Human Trafficking Facts



Modified: 16 May 2022

Human trafficking

Human trafficking remains one of the most shameful aspects of our modern 21st century. Proof that even in our age of democracy, society still has many problems that need overcoming. Thanks to human trafficking, millions around the world find themselves reduced to slaves, usually for the rest of their lives. Learn more about this horrifying crime with these 30 human trafficking facts.

  1. Human trafficking comes in 3rd, after drug dealing and arms trafficking, as the world’s biggest criminal industries.
  2. Criminals earn an estimated $150 billion per year from the human trafficking business.
  3. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that up to 21 million people around the world work as modern-day slaves.
  4. Of those, up to 21% of the victims find themselves as sex slaves.
  5. Another 10% of the victims result from state-imposed forced labor.
  1. The United Nations (UN) defined human trafficking under international law with the Palermo Protocol in 2003.
  2. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) first launched an information campaign against human trafficking in 2006.
  3. UNODC later launched the Blue Heart Campaign Against Human Trafficking in 2009.
  4. In 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons for human trafficking victims worldwide.
  5. Mexico also launched its own Blue Heart campaign in 2010.
  6. As of 2012, 83% of the countries in the world had criminalized human trafficking.
  7. The UN chose July 30, 2013, as the 1st annual World Day against human trafficking.
  8. In 2018, the UNODC discovered that children make up to 30% of all human trafficking victims worldwide.
  9. Also as of 2018, 173 nations around the world had ratified the Palermo Protocol.
  10. UNODC published a new report on human trafficking in 2019.
  1. Human trafficking includes people smuggling, where the people getting moved do so with their willing consent.
  2. According to the US State Department, Belarus, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan make up the countries with the worst protections against human trafficking.
  3. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) considers Brazil and Thailand as the countries with the highest rate of children getting trafficked.
  4. Statistics indicate over 100 million people worldwide remain vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers.
  5. Human trafficking contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS around the world.
Table of Contents

Human trafficking generally forces its victims into one of three kinds of servitude.

First, we have bonded labor, also known as debt bondage, where people have to work off any money they owe. Ironically, it’s the most common way people get forced into human trafficking, but also the one that gets the least attention from the media. This kind of servitude typically has people working away for more than they originally owed.

Second, we have forced labor, where people work under threat of punishment, usually as unskilled labor. Common areas which use forced labor include the service industry, the agricultural sector, and even the manufacturing sector, especially in the Third World.

Finally, we have child labor, where children find themselves forced to work instead of going to school.

chained hands
Image source: Pxfuel

Child trafficking makes up one of the main kinds of human trafficking.

So much so, that international organizations estimated that up to 35% of the human trafficking victims they rescue have an age below 18. Statistics also point to Sub-Saharan Africa as the one region in the world most dependent on child labor. Those same statistics also point to South and Southeast Asia as having the most child laborers in the world. Child labor also doesn’t just include children forced to work, it also includes children forced into illegal adoptions. In many cases, these involve children getting kidnapped from their birth families, and adopted by other families ignorant of the child’s origins.

This proves especially problematic for law enforcement, as even if the children get rescued, they may have already bonded with their adopted families. Returning them back to their birth families may not prove an option, out of risking trauma to the child.

Sex trafficking makes up another major form of human trafficking.

This makes up the most well-known kind of human trafficking, if not the most common. That said, statistics point to at least 4.5 million known people in the global sex industry working in it not of their own free will. This also overlaps with child trafficking, as many child laborers often find themselves forced to work in the sex industry.

Sex trafficking recruiters also prove especially notorious for their deceptiveness. They promise recruits work in either the domestic or service industries, before confiscating their passports and travel documents. This allows the recruiters to blackmail the victims into working for sex, at least until they can repay all travel and legal fees involved. In many cases, the blackmail gets enforced by regular beatings, as well as threats of torture.

Sex trafficking also includes forced marriages.

