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The Meaning of Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?
Trafficking in human beings is a gross violation of human rights, a modern form of slavery and an extremely profitable business for organised crime.

Governments first agreed on an international definition of trafficking in persons in 2000 in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (commonly known as the Palermo Protocol) Article 3(a) of the Protocol sets out the definition. The definition has three distinct elements, which must be fulfilled for a situation to be one of trafficking – there must be an act, a means and a purpose. The act can be issues such as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons. The act must be done by a means such as the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion; abduction; fraud; deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments and it must be for the purpose of exploitation. The exploitation will include, at a minimum, exploitation for the purposes of prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation; exploitation for forced labour, slavery or similar practices or exploitation for the purposes of organ removal.

The consent of the victim is irrelevant when any of the means outlined above have been used. Furthermore, in the case of children, defined as anyone under 18 years of age, actions taken for the purpose of exploitation constitute trafficking even where the means have not been used. There is no requirement that a person must have crossed a border for trafficking to take place – it can and does take place within national borders.

Is human trafficking another word for smuggling?
There is a general misconception that human trafficking and the smuggling of persons and illegal immigration are the same issue. This is not the case – there is a clear difference. Trafficking is a crime which infringes the fundamental rights of persons, while smuggling is a violation of legislation protecting the borders. In the case of illegal migration facilitated by a smuggler there is an agreement between the migrant and the smuggler. The relationship between the two usually ends when the former enters the territory of the receiving State. In the case of trafficking illicit means such as coercion, deception or abuse of a position of vulnerability are used at a certain stage of the trafficking process. In addition the transfer of the person is carried out for the purpose of further exploitation, which normally starts in the country of destination. However, while there is a distinct difference between trafficking and smuggling the practices can be interlinked. What may start out as a process of smuggling can end up as one of trafficking. For example, a person smuggled into a country may be unable to pay for the cost of smuggling and end up being exploited in the same manner as a victim of trafficking.

Does human trafficking always involve some form of travel, movement or transportation across State lines?
Trafficking can take place both across international borders and within a State.

Does human trafficking mean only sexual exploitation?
There are different reasons for trafficking human beings. People can also be trafficked for the purposes of labour exploitation including domestic servitude, child exploitation and/or organ removal.

Are there common indicators or signs of trafficking I should be aware of?
Click for a list of the indicators you should look out for.
Click here for a list of the indicators you should look out for.

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Nature and Extent of Problem

Governments Response to Human Trafficking

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