Trafficking in Persons

The Exploitation of Vulnerable Persons, Especially Women and Children

What is Trafficking in Persons?

Often times, trafficking in persons, more colloquially known as human trafficking, is associated with smuggling - but there is an important distinction to be made. Firstly, smuggling involves a person voluntarily requesting to be transported covertly, usually illegally, across international borders. Trafficking means that these people are exploited against their will. Secondly, smuggling always involves movement. Trafficking in persons does not require a person to be displaced – exploitation is already enough, for example to forcefully work or provide services. What this work or these services may entail varies greatly, and includes, but is not limited to: Slavery in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation, child labor (this includes child soldiers), forced prostitution, forced marriages, and extraction of organs and tissues. Depending on the region, different types of trafficking are more prevalent. For example, child-soldiers are far more widespread in Africa and the Middle East than in the rest of the world.

Despite trafficking in persons not necessarily including the displacement of the trafficked person, it often does. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (GLOTIP) reads as follows:

“UNODC has identified at least 510 flows [of trafficking in persons]. These are minimum figures as they are based on official data reported by national authorities. These official figures represent only the visible part of the trafficking phenomenon and the actual figures are likely to be far higher.”

The major global, interregional flows of trafficking victims are from typically poorer, developing regions to the Middle East, Europe, and North America. The UNODC GLOTIP report’s data shows that the largest group of exploited persons are women, at 49%. Men make up 18% of the victims, with children making up the remaining 33% (21% girls, 12% boys). This disparity points towards just how many of the detected victims are sexually exploited (53%). As mentioned earlier, there are vast regional differences: Africa and the Middle East see a majority of child trafficking, while in Europe and Central Asia, adults vastly outnumber children.

However, the numbers above show only the detected victims – which is, most likely, a marginal amount when compared to how much trafficking actually takes place. The real distributions could vary greatly, as some forms of trafficking are more difficult to detect than others (forced labor in the form of bonded labor, for example).

The International Labor Organization, a specialized UN-body, reported in 2012 that three in 1000 people on this world are victims of trafficking in persons. This means that a staggering 21 million people are exploited against their will in some way or another: 14.2 million are forced laborers, 4.5 million sexually exploited, and 2.2 million subject to state-imposed forced labor. An estimated 26% of these are under the age of 18.

And it is only getting worse: Trafficking in persons is thought to be one of the fastest-growing activities of transnational crime organizations. While the amount of detected cases is increasing every year, it is estimated that the amount of trafficking taking place is growing at an even faster pace. The fact that more and more cases are being detected is a commendable effort, but trafficking in persons is not dealt with adequately around the globe. 27 countries still lack or have only partial laws that criminalize trafficking in persons – and some of these are vast and densely populated, leading to over two billion people “not being protected by the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol”, according to the UNODC GLOTIP report. It is of vital importance that these countries, big or small, fully ratify the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, and introduce and enforce laws abiding by it.

The arguably biggest challenge facing those who combat trafficking in persons is the detection of victims. Most cases still go undetected, which also makes estimating the extent of the issue rather difficult. Additionally, while awareness is indeed growing, a disproportionately low amount of traffickers are being arrested and convicted. According to the UNODC GLOTIP report, “in spite of legislative progress mentioned above, there are still very few convictions for trafficking in persons. Only 4 in 10 countries reported having 10 or more yearly convictions, with nearly 15 per cent having no convictions at all.”

The Situation in Syria

Trafficking in persons is without a doubt a global issue. But what is for sure is that armed conflicts can and usually do open up opportunities for increased criminal activity, and trafficking in persons is no exception. There are many factors that play into this, for example the fact that a conflict requires combatants and support personnel, or that conflicts will always cause the displacement of large portions of the population. Another issue is that armed conflicts often cause gender imbalances, which then often leads to sexual exploitation. These are but a few examples of how armed conflict affects trafficking in persons.

Data collected between 2011 and 2013 for the UNODC GLOTIP report revealed that there were eight countries that detected Syrian victims. Victims from Syria were very rarely detected before the beginning of what spiraled into what is now known as the Syrian Civil War.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a total of 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. Of these, more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and around 5 million have fled their homeland – mostly to neighboring countries.

While internally displaced persons (IDP’s) do not legally have a refugee status, they all underwent the same forced displacement. For reference, the pre-war population of Syria was around 22 million. This means that, with approximately 450.000 fatal casualties, over 60% of the 2011 pre-war Syrian population has either been killed, injured, or forced to flee their homes. What also must be considered is that of the internally displaced and refugees, many have had to relocate more than once, some even four, five, or more times.

One can only imagine how vulnerable these people are. Much of Syria’s infrastructure has deteriorated or been entirely destroyed in violent clashes, leaving millions in need. Most Syrian children cannot attend school, which, if the war rages on for longer, will have an increasingly worse impact on the country’s future prospects. Due to lacking infrastructure and therefore inaccessibility, proper surveillance of criminal activities is impossible. Additionally, the government’s police apparatus is, on one hand, severely weakened, and on the other hand, simply not present in large parts of the country. Syria is a hub for undetectable criminal activity. There are many reports of forced marriages in refugee camps, forced prostitution, and sexual slavery – not just in Syria but also in surrounding countries such as Lebanon. And there is undoubtedly much more criminal activity taking place, with a large part of it related to trafficking in persons, such as forced recruitment, child soldiering, organ and tissue extractions, torture, extrajudicial killing, etc. The situation in Syria is perhaps the most tragic ongoing event today.

It is now up to you, delegates, to work together against the atrocious actions of global trafficking in persons. Below are a couple of points to help guide you in your further research and preparation for the upcoming weekly sessions.


Focal Points for this Block’s Weekly Sessions:

  • The last few countries that have not yet fully ratified and enforced the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol should do so.
  • Countries who have criminalized most or all forms of trafficking in persons should increase efforts to crack down on traffickers.
  • This issue is definitely a global one. But to not over-complicate the weekly sessions, we recommend you try to focus efforts on the situation in Syria.


The MUN Team UZH Board wishes you all a good start in the new semester! We are looking forward to a productive first block. Happy debating!


If you would like to, the following links may prove helpful in obtaining some more information on the topic at hand: