Human Trafficking: Is its Focus on Women Right?

Human Trafficking: Is its Focus on Women Right?

Human trafficking has only been recently defined and legislated for under international law. It is governed by the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000). Trafficking is sometimes described as modern day slavery since it involves similar aspects of control, power and exploitation of human beings.
Something which is worth noting is that in the literature on human trafficking there is not much mention of men. It seems that there is a universal social acceptance that women and children are the central point of human trafficking but men are often overlooked, especially as victims of human trafficking. Just because there is a perception that men are not as vulnerable, it does not mean that they should be deprived of their victim status.

Human trafficking typically occurs because of social and economic constraints known as push (supply) and pull (demand) factors. A person will be enticed by certain opportunities which are promised to them, often in another country. The person is led to think that they are being offered opportunities which will give them a better life but instead they end up being exploited. Before the trafficking protocol, human trafficking law was previously encompassed by separate laws such as prostitution and slavery treaties.

It took a while for a trafficking protocol to be created and there were many attempts before it was finally published.

One of the first attempts at a definition was provided at the UN General Assembly (1994) when including: ‘movement of persons across national and international borders…with the end goal of forcing women and girl children…into sexually…exploitative situations’. It is striking that male victims have been overlooked right from the very beginning.

The title of the trafficking protocol itself states that it governs human trafficking ‘especially in women and children’; right from the off it is clear that more attention is given to women and children than men. While it may be the case that the former are quantitatively more effected by this crime, the numerous male victims should not be ignored.

In this day and age women and men are, or at least should be, equal in the eyes of the law. Women are becoming just as authoritative and as powerful as men, there is no reason that women deserve priority when it comes to human trafficking law. The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012 released results showing that 59% of victims were women. Some will say that the trafficking protocol should heavily focus on women because of this. However, the equation of human trafficking does not only include victims, there are also the perpetrators and middle persons, and these tend to be men. The 2012 report also showed that the majority of persons convicted were males. The trafficking protocol contains a section on criminalisation and so as much emphasis should be placed on men as on women and children. Although men tend to be the offenders, they are also a big part of the evil that is of human trafficking.

People can be trafficked for a variety of reasons. Women are mostly involved in sexual exploitation and prostitution. Whereas ‘the vast majority of adult males are trafficked for labour’ according to the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Trafficking of Adult Men in the Europe and Eurasia Region report. The difficulty with this is that it can be hard to distinguish whether a victim is being exploited or being forced to work against the will. If there is no contract of employment this is hard to prove and, so can lead to misidentification of human trafficking victims. If the trafficking protocol is not willing to recognise the equal status and involvement of men in human trafficking, the title should be questioned. Men may not mostly be the victims but they are still a large proportion and are very much involved in the process.

The trafficking protocol not only deals with protection but also with prosecution and prevention and this should be acknowledged.

The emphasis placed on women and children also has an effect due the United Nations Convention against Crime (UNTOC). This is detrimental since it is the parent convention, which means that it must be ‘read and interpreted’ together with the trafficking protocol under Article 37. Both treaties are legally co-dependent on each other to be effective. The UNTOC plays an important role in implementing measures against transnational organised crime. Human trafficking is transnational in nature so it is reliant on this treaty.

The lack of recognition for men also affects organisations that deal with human trafficking aside from the trafficking protocol. It indicates that more support should be given to women, but male victims will need just as much support as women. Consequently, programs directed towards the rehabilitation of men are compromised. Finally, it should be debated whether the statistics can be relied on, as most victims are too scared to come forward. There may well be more male victims than accounted for – especially due to the prevailing social views that men should be more masculine and resilient –  and this could be a large deterrence to them coming forward.

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