According to the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), Human Trafficking consists of three core elements: the act, the means, and the purpose.
- The act – This includes the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or the receipt of humans.
- The means – These can be the use of force (or threat thereof), abuse of power over vulnerable people, coercion, deception, blackmail
- The purpose – The purpose of trafficking is always to exploit for monetary profit, whether it be labour or sexual enslavement
Men, women, and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. Traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims. The UNODC estimates that
- 51% of identified victims of trafficking are women, 28% are children, and 21%, men
- 72% of people exploited in the sex industry are women
- 63% of identified traffickers were men and 37%, women
- 43% of victims are trafficked domestically within national borders
But trafficking doesn’t always mean transporting people across borders. Almost half the people are trafficked domestically. Vulnerable people are preyed upon and taken advantage of with the promise of jobs, escaping poverty, a better life, etc. These dreams fall apart very quickly, and the victims find themselves engaged in modern-day slavery. The documents of the victims are taken by the traffickers, thereby trapping them. A lot of times, the victims take loans from the trafficker, who then uses them for forced labour until the debt is paid off.
Trafficking is often a hidden crime, and even the victims do not come forward because of the fear of retribution by traffickers, who may harm the victim’s family. It is also rife with instances of sexual slavery – where women are trapped for the sexual gratification of not just the traffickers but are used as sexual slaves for the trafficker’s clientele.
Sex trafficking has come under added scrutiny recently, due to the involvement of celebrity perpetrators. Famous instances include names like R. Kelly and Jeffrey Epstein. It is estimated that nearly 70% of human trafficking victims in the USA were identified as either sexually trafficked or victims of both forced labour and sex trafficking.
Human trafficking is also very prevalent in India, even though it is banned under Indian law. Men, women and children are routinely trafficked in India for sexual slavery and bonded labour. The Covid pandemic made things difficult for businesses, but traffickers shifted their operations online, and now use technology to profile, recruit, and even trap their victims into a life of servitude. It is estimated that not only are females trafficked in large numbers in India, but they also account for about a third of the traffickers who have been accused in incidences of trafficking.
India is in Tier 2 of the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000. This means that India does not meet the minimum standards fully, but it is making progress towards being compliant with the standards. Following reports of government complicity in forced labour and sex trafficking at government-run/government-funded shelter homes, some action was taken but the failure to address these issues, on a systemic level, is still a problem.
HOW IT IS DONE
The internet has a very wide reach, and traffickers have taken advantage of the same to recruit and use victims. In research conducted by the UNODC, it was found that victims are targeted through social media, job portals, and dating platforms. Physical and geographical limitations do not exist any longer, and traffickers have easy access to both victims and consumers.
- Traffickers use the internet to recruit potential victims and use the dark web to hide sexually exploitative material, which can then be used to coerce the victim also.
- Fake websites are created with the promise of work, and even ads posted on legitimate employment websites to get access to personal data etc.
- Location services allow the trafficker to know the victim’s location.
- Cameras on mobile phones are used to get photos/videos of the victim and these can also be sold further by the trafficker.
- Cryptocurrencies help in the anonymous transfer of funds between parties, and this allows the sale of sexually exploitative materials without any extra cost.
The growth and the accessibility of the internet have also made the illegal wildlife trade boom, with anonymous online vendors replacing the physical markets that used to host such trades in the past. Entire networks of criminal traffickers make use of the internet – everything from social media platforms to e-commerce websites and even courier companies, to sell illicit wildlife products. The four largest traders in illegal wildlife are – China and Vietnam in Asia and Cameroon and Tanzania in Africa.
Largely unregulated online markets allow traffickers to sell their illegally acquired wildlife goods. Payments are made in crypto-currency, and the products are shipped around the world. Bad actors take advantage of the very systems that were created to track and protect wildlife. Hackers can track down animals by their GPS collars, and then reveal this data to those who would do harm to the animals.
Author – Mr. Naman Sareen, Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation