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Thematic discussion on trafficking in human beings. Paper presented at the Workshop on trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, \n12th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, 15th May 2003

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Thematic discussion on trafficking in human beings

Toni Makkai

Workshop on trafficking in human beings, especially women and children

12th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, 15th May 2003



On 13-15th May 2003, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, considered the issue of trafficking in human beings. In line with the consultations held during the meetings of the Commission, the Institutes of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme Network (PNI) held a thematic workshop on trafficking in human beings. The workshop included regional overviews on trafficking as well as presentations by non-government organizations that provide services to the victims of trafficking. This paper provides a general summary of the presentations as well as a critical overview of the evidence base on trafficking in human beings.

Overview of the presentations

The discussion was lead by the Swedish Public Prosecutor who provided a practical overview of a successful prosecution of a trafficking case. He emphasized that trafficking was about making money but it differed from other illicit markets, as the commodity was “human”. As a result the commodity was also a victim unlike other illicit commodities such as drugs and weapons. A significant change that had impacted of the scale and form of trafficking in human beings was the widespread use of the internet that facilitated illicit activities in an unprecedented manner. In particular the sex industry that had traditionally been a street based local market had been transformed into a internet global market. As a result it was possible for individuals to link into the market from their homes or from work without ever having to go onto the street. And it was possible to source demand and supply across national borders. This made it harder to locate and prosecute the perpetrators.

In terms of completing a successful prosecution it was essential that all the links in the chain were documented and presented to the court. This involved evidence of false documents, where the women were trafficked from, the means by which women were transited from the source to destination country and finally the local pimps who controlled the women once they reached their destination.

There were four important tools required for making a successful prosecution:


1) legislative change,

2) ability to track information over the internet to provide digital evidence,

3) locating the bookkeeping to provide information on where the money went and who were the buyers; and

4) locating the victims and securing statements.

A significant problem for successful prosecutions was the lack of support for victims. In Sweden victims were immediately deported back to their country of origin as they were deemed to be illegal immigrants. Once in their country of origin there was no support or protection from possible retribution. These factors militated against victims reporting their situation to official agencies, particularly law enforcement. International co-operation was essential in prosecuting trafficking as it involved activities that crossed borders.

Four regional overviews were presented at the workshop. UNAFEI (Senta, 2003) described the scale and size of the problem in trafficking in Asia and the Pacific. The report highlighted that it was difficult to obtain a true picture of the problem as the activity was illegal and involved organized crime groups. Many of the countries do not have specific legislation on traffic king offences so official statistics are rare. Various reports were drawn upon. It was noted that there was extensive intra regional trafficking around Thailand. As a result Thailand was a source, transit and destination country for trafficking. A majo r destination for trafficking is Japan from the surrounding region although in recent times there has been an increase in the number of people from Latin American countries being trafficked to Japan.

ILANUD (Woodbridge, 2003) provided an overview of Latin America that outlined how it occurs, the geographic and economic factors that facilitate trafficking and described the trafficking of women and children for the sex trade. There are few statistics on the scale and size of the problem and this is exacerbated by the lack of a uniform definition of trafficking. Most trafficking in this region is for sexual exploitation. The trafficking seems to be fairly well organized involving an extensive use of networks and organizations. In general trafficking occurs from poor to richer nations.


NIJ (Albanese and Donnelly, 2003) provide an overview of North America, Canada, USA and Mexico. This presentation highlighted that trafficking involves the same networks as legal migrant networks but uses illegal means to cross the border. Disentangling smuggling and trafficking is problematic when the country of destination is a highly desirable end point. Although smuggling and trafficking share similarities, an important distinction is that smuggling results in short term profit while trafficking can extend for years resulting in long term exploitation for profit. Persons who are trafficked are often resold many times. Although a number of cases were drawn upon this paper highlighted the lack of research on the dynamics of trafficking in human beings. There are no reliable national estimates of the size of the problem in any of the countries. In the US however evidence of trafficking has been found in over 20 states. There is research evidence that trafficking is not just for sexual exploitation. Persons are trafficked also for sweatshop labour and domestic servitude while young children are also kidnapped and sold for adoption.

The available evidence suggests that Canada is both a destination and transit country for the US. The reasons for trafficking to Canada seem to mirror those of the US. Mexico is primarily a transit country to the US. Emerging studies have found links across different ‘ethnic’ groups to improve efficiency and profits from trafficking. Mexico has also been documented as a source country for the trafficking of women to Japan. Little is know about interdiction efforts but one study suggested that trafficking was discovered as a by-product of other law enforcement investigations. This overview reported that little is known about the traffickers. What is known suggests that they range from individual entrepreneurs to sophisticated organized rings.

