Learning More: The Forms and Impact of Human Trafficking

Trafficking in Persons Report
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
June 12, 2007

Labor Trafficking

Most instances of forced labor occur as unscrupulous employers take advantage of gaps in law enforcement to exploit vulnerable workers. These workers are made more vulnerable to forced labor practices because of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, and cultural acceptance of the practice. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals are also forced into labor in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually abused.

Forced labor is a form of human trafficking that can be harder to identify and estimate than sex trafficking. It may not involve the same criminal networks profiting from transnational trafficking for sexual exploitation. More often, individuals are guilty of subjecting one domestic servant or hundreds of unpaid workers at a factory to involuntary servitude.

Bonded Labor

One form of force or coercion is the use of a bond, or debt, to keep a person under subjugation. This is referred to in law and policy as "bonded labor" or "debt bondage." It is criminalized under U.S. law and included as a form of exploitation related to trafficking in the United Nations Protocol To Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol). Many workers around the world fall victim to debt bondage when traffickers or recruiters unlawfully exploit an initial debt the worker assumed as part of the terms of employment or when workers inherit debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor. Traditional bonded labor in South Asia enslaves huge numbers of people from generation to generation.

Involuntary Servitude

People become trapped in involuntary servitude when they believe an attempted escape from their situation would result in serious physical harm to them or others, or when they are kept in a condition of servitude through the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal processes. Victims are often economic migrants and low-skilled laborers who are trafficked from less developed communities to more prosperous and developed places. Many victims are physically and verbally abused, experience breach of an employment contract, and/or are held captive (or perceive themselves as held captive).

Debt Bondage and Involuntary Servitude Among Guest Workers

The vulnerability of migrant laborers to trafficking schemes is especially disturbing because this population is so sizeable in some regions. Three potential contributors can be discerned: 1) Abuse of contracts; 2) Inadequate local laws governing the recruitment and employment of migrant laborers; and 3) The intentional imposition of exploitative and often illegal costs and debts on these laborers in the source country or state, often with the complicity and/or support of labor agencies and employers in the destination country or state.

Some abuses of contracts and difficult conditions of employment do not in themselves constitute involuntary servitude, though use or threat of physical force or restraint to compel a worker to enter into or continue labor or service may convert a situation into one of forced labor. Costs imposed on laborers for the "privilege" of working abroad can place laborers in a situation highly vulnerable to debt bondage. However, these costs alone do not constitute debt bondage or involuntary servitude. When combined with exploitation by unscrupulous labor agents or employers in the destination country, these costs or debts, when excessive, can become a form of debt bondage.

Kazakhstan/Russia: Sex Trafficking At just 17-years-old, Maryam dreamed of a better future than her life in Kazakhstan. A man paid her parents $300 and forged a passport so that she could work in Russia as a shop assistant. When she arrived in Russia, the shop turned out to be a locked cell with barred windows and a metal door. After the armed guards told her she would be used as a prostitute, rather than a shop assistant, she said: "I refused by saying that they could do anything they want, but I wouldn't be a prostitute. I was punished for that. I was beaten up, raped, and starved. In five days I gave up."

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

Domestic workers may be trapped in servitude through the use of force or coercion, such as physical (including sexual) or emotional abuse. Children are particularly vulnerable. Domestic servitude is particularly difficult to detect because it occurs in private homes, which are often unregulated by public authorities. For example, there is great demand in some wealthier countries of Asia and the Middle East for domestic servants who sometimes fall victim to conditions of involuntary servitude.

Kyrgyz Republic/U.A.E.: Sex Trafficking Alexia/23-years-old: "I answered a newspaper advertisement for a Russian-speaking waitress in the United Arab Emirates. When my plane landed, a man took me to an apartment where I met a dozen other women. I asked them if they all worked at the restaurant as waitresses. They laughed and one said: 'Restaurant? You're not going to work at a restaurant! You'll find out tonight where you are working! I was held in Dubai for six months and prostituted by the traffickers. I met a man from Moscow who helped me to escape to the Kyrgyz Embassy.'"

