can take place even if the victim initially consented to providing labour, services, or commercial sex acts. A trafficker can target a victim after a victim applies for a job or migrates to earn a living. The trafficker’s coercive scheme is what matters, not a victim’s prior consent. Likewise, in sex trafficking, an adult victim’s initial willingness to engage in commercial sex acts is not relevant when a trafficker subsequently uses coercion to exploit the victim. In child sex trafficking, consent is never relevant as a child cannot legally consent to commercial sex.
A trafficker or victim does not have to move across a border for a human trafficking offence to take place. Trafficking in persons is a crime of exploitation and coercion, and not movement. Traffickers can use schemes that take victims hundreds of miles away from their homes, or exploit them in the same neighbourhood where they were born.
Trafficking and Debt
There are many means use by traffickers to coerce, manipulate and exploit victims of trafficking, one prevalent such means is debt. Debt bondage is when the trafficker uses debt manipulation as the primary means of coercion. Traffickers target some individuals with an initial debt assumed willingly as a condition of future employment. In certain countries traffickers tell individuals they “inherited” the debt from relatives. Traffickers can also manipulate debts by withholding earnings or forcing the victim to assume debts for expenses like food, housing, or transport.
Human Trafficking and the Global Pandemic
The pandemic generated conditions that increased the number of people experiencing vulnerabilities to human trafficking, and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions. Governments across the world diverted resources toward the pandemic, often at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts. This resulted in decreased protection measures for victims, reduced preventative efforts, and hindered investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.
Increased Vulnerabilities to Human Trafficking
A growing number of people experienced economic and social vulnerabilities due to the pandemic. These included women and children, people affected by travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, and communities facing food insecurity and reduced livelihood options. In particular, survivors of trafficking were at risk of re-victimization.
Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions increased rates of gender-based violence and substance abuse, resulting in a higher risk of exploitation by traffickers. Reduced wages and work hours, closure of workplaces, and rising unemployment, coupled with disruptions to social safety networks, created precarious situations that exposed people to risk of trafficking.
Low-wage and migrant workers, and those in the informal economy, faced riskier employment conditions, including restricted movement, withheld wages, and increasing debts—all flags for human trafficking. Workers who lived at their worksites became particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labour.
The need to reconcile pandemic mitigation strategies with anti-trafficking activities posed a serious dilemma. This resulted in inadequate anti-trafficking responses around the world: victims went unidentified, survivors were underserved, and traffickers were not held accountable.
Vulnerabilities Exploited by Traffickers
Human traffickers targeted growing numbers of people in worsening economic and social situations. This included individuals confined to their homes or workplaces, households in dire need of financial support, and workers in the informal sector.
Traffickers took advantage of the reduced capacity and changing priorities of law enforcement to get away with their crimes. Online recruitment and grooming increased as children spent more time online for virtual learning due to school closures, often with little parental supervision. Several countries reported a drastic increases in online commercial sexual exploitation, including exploitation of children.
Traffickers targeted families experiencing financial difficulties and offered false promises and fraudulent job offers to recruit their children. Business owners and landlords pressured employees and tenants in financial distress into cheap labour or sexual exploitation. Additionally, traffickers sought to re-exploit survivors who became financially unstable.
To read the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report in full visit https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-trafficking-in-persons-report/
You can follow our video series outlining the findings of the TIP report via our Facebook Page