Expert Commentary

Sex trafficking: Trends, challenges and limitations of international law

2011 paper in Human Rights Review on international efforts to address the problem of human trafficking.

The U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, one of the “Palermo protocols” adopted in 2000, was an attempt by the international community to address the growing problem of human trafficking. Since then, significant national and international resources have been devoted to its enforcement.

A 2011 paper from Lewis & Clark College published in Human Rights Review, “Sex Trafficking: Trends, Challenges and Limitations of International Law,” evaluates these efforts. The researcher focuses on transnational sex-slavery practices after 2000 and examines the political and empirical challenges associated with studying sex trafficking.

Key study findings include:

  • Although the situation of modern slaves does not conform to the classical definition of slavery, they are “subject to brutality and violence, forced to work and paid little to nothing for their servitude.”
  • Since 2000, the number of sex-trafficking victims has risen while costs associated with trafficking have declined. “Coupled with the fact that trafficked sex slaves are the single most profitable type of slave, costing on average $1,895 each but generating $29,210 annually, leads to stark predictions about the likely growth in commercial sex slavery in the future.”
  • In 2008, 12.3 million individuals were classified as “forced laborers, bonded laborers or sex-trafficking victims.” Approximately 1.39 million worked as commercial sex slaves, with women and girls comprising 98%, or 1.36 million, of this population.
  • Between 2003 and 2008, 69 additional countries adopted policies discouraging human trafficking. However, the number of human trafficking convictions has not risen significantly.
  • Governments often underreport the prevalence of sex trafficking within their countries due to unreliable statistics, corruption or concerns about their international reputation. Financial incentives linked to sex trafficking can also be a factor: “Between 1993 and 1995, the [International Labour Organization] estimated that between 2% and 14% of the Indonesian, Philippine, Malaysian and Thai GDPs were earned through sex tourism.”
  • U.N. peacekeepers “have become notorious in their patronage of prostitutes and trafficking victims in crisis zones.” In 2007, for example, “more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers were expelled from Haiti for patronizing prostitutes.”

The author concludes that “ten years on from the passage of the Palermo Protocol there is a danger that the momentum that has developed around the issue of trafficking will recede.”

Tags: children, youth, poverty, sex crimes

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