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From issue: Trafficking and Transnational Crime (Spring 2010)

AQ Feature

The Trade in Human Lives

Alice Hill and Ramona Carey

The victims of sex and labor trafficking are too often ignored.

In Mexico, 19-year-old “Anna” is standing by a bus stop in a small town when she meets a charming young man. After winning her trust, he smuggles her into the United States. Once there, he forces Anna to prostitute herself with migrant workers in a canyon outside San Diego.

In New York, an Indonesian woman in her fifties, “Nettie,” wanders around an affluent neighborhood in rags. It appears as if someone has tried to cut off her ears. A worker in a donut shop invites her to come inside. After spotting Nettie’s injuries, the worker calls the police. An investigation reveals that Nettie’s employers had held her and another Indonesian woman captive, physically abused them and forced them into domestic servitude.

In Mali, 12-year-old “Malik” begs in the streets for hours to earn money for his “teacher.” The boy left his home in Niger after the alleged teacher promised his parents he would receive a good education abroad. Once in Mali, Malik was sent to the streets to beg alongside other Nigerian boys also deceived by false promises of schooling.

Although their stories differ, each of these individuals has suffered the same fate. They are victims of human trafficking—a crime that targets countless men, women and children worldwide. Human trafficking often follows a predictable pattern: the victim is recruited or abducted in one country, transferred to another and eventually exploited for sex or labor. Trafficking, however, need not be transnational—it may occur within a single country’s borders. Victims include migrant farm workers held in unsanitary conditions, children forced into prostitution for tourists in Thailand and abused cocoa workers in Cote D’Ivoire. Legal definitions of human trafficking differ, but unlike human smuggling, human trafficking, at least for adults, always involves force, coercion or fraud.

A Global Scourge

Human trafficking has a long history, with roots in the slave trade. However, it only received broad government and public recognition beginning in the 1990s. The U.S. Congress first passed anti-trafficking legislation in 2000 with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).  Similarly, the international community first collectively addressed human trafficking in 2000 with the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.3 Since then, numerous countries have adopted their own anti-trafficking in persons legislation.

U.S. and international figures on human trafficking vary widely. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated in 2005 that 43 percent of 2.4 million trafficking victims were sold into sexual exploitation, 32 percent fell prey to forced labor servitude and the remaining 25 percent were caught up in both.4 In contrast, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated in 2009 that 79 percent of the victims of human trafficking were procured for sexual exploitation.

Even in the U.S., the number of trafficking victims is unknown. In 2004, the State Department estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 people were trafficked into the United States. But in the previous year, the State De The State Department’s 2003 estimate was significantly lower than the Central Intelligence Agency’s 1999 estimate, which claimed that the U.S. was the destination or between 45,000 and 50,000 trafficking victims...

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