The Billion Dollar Industry of Human Trafficking

Every year the United Nations predicts that millions of women and children are victims of human trafficking worldwide. This modern day form of slavery not only exists but is flourishing in most parts of the world today. It’s estimated that more slaves exist now then ever in the history of mankind.

The global revenue for this underground activity is approximately 32 billion U.S. dollars yearly.  At this rate of growth, human trafficking is predicted to surpass drug trafficking in global revenue as the most lucrative underground activity.

Most victims of trafficking are exploited for purposes of prostitution and/or forced labor in sweat shop factories. Some of these sweat shops cater to American Retail giants (see link below). Trafficking also increasingly takes place in labor exploitation, such as work in domestic servitude, or migrant agricultural work. Traffickers use force, fraud, coercion to compel women, children, and sometimes men to engage in these inhumane practices. The average victim is re-sold several times to different traffickers.

Yet, human trafficking is not only a international issue but a legal, development, and social issue as well. Poverty and systematic oppression are root causes of this globally rising human rights violation. Patterns of instability, armed conflict worldwide, and systematic discrimination against women and children have all perpetuated this international problem along with a lack of public awareness both globally and domestically.

The lack of documented birth registration in certain third world countries has also made children increasingly vulnerable to the exploitation of traffickers. In some cases, parents are systematically deceived into believing that their children will have better lives in developed countries with the opportunity for an education. All of these children come from extreme poverty and have little opportunity for an education. Their background makes them even more susceptible to the deception of traffickers.

The majority of these children never return home and die within five to seven years from daily physical abuse, sexual abuse, malnutrition, and torture. By the time family members realize the deception of the traffickers, their loved ones have disappeared and the families are helpless in their search to find them. The illusion of a better life turns into the greatest tragedy

Legal Mechanisms to Combat Human Trafficking in the United States

In 2000, the United States government passed a ground breaking piece of legislation to combat human trafficking both domestically and internationally. The United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first comprehensive piece of national legislation aimed to increase public awareness nationally and globally, provide funds to help combat the problem around the world while also increasing the punishment and law enforcement capabilities in the United States to deal with this issue.

Under this law, victims became eligible for a broad range of benefits and services regardless of immigration status. While in custody, victims would have access to shelter, medical assistance, legal aid, and translation services to inform them of their rights.

Victims also became eligible for the Witness Protection Program in the U.S. while grants were created to fund non-governmental organizations helping victims of trafficking around the world. An increase in sentencing traffickers up to twenty years was also passed as well as mandatory restitution and asset forfeiture to pay back individuals that traffickers have victimized. This anti-trafficking law also authorized almost $300 million dollars over a two year period for international and national programs to combat human trafficking in 2000 and 2001 alone.

Sadly, this piece of legislation is rare in the international community. The lack of awareness and legal protection has allowed traffickers to proliferate in many areas of the world that have the greatest poverty and political unrest.

For more information and how you can become involved in the fight against human trafficking visit http://usinfo.state.gov/gi/global_issues/human_trafficking.html and www.humantrafficking.org/

Research Guide

Center for Global Development, Women and War Event, June 22, 2004, Washington, D.C.; Kevin Bales, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, University of California Press, 2004.

United Nations Children’s Fund, Trafficking in Human Beings Report, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2003.

Gilbert King, Woman, Child for Sale: The New Slave Trade of the 21st Century, Chamberland Bros. Publishing, 2004.
United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.