Human Trafficking


Human Trafficking

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims. UNODC, as guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking in Persons Protocol).


What is Human Trafficking?

Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as 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


Elements Of Human Trafficking

On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements;


The Act (What is done)

Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons


The Means (How it is done)

Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim


The Purpose (Why it is done)

For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.


To ascertain whether a particular circumstance constitutes trafficking in persons, consider the definition of trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the constituent elements of the offense, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.


Criminalization Of Human Trafficking

The definition contained in article 3 of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol is meant to provide consistency and consensus around the world on the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. Article 5 therefore requires that the conduct set out in article 3 be criminalized in domestic legislation. Domestic legislation does not need to follow the language of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol precisely, but should be adapted in accordance with domestic legal systems to give effect to the concepts contained in the Protocol.

In addition to the criminalization of trafficking, the Trafficking in Persons Protocol requires criminalization also of:

  • Attempts to commit a trafficking offence
  • Participation as an accomplice in such an offence
  • Organizing or directing others to commit trafficking.

National legislation should adopt the broad definition of trafficking prescribed in the Protocol. The legislative definition should be dynamic and flexible so as to empower the legislative framework to respond effectively to trafficking which:


  • Occurs both across borders and within a country (not just cross-border).
  • Is for a range of exploitative purposes (not just sexual exploitation).
  • Victimizes children, women and men (Not just women, or adults, but also men and children).
  • Takes place with or without the involvement of organized crime groups.

Migrant Smuggling

Smuggling of Migrants is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident. Migrant smuggling affects almost every country in the world. It undermines the integrity of countries and communities, and costs thousands of people their lives every year. UNODC, as the guardian the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Organized Crime Convention) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Smuggling of Migrants Protocol).


What is Migrant Smuggling?

The Smuggling of Migrants Protocol supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime defines the smuggling of migrants as the "procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident." (Article 3,Smuggling of Migrants Protocol).


In order to comply with the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol, Article 6 requires states to criminalize both smuggling of migrants and enabling of a person to remain in a country illegally, as well as aggravating circumstances that endanger lives or safety, or entail inhuman or degrading treatment of migrants.


Virtually every country in the world is affected by this crime, whether as an origin, transit or destination country for smuggled migrants by profit- seeking criminals. Smuggled migrants are vulnerable to life-threatening risks and exploitation; thousands of people have suffocated in containers, perished in deserts or dehydrated at sea. Generating huge profits for the criminals involved, migrant smuggling fuels corruption and empowers organized crime. Learn more about the crime of migrant smuggling.


The Model Law against the Smuggling of Migrants was developed by UNODC in response to a request by the General Assembly to the Secretary-General to promote and assist the efforts of States to become party to and implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto. It was developed in particular to assist States in implementing the provisions contained in the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. The content of the Model Law was drafted through a comprehensive, collaborative effort conducted through two Expert Group Meetings and reviewed by an expert group of judges and prosecutors. It is currently available in Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.


UNODC in cooperation with Interpol and Europol and with funding received from the European Union, has elaborated basic training modules on preventing and combating migrant smuggling. It has done this through a series of expert group meetings (EGMs) of law enforcers and prosecutors from around the world. The first Expert Group Meeting was held in 30th November to 2nd December 2008 in Saly, Senegal, the second EGMfrom 23rd to 25th March in Cairo, Egypt and the third EGM was held from 22nd to 24th June in Abuja, Nigeria.


A Toolkit to Combat Smuggling of Migrants has been designed to assist countries to implement the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol. Specifically, the Toolkit is intended to provide guidance, showcase promising practices and recommend resources in thematic areas addressed in the separate tools.The promising practices and recommended resources included in this Toolkit by no means comprise an exhaustive collection of successful, creative and innovative response to addressing migrant smuggling. However, in light of the urgent need for cooperative response to the phenomenon, examples have been included with the intention both of commending such initiatives and of demonstrating the range of resources available to assist users in undertaking the anti-smuggling efforts that may feature in the next edition of this Toolkit.


Migrant Smuggling - A Deadly Business

Currently, data is too scattered and incomplete to paint an accurate picture of numbers of people who are smuggled each year and the routes and methods used by those who smuggle them. Still, available evidence reveals the following trends and patterns:

  • Criminals are increasingly providing smuggling services to irregular migrants to evade national border controls, migration regulations and visa requirements. Most irregular migrants resort to the assistance of profit-seeking smugglers. As border controls have improved, migrants are deterred from attempting to illegally cross them themselves and are diverted into the hands of smugglers.
  • Migrant smuggling is a highly profitable business in which criminals enjoy low risk of detection and punishment. As a result, the crime is becoming increasingly attractive to criminals. Migrant smugglers are becoming more and more organized, establishing professional networks that transcend borders and regions.
  • The modus operandi of migrant smugglers is diverse. Highly sophisticated and expensive services rely on document fraud or 'visa-smuggling'. Contrasted with these are low cost methods which often pose high risks for migrants, and have lead to a dramatic increase in loss of life in recent years.
  • Migrant smugglers constantly change routes and modus operandi in response to changed circumstances often at the expense of the safety of the smuggled migrants.
  • Thousands of people have lost their lives as a result of the indifferent or even deliberate actions of migrant smugglers.

These factors highlight the need for responses to combat the crime of migrant smuggling to be coordinated across and between regions, and adaptable to new methods. In this regard, UNODC seeks to assist countries in implementing the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol while promoting a comprehesensive response to the issue of migrant smuggling.