Human Trafficking: The Facts

“These young women suffered the most terrifying and degrading ordeal – leaving them emotionally, psychologically and physically traumatised.  Most cruelly of all, they were brainwashed into believing that if they disobeyed their captors by seeking help, they would die.  They were also told that if they went to the police for help they would be handed straight back to their captors.”
Andy Desmond, Director of ATC, describing Nigerian sex trafficking victims he helped to rescue


What is Human Trafficking?     

Human Trafficking is defined in the UN Trafficking Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

The definition of human trafficking consists of three core elements:

  1. The act which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons.
  2. The means which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability.
  3. The purpose which is always exploitation. In the words of the Trafficking Protocol, article 3 “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”


What is the scope of the problem?      

  • The annual profits from human trafficking are at least US$32 billion
  • 20.9 million women, men and children are trapped in forced labour and human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation, or “modern-day slavery”
  • 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year
  • Domestic trafficking accounts for 27% of all detected cases of trafficking in persons worldwide
  • 76% of people trafficked are women and girls
  • 27% of all victims detected globally are children
  • 134 countries have legislation criminalising trafficking


Which countries are affected?

Human trafficking affects every country of the world, as countries of origin, transit or destination – or a combination of these three.

Trafficking often occurs from less developed countries to more developed countries, where people are rendered vulnerable to trafficking by virtue of poverty, conflict or other conditions.

The Middle East has the greatest proportion (70%) of victims trafficked from other regions and Western and Central Europe is the destination for victims from the widest range of source countries.

To learn more about human trafficking in different countries and regions of the world, see the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012 and see the US Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.


What are the most common forms of Human Trafficking?

In UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation accounts for 58% of all trafficking cases detected globally, while trafficking for forced labour accounts for 36%, a figure which has doubled over the past four years. The ILO estimates that up to $20 billion can be extorted annually from these workers worldwide.

The exploitation of women has tended to be visible, in city centres or along highways and because it is more frequently reported, sexual exploitation has become the most documented type of trafficking.  In comparison, other forms of exploitation have traditionally been under-reported: forced or bonded labour; domestic servitude and forced marriage; organ removal; and the exploitation of children in begging, the sex trade and warfare.

However it is important to note that trends, in the UK and overseas, are towards hidden forms of sexual exploitation of women, in for example suburban houses where women and girls may literally be held captive.

Photograph: Belovodchenko Anton

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