The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (30th July) is a global event set up by the UN to raise awareness and increase the prevention of this massive worldwide problem. To better understand this tragic phenomenon, which affects thousands of men, women and children every year, as well as migrants and asylum seekers,  we have interviewed Dr Emma Portelli Bonnici and Dr Martina Caruana, lawyers expert in human rights and Partners at PB&C firm in Malta.

  1. First of all, what is the meaning of “trafficking in persons”, can you explain?

Trafficking in persons, also referred to as human trafficking, is not a new phenomenon. The continuation of the slave trade underpins the notion of human trafficking for years before it started to be considered a violation of customary international law. One of the most pertinent documents in this regard is the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and it provides a widely accepted definition of ‘trafficking in persons’ as being “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. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

  1. How many types of Human Trafficking (HT) exist?

Unfortunately, traffickers continue to come up with new ways to exploit other human beings, and the list of types of human trafficking is non-exclusive. According to the 2020 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, the different types of trafficking include but are not limited to sexual exploitation, forced labour, criminal activity, begging, forced marriages, the sale of babies or children, the sale of organs, and even a mixture of two or more types of trafficking.

  1. What are the main causes of trafficking in persons?

The only cause of trafficking in persons will remain the criminal intent of the trafficker, and it is never caused by the victim, but factors that have put certain individuals more at risk for traffickers to take advantage are financial hardship, intimate partner relationships where one partner traffics the other, immigration status, limited knowledge of the language spoken in the country that the person is trafficked from or to. In children it is those children that come from families that do not adequately care for them or that have abandoned them, or in both children and adults it is also the case that people with a disability or an impairment may also be considered higher risk.

  1. Migrants and refugees are often the victim of HT: can you explain why and who are those most at risk?

Human trafficking differs from smuggling, as there must necessarily exist the element of force, fraud or deception, so one cannot consent to being trafficked, but one may consent to being smuggled. The link between the two is usually the increase in risk of a smuggled migrant or a refugee becoming a victim of human trafficking. This link is inextricable due to the uncertainty of their immigration status, and the economic situation in which migrants who have recently undergone their journey find themselves in.

  1. What is the impact of HT?

The greatest impact of human trafficking is without a doubt levied on the individual being trafficked. People who survive the ordeal are often hugely impacted psychologically, and the traumas that they have suffered can present themselves in numerous ways and can often lead to depression, feelings of guilt, suicidal ideation, anxiety disorders, amongst others. There is also the physical impact that trafficking may have on an individual, victims of sex trafficking may be exposed to STDs, or other infections as well as being at a higher risk of being victims of substance abuse.

Society at large also experiences a negative effect when human trafficking becomes part of the fabric of that society, families and communities are impacted when individuals are trafficked, gender relations in receiving countries that normalise sexual slavery also experience changes in their society. Society is also impacted through an erosion of the rule of law, as the major forces behind many trafficking operations are also linked to other criminal activities that often have far reaching implications for national security.

  1. Trafficking is also a human rights issue: what are the major violations of human rights that concern trafficking in person? Which human rights are most violated?

Human trafficking is not only a crime in and of itself, as per a number of international agreements, but it is also a gross violation of an individual’s human rights.

There is a veritable laundry list of human rights that are violated in victims of trafficking, depending on the type of trafficking that the individual has been a victim of. Some examples of the human rights that are so often trampled in such situations are as follows: the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status; the right to life; the right to liberty and security; the right not to be submitted to slavery, servitude, forced labour or bonded labour; the right not to be subjected to torture and/or cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment; the right to be free from gendered violence; the right to freedom of association; the right to freedom of movement; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to just and favourable conditions of work; the right to an adequate standard of living, and the list goes on.

  1. Can you tell us some examples of cases you dealt with on this topic, and human rights violations for migrants?

In our work we have come across several cases of victims of trafficking who were also migrants – predominantly women and girls, who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution. Some of them have been enticed by offers of employment in Malta as massage therapists, bar hostesses or au pairs and have ended up, abused, exploited and living in dire conditions. Many of these trafficked women also suffer beatings, rape, psychological coercion, and serious health problems from sexually transmitted diseases. Refusal to obey their traffickers and employers has lead to physical and sexual violence, forced to do work which they would not freely do, and the illegal withholding of their income. On top of all this there is the fear which victims have of being discovered by the police without proper papers. This has given incentive to abusers to continue profiting off migrant women and blackmailing them into submission.

  1. What are the solutions to this problem?

The 2020 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons specifically sets out a number of ways in which this issue can be curbed. It calls for the establishment of specialized national anti-trafficking agencies with multidisciplinary expertise; it calls upon anti-trafficking forces to address trafficking in persons facilitated by the use of the internet; it calls upon the private sector to do their bit and strengthen supply chain integrity by implementing proper standards of due diligence and promoting regular controls on labour standards throughout their supply chains; it requires that we address and understand the conditions of vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons and take action to mitigate such vulnerabilities; it encourages a focus on crime prevention as a key pillar as well as promoting anti-trafficking policy development based on solid research and data when creating anti-trafficking strategies; it calls upon states to strengthen the implementation of the protection measures included in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol as well as to safeguard access to justice; and it calls upon the judicial and executive branches of each state to ensure that victims are not punished for acts they commit as a result of trafficking.

The solutions are there – now we need the political will and international cooperation to truly put a dent in traffickers’ operations.

  1. Why is important to stop HT?

Aside from the effects of human trafficking described at length above, it’s also important to remember that according to the European Commission, the estimated global annual profit from trafficking in human beings amounted to EUR 29.4 billion in 2015. The sheer volume of individuals that are victims of human trafficking is immeasurable, and the lives that are stolen or destroyed or diminished range into the millions.

The only beneficiaries of trafficking are criminals and criminal organisations – that’s why it is more important than ever to ensure that we begin to implement policy and take real, tangible and practical action. It is imperative that we put a stop to this inhumane practice.

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