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Modern Day Slavery: What is human trafficking?

A guide to resources on modern day slavery, compiled by your librarians.

What is human trafficking?

United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking with the three core elements as follows:


Hover and click the buttons to explore and find out more about human trafficking......


Sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is defined as using coercion or force to transport an unwilling person into prostitution or other sexual exploitation. There are an estimated 250,000 women and children who are trafficked for sex in Asia. Sex trafficking is arguable the cruellest form of human trafficking, where victims suffer irreparable psychological trauma and physical damage from enduring regular rape. 

Sex trafficking is the major form of human trafficking today as it is highly profitable. The following chart shows the estimated annual profits generated from sex trafficking compared with other work per forced labourer:

Fight against sex trafficking

There are many individuals and groups working to fight for sex trafficking and everybody can play a role in this battle. In general, sex trafficking can be prevented by providing education to the girls at risk, create economic opportunities for vulnerable women and by curbing demand for commercial sex.

Domestic servitude


Every year an estimated two million Asian women migrate to other countries to seek work, primarily as a family survival strategy. They courageously leave all that is familiar to them to face unknown risks. Many end up as domestic workers who may be at particular risk of abuse and exploitation behind the closed doors of private homes. 

Construction workers

Construction workers are recruited by agencies and supplied to work in developed countries. Workers, debt laden, have no alternative but to accept terms and conditions that are different from originally agreed at source countries. They end up having to work long hours, receive little pay and endure poor living conditions. Workers could be further exploited by having to pay substantial amount of money if they wish to renew contracts. 

Farming and agriculture

According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.

Men are recruited onto fishing boats to work in international waters for duration of several years. Migrant labour from poor countries often fall prey to illegal brokers. They are recruited into the fishing industry which is substandard, dirty and dangerous. In many cases, workers are virtually used as slave labour and not paid. Those who fall sick get little medical treatment. Some of those deemed too ill to work are simply thrown overboard, survivors claim. A recent UN study reported that 59% of interviewed migrants trafficked aboard Thai fishing boats reported witnessing the murder of a fellow worker.

Factory work

Labor trafficking in manufacturing has been known to occur in the garment industry and in food processing plants around the world. Victims, both men and women, have been forced to work 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days per week with little or no break time. People may be trafficked into garment industry jobs such as sewing, assembling, pressing, or packing apparel. Others may be forced to work in food processing operations that include slaughtering, preserving, canning and packing goods for distribution.

Life of human trafficking victims

Trafficking victims often live a life marked by abuse,  work against their will, coerced by violence, betrayal of their basic human rights, and control under their trafficker. 

It is very hard for a trafficked person to escape unless they are rescued. They are held as prisoners in isolated places, and are beaten or tortured for any disobedience or escape attempt. Trafficked persons are often trapped in a foreign country with no language skills, money or identification documents, and know no one to help them if they do escape. Those working in forced labour may die from malnutrition, disease, accident and/or injury, whilst most in the sex industry quickly contract sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. 

In the following video, slavery survivors from around the world share their stories and show us how slavery can be eradicated.

Stop human trafficking - read the signs

Sense it. Spot it. Stop it. Human trafficking can happen at any corner of the world. There are significant signs associated with different forms of exploitation. If you ever spot the signs around you, report to the police.

Screening questions to ask if you suspect you are in the presence of a trafficking victim:

  1. Is the person free to leave the work site?
  2. Is the person physically, sexually or psychologically abused?
  3. Does the person have a passport or valid I.D. card and is he/she in possession of such documents?
  4. What is the pay and conditions of employment?
  5. Does the person live at home or at/near the work site?
  6. How did the individual arrive to this destination if the suspected victim is a foreign national?
  7. Has the person or a family member of this person been threatened?
  8. Does the person fear that something bad will happen to him or her, or to a family member, if he/she leaves the job? 

Here is a real practice. If you encounter a suspect incidence of human trafficking, how will you act? Are you going to stop and help, or drive away? The following interactive game allows you to decide what happens next. You decide how this story ends.


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You can search the following school subscribed databases to find articles about human trafficking, you are automatically log in when you use a school PC. If you access the databases outside school, you need a password to log in. Some sample articles are listed below:

 Books in the Senior Library:




You can find many videos related to human trafficking in youtube. Here listed are some others:

Here you can also watch videos from MTV EXIT:

Quiz: how much do you know about human trafficking?

Take the following quiz to test your knowledge about human trafficking, click to start.

Profits from human trafficking

Ranking behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking, human trafficking is estimated to be the third largest international crime industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It is believed to generate profits of an estimated $32 billion, according to a 2005 report from the International Labour Organization

How does human trafficking occur?

This animation tells about the story how two girls were trafficked as sex slaves. Traffickers use fraud, force, and coercion to entrap their victims. Each victim’s story is unique, but here are some common methods traffickers use to gain access to their victims and manipulate them:

• the false promise of employment
• buying the daughters of impoverished families
• kidnapping
• befriending runaway teens
• confiscating victims’ legal documents
• financial debt, often with exorbitant interest, dishonest bookkeeping, and a hold on multiple generations of a family
• companionship and romance, which transforms in to force and coercion

Who is trafficked?

The criteria for enslavement today does not concern color, tribe, or religion; they focus on weakness, gullibility, and deprivation. Slavery today is an economic endeavor driven by money. Traffickers exploit people who are looking for a better life. Since traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of victims, people who are poor, uneducated, neglected, unemployed, victims of sexual abuse, from unstable home lives, immigrants, or refugees are particularly at risk. But other people can be exploited as well.