Forced Child Labor

Most international organizations and national laws indicate that children may legally engage in light work. In contrast, the worst forms of child labor are being targeted for eradication by nations across the globe. The sale and trafficking of children and their entrapment in bonded and forced labor are clearly the worst forms of child labor. Any child who is subject to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, peonage or slavery through the use of force, fraud or coercion is a victim of trafficking in persons regardless of the location of that exploitation.

Child Soldiers

Child soldiering is a unique and severe manifestation of trafficking in persons that involves the unlawful recruitment of children through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Such unlawful practices may be perpetrated by government forces, paramilitary organizations, and rebel groups. UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 are currently being exploited in more than 30 armed conflicts worldwide. While the majority of child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, some are as young as 7 or 8 years of age.

Many children are abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made unlawfully to serve as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Many young girls are forced to marry or have sex with male combatants and are at high risk of pregnancy. Male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Some children have been forced to commit atrocities against their families and communities. Child soldiers are often killed or wounded, with survivors often suffering multiple traumas and psychological scarring. Their personal development is often irreparably damaged. Returning child soldiers are often rejected by their home communities.

Child soldiers are a global phenomenon. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, but armed groups in the Americas and the Middle East also unlawfully use children in conflict areas. All nations must work together with international organizations and NGOs to take urgent action to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate child soldiers.

Ukraine/Italy: Thirty-year-old Mara left her husband and two children in Ukraine to take a housekeeping job in Italy. Recruiters from an employment agency promised her a high salary. But once there, she was taken to a brothel where the owner said he had purchased her for several hundred dollars. He said she owed him money for the plane ticket. For nine months, Mara was controlled by this trafficker, who beat her when she refused a client. If a man complained about her, the brothel owner increased her debt. Mara was freed only when the Italian police raided the brothel. Charged with prostitution, she was deported to Ukraine.

The Tiers:

Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's (TVPA) minimum standards

Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards

Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards
a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; or
b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or
c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.

Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so

Sex Trafficking and Prostitution

Sex trafficking is considered the largest specific subcategory of transnational modern-day slavery. Sex trafficking would not exist without the demand for commercial sex flourishing around the world. The U.S. Government adopted a strong position against prostitution in a December 2002 policy decision, which states that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing and fuels trafficking in persons.

Prostitution and related activities--including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels--encourage the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a fa´┐Żade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate. Where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery. Few women seek out or choose to be in prostitution, and most are desperate to leave it. A 2003 scientific study in the Journal of Trauma Practice found that 89 percent of women in prostitution want to escape prostitution but had no other options for survival.

Brazil: Slave Labor Trying to support a nine-year old daughter back home, Benito followed a brother who had found work at the brick kilns at Transcameta in the Brazilian Amazon. Promised adequate pay, he was deceived into working for an employer who did not pay him, but rather assigned him an ever growing debt for food and lodging costs not previously disclosed. He toiled six days a week and couldn't afford to leave, since he didn't have enough money to get back to his home 500 miles away. Benito and the other slave laborers were not paid anything for months. He was afraid he wouldn't see any wages at all if he left. Benito lived next to the brick kilns in a shack with no ventilation, running water, or electricity. He contracted malaria from the mosquitoes that swarmed the camp.

Children Exploited for Commercial Sex

Each year, more than two million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Children are also trapped in prostitution despite the fact that a number of international covenants and protocols impose upon parties an obligation to criminalize the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. law and the UN TIP Protocol. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socio-economic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. Terms such as "child sex worker" are unacceptable because they sanitize the brutality of this exploitation.

Child Sex Tourism

Child sex tourism (CST) involves people who travel from their own country to another and engage in commercial sex acts with children. CST is a shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of violent child abuse. The commercial sexual exploitation of children has devastating consequences for minors, which may include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possibly death.

Tourists engaging in CST often travel to developing countries looking for anonymity and the availability of children in prostitution. The crime is typically fueled by weak law enforcement, corruption, the Internet, ease of travel, and poverty. Sexual offenders come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and may hold positions of trust. Cases of child sex tourism involving U.S. citizens have included a pediatrician, a retired Army sergeant, a dentist, and a university professor. Child pornography is frequently involved in these cases, and drugs may also be used to solicit or control the minors.