A Trafficking in Persons Update

It’s been four years since Tim, Amy and I went overseas to observe and serve those working to end sex trafficking. So many things have happened in our own lives since then, but our heart remains the same, we will do what we can to help end modern slavery and never shut our eyes to what is happening.

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After spending hours reading many reports and articles, trying to decide what information to pass on to you has been difficult. I’ve decided to provide some brief global information and then focus on the countries we originally spent most of our time, Brazil and Thailand. Although critics are quick to point out the biased political and financial implications on the ranking systems in the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) reports, it’s a great place to start. But, don’t you worry about that. Reading a whole lot of statistics about people in bondage can be depressing and let’s be honest, a bit dry, so at the end of the blog, I’ve included three things you can do.

As you read the summaries below, try to remember that through all the numbers, these are individuals living in horrendous conditions. People trapped in a hell they can’t get out of; they are mothers, daughters, sons, husbands, cousins, grandparents and so on. So, buckle up. Let’s see what’s been going in the world.

The UN 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”.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – What is Human Trafficking?

Trafficking types include:, sexual exploitation and forced labour (being the most prominent), forced beggars, sham marriages, benefit fraud, pornography production, organ removal, among others (UN Global report on trafficking in persons, 2016).

Some global info:

  • The 2016 Global Slavery Index puts global modern slavery numbers at 45.8 million – more than Australia’s population of 24.91 million.
  • Although 79% of all victims trafficked are women and children, in the last 10 years the percentage of males identified as being trafficked has increased (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 2016).
  • 28% of all trafficked victims detected globally are children. 20% of these are girls. (UNODC, 2016).
  • Sexual exploitation accounts for 54% of all trafficking cases detected globally (UNODC, 2016)
  • 96% of all victims of sexual slavery/sex trafficking worldwide are women and girls (UNODC, 2016)

“Local communities are the most affected by this abhorrent crime and are also the first line of defence against human trafficking.“

– Michael R. Pompeo, US Secretary of State

Brazil Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, By US Department of State:


  • The Government of Brazil does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Concerns around officials being involved in or receiving bribes from trafficking rings remain a concern.
  • Consistent with previous reports, Brazil is a source, transit and destination country for people subject to force labour and sex trafficking. Child sex tourism remains a serious problem, particularly in resort and coastal areas in Brazil’s northeast. Child sex tourists are typically from Europe and the United States.
  • Contrary to international law, child sex trafficking it is only considered a crime if there is proof of force, fraud or coercion. This leads to many young people being exploited in the commercial sex industry without protection.
  • There have been increases in convictions of traffickers, however most serve their sentences under house arrest or are only incarcerated at night-time.
  • Despite the significant number of child sex tourists visiting Brazil, there were no reports of investigations, prosecutions or convictions for child sex tourism in 2017.

 Thailand Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, By US Department of State:

  • The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, the government has increased its efforts since the 2017 report. The government convicted 12 officials complicit in trafficking crimes, although corruptions still remains a major problem.
  • The government has made efforts to increase training for staff despite serious gaps in services. Sadly, authorities are more likely to send boy victims to juvenile detention than to centres offering victim services.
  • The trafficking of Rohingya refugees and migrants into Thailand is a particular problem at this time.
  • Children from Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia are victims of sex trafficking in brothels; massage parlours, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels and private residences.
  • Men and boys from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia are subject to forced labour within the fishing industry. Many spend several years a sea, work 18-20 hours a days, seven days a week and are subject to physical violence, forced drugging and can be killed if they become ill or try to escape.
  • In 2017, there were credible reports that corrupt officials protected brothels, other commercial sex venues from raids and inspections. Some officials also profit from bribes and direct involvement in the exploitation of migrants.

Compared to countries like Brazil and Thailand, my own home nation of Australia performs much better. However, I thought it would be worthwhile to include some of the observations made in the report. Human trafficking does exist in my country and we can do more to protect the most vulnerable. Particularly concerning is the way the authorities fail to screen and identify ‘boat people’ and asylum seekers as victims of trafficking. There are estimated to be over 4300 modern slaves living in Australia (Global Slavery Index, 2016).

Australia Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, By US Department of State:

  • The Government of Australia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Australia is a primary destination country for women and girls trafficked for sex and for women and men subject to forced labour.
  • Problem areas occur with identifying victims. Due to inconsistencies in screening, some potential victims were detained, fined or penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking.
  • Identified trafficked victims are supported with accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, job training and counselling.
  • The government did not report screening for trafficking indicators among individuals smuggled via sea or among refugees and asylum-seekers held in offshore detention centres. Immigration authorities forcibly deported some asylum-seekers who may have been vulnerable to trafficking after returning to their home countries. The government did not ensure social service professionals were present during any initial screening interviews.
  • Some women are held in captivity, subject to physical or sexual violence and intimidated, required to work off debt bondage or subjected to deceived working arrangements in legal or illegal brothels. Traffickers evade authorities by allowing victims to hold onto their passports and frequently move their place of work.
  • Forced labour is present in agriculture, cleaning; construction, hospitality industries with overseas visa students being particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Researching and reading the reports and individuals stories for a blog like this is disheartening and draining at times, but there are also many stories of governments and NGOs attempting to make better laws and provide better services. Once again, I am reminded that strong and connected communities are the best way to combat human trafficking. Change takes intentionality and time. It takes time to change culture, influence decision-makers and educate people about what is happening in their own cities.

So, what can you do?

  1. Becoming educated about something is a good place to start, so well done to you for reading this whole blog. You can’t do something if you don’t know it needs doing. Human trafficking is a large, complex issue, so if it’s something that’s on your heart, find out which area you are most passionate about. Is it child prostitution in Brazil? Forced male labour in the Thai fishing industry? Does prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, prosecution or policy light a fire in your heart? If so, become more educated about that particular issue and the work already being done in that field.
  2. Support organisations that are doing great work already. Getting behind credible organisations is an easy way to get involved, you can do this with your finances or by donating your time. A word of caution to investigate organisations properly and be aware of how voluntourism could be impacting those involved.
  3. Shop ethically and support companies that care about their workers and the conditions of those in their supply chains. In Australia, using apps like ShopEthical and reviewing the Baptist World Aid 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide are the easiest ways to do this, because they have done the research for you. Similarly, back in 2016, I wrote about one simple change you can make today to stop supporting modern slavery practices in the tea supply chain. You can read it here.

Love Jess xxoo

Further Reading:

United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2016 https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/2016_Global_Report_on_Trafficking_in_Persons.pdf

US Department of State – Trafficking in Persons Report 2018  https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/282798.pdf

Global Slavery Index https://www.globalslaveryindex.org

Walk Free Foundation https://www.walkfreefoundation.org/understand/

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the
United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ProtocolTraffickingInPersons.aspx

International Labour Organisation – Global Child Labour tends 2012-2016 http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575499.pdf

Save the Children – Research and Reports – https://www.savethechildren.org.au/Our-Stories?categories=Research%20and%20Reports&currentSort=

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