Victims of human trafficking can come from any city or country in the world. Some areas like Southeast Asia are particularly vulnerable. Most human trafficking victims are women and young girls, but men and boys are trafficked in significant numbers as well.

Who are the traffickers?

According to a United Nations report, the recruiter in 54 percent of human trafficking cases was a stranger to the victim. In 46 percent of the cases, the recruiter was known to the victim. 

Examples of human trafficking

Victims of human trafficking are primarily recruited into the sex and entertainment industry, agriculture, factory work, garment manufacturing, fishery, construction and domestic services.  The following chart shows the examples of human trafficking to the U.S.:


10 things you need to know about human trafficking

Anyone who is held or forced to work against their will is considered trafficked, no matter within or cross borders, women or men. It is important to understand the following 10 facts about human trafficking before we can take action against it (hoover/click the mouse over the head bar to view):

1. Girls are trafficked into many industries besides brothels
Although many women and girls are being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation but it is also a fact that the majority of trafficking of girls and women takes place for purposes other than for sexual exploitation. Forced labour and slavery-like practices in workplaces include factories, private homes, fisheries and agricultural plantations across the region.
2. Trafficking is visible; trafficking is accepted
Child labour, migrant labour, exploitative labour, illegal labour and trafficking, wherever any of these labour exploitation situations occur, a small to medium percentage of the workforce are likely to be victims of trafficking. They are working in mainstream and visible industries, including restaurants, street scavenging, begging, domestic work, agriculture and factory labour.
3. Dirty jobs fuel trafficking demand
Worldwide, labour known as “3D” – dirty, dangerous and degrading – attracts people who are desperate for work. And it is this desperation that feeds the trafficking industry. Poor, uneducated, ethnically different people are the first choice for exploitative employers – it is easier to dehumanise them or abuse their rights.
4. People smuggling is not considered human trafficking
The assumption that most trafficking victims are kidnapped and moved across borders is not true. In fact, most trafficking takes place within the framework of migration, where the trafficker has initial consent from the victim. The trafficking victim does not have to cross a border in order to be considered as trafficking.
5. Trafficking victims most often “rescue” themselves
Victims of trafficking are often portrayed as powerless people who are incapable of changing their situation. However, many of them do challenge or escape their captivity, prosecute or speak out against their traffickers, and find the strength to move forward in freedom and confidence.
6. Adoption is still a trafficking risk
Amidst unconfirmed reports of the sensational and sinister - babies adopted by brothels or trafficked into organ donation - “baby- snatching” into the homes of childless couples is still a trafficking reality.
7. One in five trafficking survivors fall prey a second time
One reason for this is weak social integration after being trafficked. When a trafficking victim returns home, life can be even worse than when they left. For most trafficking victims, the reason for leaving home in the first place still exists – the sense that they are responsible for the fortunes of their families.
8. Boys and men are trafficked too
The vulnerabilities of men and boys have rarely been addressed in past anti-trafficking efforts. As the laws change across the region to acknowledge that boys and men are migrating into exploitative labour against their will, there is an urgent need to understand the mechanisms that make this possible.
9. Disability is attractive to traffickers
People with disabilities are often worth less to their community and potentially more to traffickers, especially in the begging industry or in brothels. Their lack of participation or perceived value to the family means that families may even seek out traffickers to relieve themselves of responsibility.
10. There is no one “profile” of a trafficker
The profiles of the traffickers are hard to detect and analyse. They often involve people who know the victims well enough to invite trust. But they can also be strangers who manage to convince an illegal migrant that a better job might await, or gangs who kidnap the victims. There are as many profiles as there are ways to exploit people.

Human trafficking by region - interactive map

The following interactive map shows the human trafficking information by region and year, you can tell that the number of human trafficking is actually increasing during recent years.

Human trafficking summary - poster

Stop human trafficking - the 3 Ps

The 3P paradigm –  prevention of human trafficking, prosecution of human traffickers and protection for human trafficking victims – is used  the fundamental framework around the world to combat human trafficking. Here are some examples of the approaches:

Global movements against human trafficking

There are many groups and organizations around the world working on the front line against slavery. By gathering a global membership, using social networks and new technologies, and organising campaigns and communities online and on the ground, we can make the fight against slavery a real priority across the world. Slavery has no place in the modern world. Together, we can build a world without it!

What can you do to stop human trafficking?

To reduce trafficking, we must understand the full scope of the problem, the roles we all play in perpetuating it, and actions we can take to stop it. Everyone has the power to effect change in stopping human trafficking.

You can help in advocacy, information-dissemination, and by making wise consumption choices. You could also volunteer or contribute financially to support organisations that work against trafficking. The following lists some  ideas that you can start to take action:

Human trafficking films

There are many films regarding the issues of human trafficking. The following are trailers of some selected films:

Interactive: human trafficking incidents and ranking map

Use mouse to drag the map and click on the icons to view recent incidents and news of human trafficking. When open links in the popup window, try open in a new tab/window to avoid the map frame being redirected.

Use mouse to drag the map and click on any country to view the ranking information.

What are the tiers?
Tier 1: Countries which fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking
Tier 2: Countries which do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts 
Tier 2 watch list: as Tier 2 but the number of victims is increasing, or the countries do not provide evidence of increased efforts to tackle the problem or the country if making efforts to improve
Tier 3: Countries which do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so