Human trafficking, as defined by the United Nations, involves obtaining individuals through force, fraud, or deception to exploit them for financial profit. This global crime impacts men, women, and children of various ages and economic backgrounds. Traffickers often use violence, fraudulent job agencies, and false promises of educational and employment opportunities to deceive and coerce their victims.

Forms of Human Trafficking

As trafficking involves many different forms of servitude in addition to prostitution, it is crucial to discuss it.

Forced Labour

Globally, an estimated 12.3 million people are subjected to forced labor (Source: International Labour Organisation, 2005, p. 10). Forced labor is described as “any work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”

This definition highlights three essential elements: the nature of the work or service, the presence of coercion, and the lack of voluntary consent.

It is important to note that even if an employee initially consents to the work, they become a victim of human trafficking if the employer later uses coercion, deception, or force to keep them in the job.

The definition also covers penalties, which can include both financial fines and the deprivation of privileges and rights. These threats can range from psychological pressure to the most extreme, such as threats of death.

Child Trafficking

In 2005, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) identified demand as the primary driver of child trafficking, particularly in regions with substantial markets for cheap labor and sex. The IOM also noted that inadequate legal frameworks and a lack of trained authorities exacerbate the issue.

Child trafficking, a subset of human trafficking, is defined in Article 3(c) of the Palermo Protocol as “the act of recruitment, transit, transfer, harbouring or reception of a child for the purpose of exploitation within or outside a country.”

Trafficked children are under the control of traffickers who subject them to beatings, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse. According to the “Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1999,” the “worst forms” of child labor encompass all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, trafficking disguised as adoption, recruitment into armed conflicts, involvement in prostitution and pornography, drug trafficking, and any work detrimental to children.

Organ Trafficking

A growing criminal enterprise involves human trafficking specifically for the purpose of obtaining organs, particularly kidneys.

The sale of organs is prohibited under most circumstances, except for cases involving reasonable expenses such as preservation, procurement, or donation for transplantation purposes, as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990. According to WHO guidelines, transactions involving the human body or its parts cannot involve compensation or reward.

Victims of organ trafficking often face misrepresented medical risks and may undergo surgeries performed without proper medical oversight, sometimes in clandestine settings under unhygienic conditions. Shockingly, even medical professionals including doctors and nurses have been implicated in these operations.

Factors Causing Trafficking

1. Lack of Safe Migration Opportunities

Stringent regulations prevent many exploited individuals from legally traveling abroad or returning to their home countries, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking. Desperate for alternatives, they often seek assistance from traffickers and smugglers, who exploit their documents for personal profit. Fearful of detention by law enforcement or immigration authorities, these victims are unable to report the crimes against them. Consequently, they are compelled to endure their suffering in silence.

2. Poverty and Economic Factors

Poverty, lack of job opportunities, and economic instability can make individuals vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers prey on individuals seeking better economic prospects, promising them jobs or income opportunities that turn out to be exploitative

3. Gender Inequality

Gender inequality plays a significant role in trafficking, particularly in cases of sex trafficking. Women and girls are disproportionately affected and targeted for sexual exploitation due to systemic gender discrimination, limited opportunities, and social marginalization.

4. Lack of Education

Limited access to education and illiteracy can make individuals more susceptible to trafficking. Lack of education reduces awareness about the risks of trafficking and hinders the development of critical thinking skills to identify and avoid exploitative situations.

5. Political Instability and Conflict

Trafficking often thrives in regions affected by political instability, armed conflict, or humanitarian crises. Displacement, breakdown of law and order, and weak governance create an environment conducive to trafficking operations.

The Situation of Human Trafficking in India

The Indian government has made significant efforts to combat trafficking, but these efforts have fallen short of meeting minimum standards. Despite being placed in Tier 2* by the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, indicating increased efforts compared to previous periods despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, more needs to be done. Additional victims, particularly those subjected to bonded or forced labor, were identified.

States like Maharashtra and Odisha provided financial support to existing Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), while Andhra Pradesh mandated the creation of new AHTUs. Legislation such as the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), which carries penalties ranging from seven years to life imprisonment, targets trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. The Child Labour Act, the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, and the Juvenile Justice Act also prohibit forced and bonded labor.

Sections 366 and 372 of the Indian Penal Code are used to prosecute traffickers for kidnapping and trafficking minors into prostitution, respectively, with penalties of up to ten years in prison. However, corruption among officials sometimes allows victims of sex trafficking and bonded labor to operate freely. This corruption shields brothels and traffickers from legal consequences.


Human trafficking is a pervasive and perilous crime affecting millions worldwide, resembling modern-day slavery where vulnerable individuals are exploited for labor, sexual services, or other purposes. Despite concerted efforts to combat it, human trafficking continues to afflict millions annually, presenting a significant global challenge. Particularly vulnerable groups, including women, children, and migrants, bear the brunt of this multi-billion-dollar industry.

Addressing this issue requires collaborative efforts among governments, law enforcement agencies, civil society organizations, and individuals. This involves implementing and enforcing stringent anti-trafficking laws, improving support systems for victims, and addressing root causes such as inequality and poverty. By working together, we can strive to eradicate human trafficking and protect the rights and dignity of all individuals affected by this heinous crime.

Khushboo Handa (trainee)

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