POST WRITTEN BY: Olivia Darius ’15
Human trafficking, or what has become known as modern day slavery, is a serious human rights violation that affects every country and every person, regardless of age and sex. In fact, 27 million people worldwide are involved in modern day slavery. To combat this heinous problem, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Protocol”) in 2000. The Protocol defines the crime of trafficking of persons as
the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring…of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion… to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
While the adoption of the Protocol was a significant milestone in the international effort to prevent human trafficking, implementation of it has proven to be problematic. Very few people are convicted under the Protocol and victims remain unidentified and unassisted. Since 2004, there have been 21,528 recorded human trafficker convictions worldwide, but the low numbers of annual convictions compared to even more conservative estimates of human trafficking victims demonstrates that enforcement of the Protocol has been relatively ineffective. This is because the Protocol focuses more on the prosecution of traffickers and less on the protection of the victims or on prevention of human trafficking. Likewise, a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment has resulted in Congress enacting strict punitive immigration measures. These measures push victims underground, where they are unable to testify against traffickers, thereby making it even more difficult to enforce existing criminal laws on trafficking.
Since the number of traffickers is continuing to increase worldwide, it is becoming evident that solely relying on prosecution is not an effective method of combating human trafficking. This is because the comprehensive approach taken by the Protocol is undermined since many traffickers are charged with non-trafficking offenses such as kidnapping and homicide. So while the adoption of the Protocol was a step in the right direction, the Protocol needs to focus more on better, more effective enforcement strategies, protecting victims, and actually preventing trafficking, not just criminalizing it.