In the heart of one of Amsterdam’s red light districts crowds formed as passers-by believed they were being treated to an impromptu dance performance by five prostitutes with a novel way of luring in customers. At the end of the performance the crowd erupted into applause to demonstrate their appreciation but this applause was short lived.
‘Every year, thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe. Sadly, they end up here’.
Applause gave way to silence. In fact, this impromptu dance performance was an anti trafficking campaign by Stop the Traffik, a global movement fighting to prevent human trafficking around the world. These women were not prostitutes, they were professional dancers. However, throughout Amsterdam’s red light districts were many other women who were prostitutes. Many of these women had perhaps been promised a dance career once upon a time. Instead, they had become victims of human trafficking.
An Introduction to Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as:
‘The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’ (Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, Art 3).
Trafficking in persons is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide exceeded only by drugs trafficking (Belser, 2005). It is growing at an alarming rate with an estimated 9.1 million men, women and children being trafficked across international borders and within their own country at any given moment in time (Stop the Traffik). Yet, despite an abundance of legislation (at least 134 countries and territories in the world have criminalised trafficking according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime 2012 Global Report p83), conviction rates remain woefully low. According to the UNODC, 16% of the countries covered did not record a single conviction between 2007 and 2010 (2012 Global Report, p85). Criminal justice systems around the world are simply failing to tackle this horrendous crime.
Challenges to Tackling Human Trafficking
Legislation outlawing human trafficking is not sufficient in itself to combat this ever expanding global crime. As it stands there are many challenges which must first be met if we are to successfully eradicate modern slavery. According to the UNODC there are three challenges which are currently preventing implementation of comprehensive responses to trafficking in persons (2012 Global Report, p88-91). First, there is a distinct lack of knowledge and research surrounding human trafficking. Such knowledge and research is crucial if we are to implement successful anti-trafficking policies and strategies. As a direct result of this lack of knowledge, Member States adopt varying interpretations of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and of the definition of trafficking itself, precluding international cooperation. For instance, there is no international consensus regarding the factors which make an individual vulnerable to trafficking in the first place.
Secondly, numerous countries lack the capacity to effectively combat trafficking. Many countries have finite resources and a wide range of problems to tackle and combating trafficking is simply one part of a large list. To combat trafficking requires a large amount of dedicated and trained staff from a wide range of authorities and sectors. Cooperation with other countries is essential in building this capacity.
Thirdly, despite introduction of a number of initiatives aimed at tackling human trafficking, the effectiveness of such initiatives has received little evaluation. Have preventative measures actually reduced the number of victims of human trafficking or have they had little impact? Implementing anti trafficking strategies and policies is futile if their effectiveness is not monitored.
Just last month UK Home Secretary Theresa May pledged a crackdown on modern day slavery, vowing to introduce a new Modern Slavery Bill in this session of Parliament which would contain numerous anti trafficking measures. This includes the creation of a modern slavery commissioner, responsible for holding law enforcement and government bodies to account. Legislation cracking down on human trafficking and providing tougher sanctions should always be welcomed. However, whilst such legislation is symbolically important, practically it is likely to have little impact on conviction rates until the above challenges are met.
‘Theresa May pledges modern-day slavery crackdown’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23831304
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime
Stop the Traffik Amsterdam Campaign: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfFzCDIQ_a8
UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (2012): http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/Trafficking_in_Persons_2012_web.pdf