5 Things you didn’t know about human trafficking

Fake promises, offers of a new “job” abroad and the abuse of someone’s trust. Transporting a man, woman or child across borders, far from their home and pushing them into a life of slavery or even death… This is the reality of human trafficking today.

The Global Slavery Index’s latest statistics estimate that there are 45.8 million people worldwide living in slavery. Trafficking people for the purposes of human slavery is clearly a gross violation of their human rights. Sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ harvesting, forced begging, child soldiers, forced marriage, illegal adoption, benefit fraud and even pornography – these are the abuses which lie behind human trafficking.

Core human rights legislation including The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which falls under The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, calls upon nations to criminalise and fight human trafficking. Today, 88% of countries worldwide have done so, according to the definition outlined in the UN protocol (UNODC, 2016). Yet despite national, regional and global efforts, human trafficking is a daily heartbreaking reality for millions of people worldwide.

So, who are the victims? How old are they? What work are they forced into and by whom? Well here’s 5 key trends in human trafficking, based on figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2016) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons to give you the lowdown on human trafficking at it stands today.

Human trafficking: 5 Key trends


1. If you’re female you’re (still) more likely to be trafficked

Women and girls are more than twice as likely to be trafficked than their male peers. Women and girls account for 71% of (detected) victims of human trafficking worldwide. At 51%, women are still the biggest victims of human trafficking, with sexual exploitation the most widespread cause. The only exceptions are in South Asia with adult forced labour, Sub-Saharan Africa with boys forced into child labour and North Africa where women remain the biggest victims but are primarily subjected to forced labour. On top of this, domestic servitude (cooking, cleaning etc.) – another factor behind human trafficking – also predominantly affects women.

2. Forced labour is on the rise

The gender gap is narrowing. In fact, the number of men being trafficked – specifically for the purposes of forced labour – is on the rise. Whilst only around a fifth of victims of human trafficking are adult men, if we look at the rate of trafficking for the purposes of forced labour: 40% of human trafficking victims from the period 2007 – 2017 were subjected to forced labour and two thirds of these were men. In fact, trafficking for the purposes of forced labour is so widespread, it’s second only to sexual exploitation.

3. Child victims are increasing

Children worldwide are being trafficked for forced labour, use as child soldiers, begging and sexual exploitation. Over a quarter of trafficking victims are children, with numbers ranging greatly depending on country of origin and gender (20% girls, 8% boys) (2014). As a child you’re mostly likely to be trafficked to Central America and the Caribbean where here, rather shockingly almost two out of every three detected victims are under the age of 18 (2014).

4. Domestic trafficking is becoming more common

Whilst most trafficking involves crossing international borders, this is by no means defines human trafficking. As a victim of human trafficking, you could be moved from one town to another inside your own country. In fact, the sad reality is that now trafficking within the same country is also on the rise. Recent figures (2012-2014) show that 42% of cases of human trafficking were domestic – that’s almost half!


5. Female traffickers are growing in number

Whilst six out of every ten traffickers are male and most people convicted for trafficking are in fact male (63%), the number of women involved is increasing. What’s more, if we compare the number of women involved within human trafficking to those with other crimes, the number is sadly relatively high (2014). Imagine women exploiting their own gender for money, despite the horrors that lie ahead…

Clearly, human trafficking is a heart-breaking complex issue but the old-age common idea that human trafficking simply constitutes criminal gangs transporting women across Europe for sexual purposes is an outdated reality. Movements are changing, age groups are changing and so are the numbers. It’s crucial we follow these key trends to understand the wheres, “whys”, hows and whos to raise awareness of this terrible crime, lobby governments, spot the signs within our communities and say “no” to human trafficking and “yes” to equality and freedom.


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