UNAFRI (Sita, 2003) provided an overview of the situation and some trends in African countries. The report highlighted a scarcity of information from many of the regions so the review focused mainly on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In reviewing the five most prevalent types of transnational organized crime trafficking women and children ranked fifth. None of the ECOWAS countries have specific legislation that criminalizes trafficking in women and children. At present the penal codes focus on kidnapping and abduction. Under these provisions parents and guardians are exempt. This is a significant issue as children are often sold by their parents/guardians. The two main types of trafficking identified were trafficking in children mainly for domestic work and farm labour and trafficking of women and children for sexual


exploitation. The former occurs both across and within national borders while the latter is mainly outside the region. There have been a number of significant initiatives undertaken - an Action Plan against trafficking in human beings in the West African region was adopted in Dakar on the 17th Dec 2001; an agreement between Cote d’Ivoire and Mali prohibiting the illegal trafficking of children for labour on the 6th September 2000; an agreement on a common Platform of Action by officials from West and Central African states on the 22-24 February, 2002.

A number of important issues were raised in the general discussion following these regional reports. These questions covered operational, policy and research issues. There was concerned expressed about:

• the lack of vic tim protection from deportation and witness protection in their country of origin in attempting to mount successful prosecution cases.

• the increasing number of children being trafficked and the need for more sustained efforts in this area.

• the need for increased international cooperation to attack a global problem particularly in regard to tracking the profits of trafficking.

• The need to also deal with demand for trafficking as well as the supply.

• Ensuring that prostitution and trafficking were distinct.

It was noted that the new definition of the TOC broadened the scope of trafficking from sexual exploitation to other forms of trafficking including forced labour and domestic servitude.

The workshop then moved on to undertake a problem analysis lead by the National Institute of Justice (Albanese, 2003). This analysis argued that there were six key components to an appropriate response to human trafficking. These were:

1) legislation,

2) enforcement

3) prosecution

4) penalties

5) victim programs and


6) public awareness and accountability.

Examples of the efforts of different countries were then described. It was noted that although prosecutions are difficult they play an important symbolic role in justifying the legislation and give it meaning in practice. Important aspects of enforcement included training, regional task forces, and intelligence exchanges. However, there was a need for research to develop best practices and training in the field for law enforcement officials. Although approximately 70 countries provide victim services or protection to victims of human trafficking little is known about the number of victims and services. Without such information it is difficult to assess the level of effort in this area. Community awareness was critical in the fight against trafficking. This could occur at both the source and destination countries. More than 60 countries reported some kind of public education programs. The analysis concluded by noting that only about 20 countries monitor trafficking patterns through effective border controls, using reliable estimation procedures.

In the discussion that followed it was noted that although the number of prosecution cases was small, the appropriate legislation was relatively new in those countries that had such legis lation. Given this factor, and the difficulties associated with prosecuting such cases, these low numbers at this time were to be expected. Questions were raised about data collection and methodology. In the discussion it was noted that a common methodology for collecting reliable and valid data was required (as none existed at this time) and that individual countries should be responsible for collecting their own data. However it was critical to have base line data to know whether the statistics reflected upward or downward trends in the implementation of anti-trafficking strategies.

The role of the NGOs and IGOs

The IGOs and NGOs made presentations on their current activities in the area of assisting in human trafficking. UNHCR pointed out that trafficking was at the centre of human rights discourse but there had been in recent years qualitative shifts in approaches to anti-trafficking that included

• the achievement of standard setting,

• national policies being developed across countries,

• recognition of victims, and


• that source and destination countries were inextricably linked.

All of the presentations noted that trafficking occurred for several purposes not just for sexual exploitation and that there was an increasing trend in the trafficking of young boys. Due to the lack of research it is not clear whether this is for labour or sexual exploitation. All noted that the statistical collections were poor and often ‘old’ numbers were being quoted about the size of the problem. However it was important to develop appropriate indicators in order to measure the effectiveness of both interventions and prevention strategies.

There was some discussion about the difficulties for poorer nations in fighting this problem. In particular destination countries needed to address the issue of demand that acted as a “pull” factor in the trafficking trade. There were significant cultural problems in some source communities in regard to how trafficking was seen and that these often overlapped with the involvement of families in trafficking their children, particularly female children. In some countries there were endemic problems of police corruption.

