Human Trafficking to Human Rights – A Long Path to Cover

Human Trafficking
Image Courtesy – Alex Tsai

The soothing comfort of our beds with dimmed lights and a peaceful sleep taking over. The feeling of being safe where nobody can harm you is a great gift or one might say actually, is a right. But, imagine waking up to some strangers forcing you to do strenuous work, with no regard for your tired body, with no signs of humanity in them. The will to live is lost and the hope for a better, if not a bright future is dim. According to the report of UNODC on human trafficking in 155 countries, two out of every five countries covered by the UNODC Report had not recorded a single conviction.

Thus, the rate of human trafficking has exponentially increased due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and the justice mechanisms are finding it increasingly difficult to reach out, save and deliver justice to them. How are human rights organisations coping with these developments? What are steps taken to shelter the exposed classes? What else needs to be done to improve this situation? These are some of the questions that we must find answers to.

Poverty – A punishment endured by the lot

The unemployed perish every single day struggling to fill their stomachs while, a small house, good clothes, and better schools are a distant dream. The unending want to escape from poverty is what is exploited by the traffickers. Most of the human trafficking victims are cheated on after promising jobs in big cities where they could make more money to support their families. Small towns and impoverished neighbourhoods are the target areas for traffickers.

The absence of job opportunities, welfare activities of government to offer to the school, and higher education combined with a lack of modern resources and knowledge forces local people to take up odd jobs. Frustration and excitement about large sums of money fool people. According to a report, in the US over 32 billion dollars is made from human trafficking. A report published in the Journal of Primary Prevention in 2019 found that LGBTQ homeless youth were at elevated risk of engaging in survival or exchange sex, trading sex for essentials like food and shelter. Thus, the meeting of basic needs is an important reason for being driven into exploitation.

What are the reasons for Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking

Sexual exploitation is the most common form with 79% of human trafficking worldwide. The norm in it is traffickers of women and girls. The percentage of reported cases is not accurate as many more cases are not even reported with the victim not getting help to come out of the wicked business because of fear of revealing of identity or meeting with a hostile justice mechanism.

Forced labour is the next biggest reason for human trafficking. People in impoverished rural and sub-urban towns get brainwashed as they are promised a lot of wages for some work and how their lifestyle will change later. This is mostly true of labour migrating within India and also outside India, to work in plantations and factories. What they end up encountering at the workplace are bad living conditions and a payment system that illegally detains at these workplaces for years.

According to the report, ILO on human trafficking, out of the 27.6 million people trapped in forced labour, 17.3 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 6.3 million persons are in forced sexual exploitation and 3.9 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities. Mostly, they are children coerced into the chain by over-friendly and suspicious adults who befriend poor kids who don’t attend school to take up jobs to help their parents out. Poor women in rural areas are promised money for working as domestic help while their parents are promised their daughter’s safety. But they are trafficked into a system where they work without money and all the salary due to them is forcibly taken by their traffickers who supply such domestic help. 

Who are the most affected by Human Trafficking?

According to the UNODC report, 20% of the victims are children. They also face the most hardship in finding help as they might not be aware of what they are being made to do is illegal or unfair towards them. They are denied basic education and are therefore unable to comprehend the available solutions. They simply put up with all kinds of torture because many a time it is their parents themselves who use their children to earn money through trafficking. Especially, in West Africa and the Mekong region, 100% of the victims are children. 3.8 million adults are trafficked for forced sexual exploitation and 1.0 million children are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. (ILO, 2017)

Women and girls also form a big part of human trafficking, especially for the purposes of sexual exploitation. They account for 71% of all victims. (ILO, 2017). Most of the time, young women from the age group of 14-21 are forcibly taken into such forms. They are either kidnapped or promised work and are exploited for a prolonged period. They go through several torturous conditions as their documents of identification are taken away, they aren’t permitted to speak with family members, etc. And to retain them and to avoid protesting they are taught to consume drugs leading to drug addiction. Apart from them, there are poverty-stricken men, boys, transgenders, etc. who also experience different forms of exploitation.

What are the existing National and International mechanisms to check Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking

If we look at India, there are comprehensive regulations and legislations made for specific purposes like sexual exploitation and bonded labour. The Constitution of India expressly prohibits human trafficking under Article 23. India has also passed the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, and Indian Penal Code Sections 372 & 373 deal with selling and buying of girls for the purpose of prostitution. Apart from these steps, the government has established capacity-building programs, and training workshops for police and public prosecutors to enhance detection and prevention. India has ratified and taken steps to implement the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (UNCTOC) and has set up task forces in a bilateral arrangement with SAARC countries for preventing and repatriating victims.

In the international arena, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and supplementary Protocols: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea. The report by UNODC found that the number of member states properly implementing this protocol has doubled from 54 to 125 countries out of the 155 signatories. Apart from this, the OHCHR has taken up several capacity-building campaigns, Training of Trainers(ToT) projects, is working in partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop an e-learning course for cabin crew on identifying victims of trafficking, etc.,

Are the existing mechanisms effective in preventing Human Trafficking?

The existing mechanisms look good in the framework only and have not managed to sufficiently hinder human trafficking only with some successes now and then. Though the overall situation on forced labour and slavery has improved, the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the problem to new levels with lakhs of people losing jobs and on a quest to go back to their hometowns and if that is not possible, survive with any other odd jobs or means possible. Human rights protection has received a blow with the pandemic settling in for the past year. From families firing their domestic helps to people being inhumane to migrant labourers who have been turned away with a high risk of exposure to the virus, many had turned prey to human trafficking with the prospects of earning little money.

Especially in India, according to the UNODC report, though the number of people prosecuted had increased by several thousand between 2003-2006, the number of people convicted had come down in comparison. The existing framework has become unsuccessful in implementation in several countries. The criminal justice delivery system is fundamentally against the victims with corruption and misconduct among officials fueling the growth of offences. The victims do not receive any support from the officers which makes it even more difficult to come out of the trauma and speak up. They are not effective in collecting the data of victims and exploiters and many of the exploiters go scot-free due to the absence of evidence. Many times, victims’ testimonies are not considered sufficient leading to the victim’s belief that justice can never be served.


Human rights are as important as water in human life. A life devoid of human rights is minimal existence without any purpose, where human resources go waste and human lives are eternally scarred thus leaving a traumatised society. When a person gets coerced into exploitation, their right to live peacefully is violated. An effective and consistent human rights protection policy with proper implementation instils confidence in people to come out of the clutches of traffickers. Awareness and simultaneous skill development programmes may help people from being trafficked.

A fool-proof criminal justice system that ensures the conviction of offenders is required. Above all, the importance of human rights and the need to respect every other person’s basic rights is what keeps society civil. This idea must be inculcated as part of the school curriculum and must be taught in workplaces and also to the unskilled and uneducated. Thus, one must learn to demand their rights in order to protect them from evil.