This involves one or both parties in a marriage getting forced into a relationship without their freely-given consent. It also overlaps with both child and sex trafficking and proves especially common in China and Southeast Asia. In many cases, it proves especially difficult to resolve the issue, as victims find their new lives better than the ones they left behind. In fact, many victims refuse to see themselves as victims and choose to remain with their spouses rather than go home. Making things even more difficult for law enforcement, comes the fact that forced marriages technically don’t count as human trafficking under the Palermo Protocol.

The illegal organ trade also falls under human trafficking.

This commonly involves forced organ donations and sales, all done outside of proper government regulation. In many cases, the victims don’t even know they’ve had an organ removed, and go unpaid for the loss. Unfortunately, this also counts as one of the most difficult aspects of human trafficking to fight against. The legal organ trade has very limited stocks of available organs, all of which prove very expensive.

In contrast, the illegal organ trade has more stocks available and comes with lower prices. To many desperate people, necessity outweighs the risk of receiving contaminated or substandard organs. Many people also willingly and illegally sell their organs, out of a desperate need for money they cannot otherwise get on short notice.

Experts have noted several factors that encourage human trafficking.

By far, poverty makes up the biggest encouraging factor for human trafficking. No stable income for themselves and their families forces people into desperate choices. This leaves them vulnerable to recruiters, who use the prospect of a stable livelihood to take advantage of the victims’ situations. Limited educational opportunities also encourage human trafficking, as it also limits the future prospects for less advantaged people.

Child abuse, kidnapping
Image source: Pixabay

Efforts to fight the issue meet several challenges.

Among the strangest challenges involves the illegal nature of the sex industry in many countries. This forces sex workers to operate illegally, making them vulnerable to organized crime. In contrast, countries where the sex industry operates legally actually have smaller rates of sex trafficking incidents. This results from the fact that legal operation actually brings the industry under government oversight. This makes it easier for law enforcement to ensure that only willing adults actually work in the industry. Sex workers also generally have better working conditions and social status in countries where the sex industry operates legally.

Other challenges include the different legal approaches towards human trafficking between countries. This prevents a unified approach to solve the problem, as human traffickers can take advantage of each country’s different approaches to get around them.

Victims suffer both short and long-term consequences, even after rescue.

Among the short-term effects on victims includes developing a dependence on their captors. This appears as a perception on the victims’ part that they deserve to get treated as they’re treated, which works to discourage them from resisting. Other short-term effects include neurological disorders from the psychological effects of their condition. These include depression, sleep disorders, suicidal tendencies, and possibly even psychopathic tendencies.

In the long-term, cases exist of former victims turning into exploiters themselves, much like how child abuse victims become abusers in adulthood as well. This develops out of a need to inflict the pain they suffered on others as a form of revenge. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also commonly manifests among former victims, needing expensive and long-term medical treatment to resolve.

Some people have criticized the very concept of human trafficking.

Critics see the term, as it currently exists in international law, as too vague and includes cases that it shouldn’t. In particular, they argue that human trafficking should only cover cases where the victims find themselves forced into their circumstances. In contrast, cases where the victims willingly allowed themselves to get trafficked, should fall in a separate category.

Other critics also condemn what they see as the media’s constant portrayal of human trafficking victims as targets for public pity. This, they argue, actually does more harm than good, and may actually cause more psychological trauma on victims. They also argue that too much focus on human trafficking diverts attention from less harmful, but still common cases of abuse. These include child abuse, marital abuse, and migrant abuse, among others.

Human Trafficking Facts, Illegal Migrants in the USA
Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection from Wikipedia

Critics have also targeted efforts to fight the issue.

In particular, the lack of funding worldwide against human trafficking has received large-scale condemnation. They also criticize how existing efforts primarily aim to rescue and help victims, instead of stopping people from becoming victims in the first place.

Other criticism also includes how human trafficking has become generalized in the media. Illegal migrants, legal sex workers, and even just contract labor, have all become associated with human trafficking at one point or another. Critics argue that this trivializes the issue while diluting the proper response by spreading resources out too thinly.