Methodological issues

The research papers did not seek to produce new data on the problem of trafficking in human beings but to document the evidence base as it currently exists. All of the regional overviews found publications that documented the existence of trafficking in human beings. A variety of sources were drawn upon however all relied on open source publications. As already noted above the current evidence base is characterized by some significant limitations. These limitations can be summarized into six areas:

1. Imprecise estimates 2. Disparity in estimates 3. One dimensional focus of the research 4. Conceptual problems 5. Comparative research; and 6. Reliability and validity of data

Each of these is discussed below.


Imprecise estimates

All of the papers provide estimates on the numbers of trafficked persons but note that these estimates are imprecise. They are imprecise in three ways.

• The first is that often extraordinary high ranges are given. For example the estimated annual total of victims of sexual exploitation ranges from 2,000 to 20,000 for Germany; or from 10,000 to 100,000 for Russia.

• The second is lack of detail on the methodologies used to generate these estimates. It is therefore impossible to know when the estimates can be compared across countries or regions.

• The third is a level of vagueness in whether the estimates are annual or cover several years.

Finally there has been no attempt to calculate the rates of trafficking; in other words adjusting for population size.

Disparity in the estimates

There is a large disparity between the estimates and the number of known cases. For example the North American overview refers to a US Drug Enforcement Agency estimate of 500,000 victims worldwide; there have clearly not been this many documented cases. More specifically 45,000-50,000 women and children are estimated to have been trafficked into the US but the number of documented cases was 38 involving 5,500 women for the year 1999-2000. Annual estimates for the Netherlands are between 1,000-3,000 while the number of documented cases in 1999 was 289. Similarly for Belgium the annual estimates are between 1,000-3,000 but the number of documented cases was 270 in the year 2000. None of the reports described the methodologies used to derived these estimates.

One-dimensional focus of the research

Most of the research work cited seems to focus on women and children with virtually no references to trafficking in males. Even the research on women and children tends to focus on ‘prostitution’ rather than domestic servitude or kidnapping and adoption. This one-dimensional focus means


that the potentially changing dynamics of trafficking may not be identified. As a result an ‘emerging’ problem may become ‘endemic’ before policy makers can put in place appropriate interventions.

Conceptual problems

There are conceptual difficulties with research papers reporting on smuggling and trafficking. Sometimes the estimates are for the two activities combined; in other cases smuggling figures are used with the assumption that a certain proportion will involve trafficking. The extent to which this is true has not been adequately researched.

Given that trafficking as defined in the UN protocols involves both consent and/or exploitation these need to be defined and uniformly applied. There is a need to develop measures of these concepts that have been validated across different cultures, genders and age groups.

Comparative research

Comparative research adds another layer of complexity to the research work. The papers have shown that there are legislative differences both in terms of trafficking and prostitution that vary across countries. This will affect both the level of interdiction and the official statistics held by different countries. In addition the extent to which the media and NGOs are active will also affect estimates that use these sources. For example, where the level of media/NGO presence is greater and more active in this area, victims may be more likely to come forward. Finally factors such as the geographical location of countries, and their border controls, will impact on push and pull factors in the illicit market.

Reliability and validity of data

The two fundamental principles that underlie rigorous research are validity and reliability. For the research to be valid the measures need to be measuring the concepts accurately. As an example the definition of trafficking incorporates two key concepts - consent and exploitation. Although on the surface these may appear straightforward, from a research perspective measuring such concepts may be more difficult. We


need to ensure that our methodologies are able to measure these two concepts; if not estimates of trafficking will be fundamentally flawed.

Measures also need to be reliable so that the data are precise. At present many of the sources of our information seem to rely on:

1. case studies

2. media reports

3. official statistics; and

4. key informants

Generalising from case studies can be fraught with difficulty - does the case study represent the majority of incidents that occur? If a number of case studies are compared have consistent methodologies been used to develop the estimates? We know from drug research that drug markets are highly localized (Makkai and McGregor, 2003). This affects the types of drugs, the transit routes, the groups involved in the drug distribution networks, and finally who becomes victims. It is an empirical question as to whether a similar situation exists for trafficking markets in human beings.

In terms of media reports how do we assess the quality or accuracy of the reporting? In Australia research on media reporting on drugs and crime has found that less than 20 percent of newspapers will refer to research findings when writing about these issues (Teece and Makkai, 2000). The use of research evidence to support the article’s general argument also varies by the type of newspaper.

Official statistics will be affected by whether relevant legislation exists in the first place; the level of interdiction and the quality of the recording practices (Carcach and Makkai, 2002). Potentially countries with more sophisticated monitoring systems, scrutiny of police reporting and systematic statistical collections could record higher levels of trafficking than countries without these characteristics. The existence of victim support agencies will also affect the level of underreporting.

