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Modern Slavery: Global Trafficking in Human Beings
Jul 1, 2005

Each year thousands of people (men, women, and children) fall victim to the vicious and organized trafficking of humans (TH). Particularly after the collapse of Communism, this black market has prospered greatly in the countries surrounding the so-called “Iron Curtain” countries. For years, in addition to this new phenomenon, third world countries and countries that are still under Communism have been primary sources for such activities.

Global traffickers in humans bring people from underdeveloped or developing countries, enticing them with the promise of work or a better life, to developed countries, where there is an immense demand for labor. These people are forced to work painstakingly long shifts at unskilled and demeaning jobs; for example, men are forced to do dangerous tasks that require physical strength, often working without any safety precautions. Minors are forced to work in less labor-intensive jobs, but again for extremely long hours without any proper training. Women are forced to work in socially degrading and debasing jobs, which in some areas are no different from slavery, and the worst, they are used in prostitution.

Nowadays there is a global sector abusing minors and women for these vicious purposes. On the other hand, the acquisition of the global dimensions of TH can be seen to be an outcome of poverty and the misery that results from the poor socio-economical situation of third world countries. Most international trafficking in humans is from poor countries to developed countries. It has also been witnessed that this problem is aggravated by the peculiar traits of prosperous societies.

What is Trafficking in Humans?

In most countries where TH is committed, there are no conceptual or legal precautions taken to protect against such abuses. Within the classical conception, TH is usually defined as the abuse of people in actual physical slavery. Yet today, since the problem has become so widespread as to be global, and as TH is committed for the sake of contemptible purposes, this narrow-scoped definition is no longer sufficient. Thus, the United Nations felt the need to define TH in a broader context.(1)

The ultimate goal of TH is to force people to work in oppressive and exploitative situations in a way that will benefit the organized human traffickers. These conditions include the coercion of men to work in the most menial and labor-intensive jobs, women and girls to partake in debasing activities, servanthood, counterfeit marriages and adoptions, even prostitution, with secret contracts that are in no way legal, forcing them to work under harsh conditions.(2)

The Factors that Nourish TH

For the most part, human traffickers utilize new technological tools of transportation, communication, and media to accomplish their goals. The Internet is a commonly used tool. Some matchmaking companies in developed countries work outside of legal boundaries. Not only do they put ads in the national newspapers, they also put the c.v. and photographs of women and girls who are willing to marry rich men onto the Internet.(3)

This evil marketing approach illegally prospers under the guise of matchmaking and is generally ignored by the countries from where it originates. This, in part, stems from the mutual benefit of the involved parties (for example, bribing officials while transporting people across borders.)(4)

TH is also related to what is called “pleasure tourism.” Third world countries that depend heavily on tourism revenue tend to neglect the conditions that contribute to such problems. For example, Kenya has overlooked TH in order to support tourism. In order to please the increasing number of tourists, women are even brought from neighboring countries, like Uganda.(5)

Undoubtedly, the International Development Banks as well as multinational financial institutions are also responsible for TH by supporting the countries involved and ignoring the socio-ethic consequences. Among developed countries, according to Focus, the Germany is the country most involved in tourism for base purposes. Between 200,000 and 400,000 Germans travel to Far Eastern countries, mostly Thailand and the Philippines, for this purpose each year. In Thailand, among the 1.5 million women employed in such demeaning jobs as prostitution, 800,000 of them are minors. In the Philippines, the minors involved number between 30 and 60,000. In such countries, diseases like AIDS are widespread. For instance 80% of women working in such forms of employment in Thailand are infected with HIV. According to data from the World Health Organization, there will be over 40 million AIDS patients in a couple of years.(6) Lately, there have been reports that after the Tsunami in the Far East, TH has increased in the victimized regions where children now have even less protection.

The multinational organized crime groups who commit TH usually employ two methods. One is to bring women and minors who are already in an abusive situation to developed countries. The other is to promise good wages, work conditions, and prospects to desperately poor people and then to force them to undertake unthinkable actions. For example, as the demand in the evil practice of TH for prostitution increasingly turns to younger and younger girls, due to concerns about AIDS, the second form of TH is frequently committed. As a result, there is an increasing demand for foreign women and girls in developed societies, where marriage has become something to be put off, or perhaps altogether avoided.(7) According to UN data, one million minors are traded in the global TH market.(8)

Although TH is one of the most heinous crimes and something that requires serious punishment, the victims of TH face many discouraging impediments if they try to seek their rights. Most of the time, suspects manage to get away with a very light punishment, if any, as the victims cannot prove their case. Thus, although the judicial system protects women in theory, in practice TH is easier to commit than most people think and remains unpunished. It would be useful to give the example of a trial that lasted eleven months here. At the end of the trial, which was brought to court by Thai women who were promised work in pubs as waitresses in Germany, the criminals were found guilty of “encouraging prostitution” rather than TH; the former carries a much lighter punishment. In the hearings, the women said that they were forced to marry German nationals in Denmark so that they could enter Germany legally and attain a work permit. But later, they were forced to engage in prostitution “to pay for the expenses.”(9) The abuse of women sometimes can be hidden behind a legal disguise. For example, in Berlin a female computer programmer had been laid off from work, and was on unemployment benefit. When a brothel owner saw her c.v. on a database of job seekers and offered her a position, she refused on moral grounds. The government then threatened to cut her unemployment benefits, as she had refused a job. Surprisingly, brothels were legalized two years ago in Germany, and now are considered to be just “another workplace.”(10)

Final Remarks

The people who are forced to work underground or in demeaning jobs know neither the language nor the laws of the country to which they have been brought with fake documents. As the dependents or guardians of these people are paid in advance, it is even more difficult for these people to return to their families as long as their financial dependence continues. On the other hand, if they notify the authorities, they will face deportation and be arrested, as they are not legally residing in that country.

TH can be said to be modern slavery from the perspective of the methods used, the purposes it serves, and the exertion of physical and psychological oppression on the victims. Hence, it is necessary to protect people who are victims of TH wherever they live through the law, and to severely punish the human traffickers. 


  1. The declaration of UN-General Secretary about “Trafficking in Women and Girls,” number A/50/369. date:08/24/1995.
  2. The decision of UN-General Committee, number: 49/166, date:12/23/1994.
  3. Bundesministerium fur Familie, Senioren, Frauen, und Jugend (BMFJ) (Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth). Materialen zur Frauenpolitik (Materials of Women Politics). Nr.63. Bonn 1997. p.20.
  4. Marjan, Wiyers and Lin Lap, Chew; Trafficking in Women; Forced Labor and Slavery-Like Practices in Marriage, Domestic Labor and Prostitution, Utrecht. 1996, p45.
  5. BMFJ, same issue.
  6. Focus, Nr. 2; 1995. pp 111-114.
  7. Licia, Brussa. Survey of Prostitution, Migration and Traffic in Women: History and Current Situation; EU, EG/Prost (91) 2; p.42.
  8. Der Spiegel. Nr. 35, 1996, p.31.
  9. Elvira, Niesner et al. A woman’s Dignity is Inviolable: A Trial on Trafficking in Women, Forschungsprojekt im Auftrag des BMFJ (Research Project on behalf of BMFJ); Frankfurter Institut fur Frauendforschung (Frankfurt Institute for Women Research). Frankfurt; 1991.
  10. The world at a glance…The Week, volume 5, issue 196, February 25, 2005.