Trafficking & Coercion

A group of girls live in a shelter after being removed from their homes and sold into prostitution in Guadalajara, Mexico. © 2008 Lynn VanderWielen, Courtesy of Photoshare

Reducing human trafficking and sexual abuse and coercion is a key element of youth reproductive health policy. Most trafficked children are recruited by someone they know, including men, women, family members, neighbors, friends, or boyfriends. A majority of the victims trafficked are manipulated by false promises of opportunities and a higher quality of life.

Human trafficking is a crime that deprives people of their rights and freedoms, increases global health risks, fuels growing networks of organized crime, and can sustain levels of poverty and impede development in certain areas. Not only do trafficked persons suffer devastating consequences, including physical and emotional abuse, rape, threats against self and family, and death, but trafficking also undermines the health, safety, and security of all nations it touches.

Trafficking Threatens Youth Reproductive Health

  • More than 12 million adults and children are in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time; more than half of all forced labor victims are women and girls under the age of 25.
  • Trafficking of children and young women is often, but not always, associated with prostitution, sexual coercion, and sexual violence. This can lead to severe psychological and physical trauma, putting women and children at greater risk for unintended pregnancy and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Youth who have been trafficked for sex often have difficulty seeking reliable health care and suffer stigma and discrimination, especially if they become infected with HIV or other STIs.

Key Areas for Policy Action

To be effective, anti-trafficking programs should address the four phases experienced by a trafficked person: (1) pre-movement, (2) movement, (3) post-movement/exploitation, and (4) post-exploitation. The trafficking of minors requires a policy response that recognizes their distinct experiences. To address trafficking among women and youth, policies should do the following:

  • Outlaw trafficking and prescribe stringent penalties to deter the crime,but ensure that laws and regulations do not infringe on legitimate migration.
  • Enforce laws against trafficking, including support to develop local law enforcement capacity to adequately investigate and prosecute traffickers, while protecting the rights of trafficked persons and maintaining their confidentiality. It is especially important that trafficked minors not be treated as criminals.
  • Support educational efforts that combine specific anti-trafficking messages with primary and secondary education. This will inform young people and influential adults (e.g., parents, teachers, and coaches) about the dangers of trafficking. Such efforts can occur within existing programs to improve youth reproductive health or increase economic opportunities.
  • Address the social context, including the vulnerability of women and other underlying causes of trafficking. Adolescent reproductive health programs can easily incorporate messages about the risks of trafficking and the promotion of safe labor migration.
  • Encourage links between HIV prevention programs and anti-trafficking groups. This is particularly important during both the exploitation and post-exploitation stages of trafficking, when trafficked persons are most vulnerable.
  • Support rehabilitation for trafficked youth, including school and job opportunities. Compared with trafficked adults, care and support services for youth are more demanding, and reintegrating youth into the community is more challenging.
  • Support participation of youth by allowing them to influence national policy development through public forums with local authorities and participation-based organizations.

It is important to distinguish between trafficking of adults and trafficking of children. Children need special programs to protect their rights and ensure their needs are met by their parents and the government. Trafficking in children deserves particular attention and specific responses because of children’s vulnerability to being trafficked and the distinct psychological, physical, and social impacts of trafficking on children and their prospects for reintegration.

The State of Policy Making

The U.S. Department of State drafted the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which guides efforts to combat human trafficking and outlines minimum standards for its elimination. Many countries have anti-trafficking policies that address the various stages of trafficking, but often these policies are not comprehensive. Some countries are currently working toward recognizing human trafficking as an international problem by holding conferences addressing human trafficking or developing national action plans. However, there are others that have not attempted to comply with the minimum standards set forth in the TVPA. Policies addressing trafficked youth are included in policies on child protection and mental health. Few reproductive health and HIV/AIDS policies specifically address trafficking.

Key Web Sites

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW). GAATW is a network that advocates for a human rights-based approach to trafficking.

International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM’s website describes its counter-trafficking activities, which include aid to governments to improve legal systems to combat trafficking. This online legislative database from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe provides assistance to those who prepare and draft laws; it includes a special section on trafficking. 

Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons leads the United States' global engagement against human trafficking, an umbrella term used to describe the activities involved when someone obtains or holds a person in compelled service.

Polaris Project. A leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. By successfully pushing for stronger federal and state laws, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), conducting trainings, and providing vital services to victims of trafficking, Polaris Project creates long-term solutions that move our society closer to a world without slavery.