The term "trafficking in women" has become increasingly familiar through media attention to this problem. Trafficking in women is sometimes presented as a new problem. In fact, many of the human rights violations that occur in a trafficking case, such as kidnapping, forced labor and labor exploitation comparable to slavery, are addressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. Other international treaties and agreements, from the early 20th century, also prohibited forced prostitution and the traffic of women and children. The dynamics of modern trafficking in women, however, have changed dramatically and necessitated new approaches to remedying this human rights abuse.

Trafficking in women has been described as "structural," as opposed to "episodic," meaning that it affects thousands of individuals worldwide and often requires complex interactions between individual traffickers, international criminal networks and state structures. In some ways, modern trafficking is a by-product of globalization and a general increase in transnational travel and commerce.

The broad term "trafficking in women" encompasses a number of illegal actions, including transnational crime, illegal immigration and violations of labor standards. Very often, anti-trafficking initiatives address a single aspect of the problem and thus approach trafficking as either a criminal problem, a migration problem, a labor problem or a violation of public order. More recently, international organizations, like the United Nations and the Council of Europe recognize trafficking as gender discrimination and a form of [gender-based violence] [future link to about SVAW], which violates a number of national and international laws.

In countries in transition, the process of privatization and the transition to a global economy have resulted in increased economic burdens for women. Traffickers profit from the unequal social and economic status of women around the world. The demand for and treatment of women in the commercial sex industry also stems from sex-based and race-based discrimination. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson stated, "[t]rafficking is … inherently discriminatory. In the case of trafficking into the global sex industry, we are talking about men from relatively prosperous countries paying for the sexual services of women and girls . . . from less wealthy countries. This is more than a labor rights issue or an issue of unequal development. It is a basic human rights issue because it involves such a massive and harmful form of discrimination." From The Race Dimensions of Trafficking in Persons - Especially Women and Children, World Conference against Racism (2001).

Explore the Issue

 1. Definintion: What is Trafficking in Women? 

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