Finally key informants may not always know ‘everything’ that is going on. They are limited by their sources and access to the illegal market. They


are also subject to problems of memory recall and unintentional bias in reporting.

Key gaps in the evidence base

These papers have noted that there are significant gaps in our knowledge basis. As already noted the most basic data on the size and scale of the problem is poor. In addition to these data there is little systematic data on the components that make up this illicit market.

There is some data on how contact is initiated but this is patchy across regions and there is no clear indication of which methods are primarily used and under what circumstances.

There is some data on transit routes but again the level of knowledge varies across regions. To effectively intervene our understanding of the transit routes in critical; but this knowledge needs to be at a local rather than regional level for practical purposes.

There is little information on the method of transportation, whether it varies across different transit routes, by the types of groups involved in people trafficking, and the types of victims.

There is some data on where trafficked persons end up -prostitution, sweat shops, domestic servitude for example. However are these markets supplied by different types of people, from different regions, by different trafficking networks?

The use of fraudulent documents has been identified as a component in people trafficking. How are these documents obtained and from whom? How effective are boarder controls in identifying persons being trafficked through the detection of fraudulent documents.

To what extent is there overlap between different illicit markets? There are numerous assertions that traffickers don’t distinguish between commodities (people, drugs, precious metals, weapons, and antiquities) but to what extent do we have systematic data to support those assertions.


A number of papers alluded to internal trafficking and the ‘on-selling’ of victims however there seems to be no systematic data on this.

Finally none of the papers commented on the effectiveness of interdiction. There has been no research that enables us to identify when interdiction efforts have been successful and what were the factors that contrib uted toward successful interdiction.

Thinking laterally

Some will say this is a difficult area to research. The primary difficulty that has been noted is that victims are afraid to come forward. A second difficulty is that organized crime groups are difficult and dangerous for researchers to penetrate. However, these problems are not new to criminology. In terms of victims the study of domestic violence and sexual assault grapple with the issue of victims reluctance to report crime. In terms of studying closed societies scholars of organized crime have had to develop methodologies that enable them to study this phenomenon. Finally researchers who work on drug markets are developing methodologies, including GIS or mapping technologies, to provide data on hot spots and trafficking routes. There is a need to adapt, modify and innovate existing methodologies in order improve the reliability and validity of the data on trafficking.

In terms of dealing with the perennial problem of the ‘dark figure of crime’ work needs to address the issue of the disparity between known cases and estimates. Is the disparity similar across countries? Do different methodologies used in the production of the estimates account for differences in the disparities? Would it be possible to take a country that has a sound methodology for calculating the estimates to develop a multiplier that could be applied across countries and under what conditions?

Moving forward

In terms of moving forward there was a pressing need to undertake systematic work that would:

1) define key concepts and develop workable measures


2) document the methodologies used to produce estimates and then develop standards and norms of best practice

3) develop methodologies for data collection that could be applied across communities and countries to provide comparative data

4) improve the quality of data through the exchange of information on data collected, the methods and analytical tools used.

Without credible baseline data it is impossible for policy makers to rationally allocate resources and to evaluate policy initiatives. However on-going monitoring is also required in order to identify shifts in patterns, respond more effectively to changes and to facilitate outcome evaluations on interventions. If law enforcement is to be better trained it needs to ‘know’ what to look for; if policy makers are to direct resources they need to know the size and scope of the problem; if practitioners are to effectively intervene they also need to know what to look for; and if communities and community groups are to be empowered to assist in the fight against trafficking in human beings they also need to be informed of the issues and problems at a local level - this knowledge base can only come from systematic and rigorous research.


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Albanese, Jay, 2003, ‘Human Trafficking Interventions: Experiences and Lessons from Around the World’, paper presented at the ‘PNI Workshop on trafficking in human beings, especially women and children’, 12th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, 15th May.

Carlos Carcach and Toni Makkai. 2002, ‘Review of Victoria Police Crime Statistics’ Research and Public Policy Series, No 45, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. 64pp.

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in human beings, especially women and children’, 12 th Session of the

Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, 15th May.

Makkai, Toni and Kiah McGregor. 2003, ‘Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA): 2002 Annual Report on Drug Use Among Police Detainees’ Research and Public Policy Series, No 47, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. 109pp.

Senta, Keisuke, 2003, Trafficking in Human Beings in the Asia-Pacific Region’, paper presented at the ‘PNI Workshop on trafficking in human beings, especially women and children’, 12th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, 15th May.

Sita, Masamba, 2003, ‘Trafficking in Women and children: Situation and some trends in African Countries’, paper presented at the ‘PNI Workshop on trafficking in human beings, especially women and children’, 12th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, Vienna, 15th May.

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