The sex trade and global human trafficking

March 31, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Anant Mishra




Today, human sex trafficking stands as one of the biggest challenges in the arena of International Relations. Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry victimizing over 2.5 Million people in a year. To this, sexual slaveries are one of the largest contributors in human trafficking.

It is important to understand that this industry has expanded its base of operations from East to West. Women from less developed countries (LDCs) are smuggled mostly to the West. In regions with least economic opportunities, many women view sex life as an opportunity for a quick advance in life. Unfortunately, due to poor education, most of these women end up trapped and become a victim of higher coercion while being pushed into a hidden economy susceptible to human trafficking. On most occasions, the United Nations and other human rights organizations have advised the government to take effective measures to prevent human trafficking. As a response, the UNODC, leading UN agency designed to combat organized crime and drug trafficking, compiled cases of human trafficking from over 127 countries and identified more than 100 countries as sources of such trafficking. Out of 20.9 million victims of human trafficking, 4.5 million of them were coerced into sexual exploitation, marking a majority of women and children as the victims.

During the sessions of the Fourth World Conference on Women, global leaders stressed the rights of women and girls and focussed on global efforts on rights to live free from sexual exploitation. They expressed this not only as a “women’s issue” but one that has affected the entire globe, and called upon the international community for stricter and broader actions. The recommendations from the chairing committee advised governments, the international community, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to work together and further advised better liaising, intelligence and information sharing.

Not long ago, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, released a report, ‘Global Report on Trafficking in Persons’, which showed the urgent reforms in policy and adaptation of some crucial steps to combat human trafficking effectively. Among reported human trafficking, almost 79% of cases involve sexual exploitation. Most shockingly is the data which estimates over 30% of women are the primary traffickers. Women witness brutal torture and unimaginable insanity. It is also important for policy makers to address the issue of women-on-women trafficking, which is surprisingly higher in South Asia.


Role of Organised Crime


Human trafficking is one of the least dangerous and most profitable enterprises within organized crime. Various comments from experts in the UN showed how women are trafficked at a low cost, as there is no expensive “equipment” used such as drugs or bags. This is precisely what connects the human trafficking business to organized crime. The most prominent players in human trafficking are the Chinese and Russian crime organizations, who have invested heavily in this business. Chinese organizations use old cargo carriers for travel, with triple the size in occupancy of the containers, leaving people in forced and inhumane conditions of survival. Once the person arrives in a target region, they are forced to live either as slaves in shops or are forced to work in prostitution houses. They are frequently threatened by gang members and are prone to severe violence if they attempt to run.

Women trafficked by the Russian mobs are from LDCs such as Ukraine and Romania that do not provide economic opportunities, even if they are skilled. Women are mostly recruited from advertisements in magazines and newspapers that promise easy money in exchange for work as a nanny, go-go dancer or waitress in the United States. Many women are then introduced to rich men, who are eager to marry. Victims are given papers for safe travel and mediums of transport but are then stripped of their identification once they arrive. When the women have realised they have been tricked into modern day slavery, they then either hide or attempt to run. Mafia thugs then use violence and subdue them to violence. These thugs then use narcotics on these women, thus making them entirely dependent on them for survival. In some gangs, they take pictures of their clients with these women and are often blackmailed if they go out of line.

Today, organized crime has moved this business to a transnational level: criminal groups work together and share their profits, which make the control of human trafficking almost impossible for law enforcement officers around the world. Throughout the world, law enforcement organizations are coordinating with each other by creating treaties and task forces, but have little or almost no support from the nations who are the source of human trafficking. One proposed solution could be the targeting of finances of such organizations which typically increase due to human trafficking. This can be done to alert such organizations being watched by law enforcement agencies.


Role of Non-governmental organizations


As the international organizations view human sex trafficking as one of the grave dangers to human rights, state players fail to recognise this issue as a national issue, instead relating this to organized crime and taking actions dependant upon the intensity of the crime. The non-governmental organizations however study in depth causes of human sex trafficking, while acting as watchdogs on any issue pertaining to the same that surface, while at the same time providing support to the victims. They support victims and openly condemn the traffickers for such heinous crimes and the government for taking little action against the perpetrators.

Non-governmental organizations play a crucial role in bridging the gap between victims and the government, while assisting the government in forming effective and efficient policies to tackle the same. Despite their meager resources, NGO’s have more access compared to the state, taking up the challenge and effectively advocating for children and women at national and international levels. NGOs build trust as the victims see state officers as equal perpetrators as the gangs; this also happens because of their legal issues, their experience with corrupt officials and the general behaviour of bureaucracy. NGOs also offer better gender-sensitive counselling.

It is also important to know that these NGOs are not homogenous groups, their diversity helps address a variety of issues faced by women and children in their wide spectrum nationalities. These organizations provide practical solutions, providing social assistance to them, shelter, vocational training and legal advice.

NGOs primarily comprise of civil participation whereas intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are groups of government organizations often formed under treaties. IGOs function very differently to NGOs; they operate as a forum for dialogue, and are active organizations working towards a common aim. Some prominent IGOs include the European Union, the Arab League, the World Trade Organization, and of course, the United Nations.


Role of Intergovernmental Organizations


The most important role of intergovernmental organizations is to provide legal and financial action against the perpetrators. Among these are development banks, like the Asian Development Bank and African Development Bank. These banks bring global attention toward such issues, funding organizations to research more broadly on such issues (which is incredibly important), and financing campaigns against human sex trafficking. Other organizations such as the UN Women, act as governmental organizations to influence power member nations to implement effective legislation towards prevention, suppression, and ultimate prosecution of human trafficking.




As one of the most important parts of human trafficking, the sex trade will continue to become a problem until member nations (especially the power nations) define an effective mechanism or design an effective legislation against such issues. There are undoubtedly many reasons why member nations should effectively contribute their agencies to combating this issue, but in order to begin, recognizing it is a problem, which may damage their relations with the source nations (those nations with deep rooted ties with such organizations); this is precisely where the problem lies.

Thus, power nations have dedicated their agencies to combat such issues, leaving the social aspect to leading non-governmental organizations, but quite frankly, this is not a solution to the problem. Identifying the organizations or governments in bed with such traffickers will be the first place for policy makers to look.





Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations.


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