The State Department of the U.S. Government has for the past ten years issued an annual report on the state of laws governing human trafficking. The latest report shows that most of the world's industrialized countries have enacted laws to protect against human trafficking. This includes recognizing that human trafficking is a problem and having taken steps to address the issue (Wu & Zifcak, 2010). Most countries in the world have only progressed to what is known as Tier 2, in which the issue is recognized but has yet to be addressed in the nation's body of law (U.S. Department of State, 2010). Yet, despite most of the industrialized world having laws against human trafficking and protections for its victims, human trafficking has increased dramatically in recent years, and much of that increase focuses on bringing people into the developed world.
This places significant emphasis on building a credible legal framework to address the issue. In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) has been signed into law in 2000 and the United Nations has instituted the Palermo Protocol ("Trafficking in Persons Report 2010," 5). These laws, however, have yet to stem the tide of human trafficking. As the world becomes more aware of the issue, study is required with respect to the underlying causes of human trafficking and the methods that are used to commit this crime. When these elements are understood better, governments will be able to draft stronger laws against human trafficking and will be able to implement better enforcement mechanisms.
The purpose of this report is to outline the issue of human trafficking and its incidence in the world today. This will include the motivations of both the traffickers and the people who pay traffickers for passage to other countries. The legal frameworks that are currently in place for dealing with human trafficking will also be addressed. At the domestic level, this includes not only the laws that deal directly with human trafficking, but immigration policy in general, and even economic policy, as these factors have been linked to the rising incidence of human trafficking. An assessment will be made as to the effectiveness of the policies currently on the books, and some of the more recent policies that have been proposed. The paper will conclude with an examination of some of the future policies that may be able to stem the incidence of human trafficking in the future. There is little doubt that rising awareness of human trafficking has resulted in a better body of literature on the subject, and this literature will form the basis of the discussion on human trafficking. The case study of the U.S.-Mexico border will be used to highlight some of the challenges in developing an adequate legal and enforcement framework for human trafficking. The U.S. is one of the leaders in the fight against human trafficking, yet its ability to contain the crime along its southern frontier is woefully inadequate.
Human trafficking is a complex issue that comes in a number of different forms. In the body of the TVPA, sex trafficking and involuntary servitude are two main forms of human trafficking that were identified as being severe in nature (TVPA, 2000). Trafficking in children for the purposes of either sex or servitude is a special issue within the problem of human trafficking. Slavery -- a common form of human trafficking -- may be illegal in most of the world but still persists in the underground economies of many countries. In addition to the severe forms of human trafficking, a common form occurs when persons pay a third party -- often a criminal organization -- for illegal passage to another country. This type of human trafficking, even when it does not result in servitude or bondage, can lead to deaths of those being trafficked, the financing of organized crime, circumvention of immigration laws and other issues. Thus, even the more benign forms of human trafficking are a significant problem for nations seeking to protect their borders and protect human rights.
Although there is some debate surrounding the development of a common definition for human trafficking and this can cause some disparities in the statistics cited by different bodies, the incidence of human trafficking is staggering. It has been estimated that the industry was worth $42.5 billion globally by 2006 (Ross, 2006) and that it involved an estimated 2.5 million people. The victims came from around 127 countries and went to 137 countries (UN News Centre, 2008). The latter figure indicates that human trafficking does not simply involve trafficking into developed nations, but also between developing nations.
The human trafficking industry has been characterized as one with high profits and low risks (Ross, 2006). The low risks stem from the difficulties that nations have had with respect to defining human trafficking, writing laws dealing with it and enforcing the different laws that are in place. The United States has estimated that only 0.4% of victims have been identified. The country had 4166 successful human trafficking prosecutions, including 335 relating to forced labor, but this is believed to be only a small percentage of actual incidents ("Trafficking in Persons Report 2010," 7). Many trafficking victims have no access to legal services, and those who do are often intimidated into silence by their captors.
Compounding the problem is the relatively paltry legal framework by which to prosecute those engaged in human trafficking. 104 countries do not have laws in place to protect victims, and 62 signatories of the Palermo Protocol have yet to register a single conviction (Ibid). The complex nature of the issue as a human rights issue, a criminal issue, a women's rights issue, an immigration issue and a children's rights issue means that it is difficult to draft comprehensive legislation. Even in the United States, much of the legislation concerning human trafficking is a patchwork of state laws, only loosely framed by federal statutes. Law enforcement at the international level is notoriously weak -- most international laws simply require action on the part of local governments and contain few enforcement mechanisms or means of prosecution.
The increase in human trafficking in recent years relates to a few underlying factors. One is that criminal organizations have discovered how lucrative the trade can be. There is considerable economic incentive with respect to sex trafficking and unpaid labor. Combined with a relatively slim legal framework for addressing the issue, considerable incentive to engage in human trafficking is created. Advances in transportation and mobile communication have also made it easier for human traffickers to commit their crimes, cross borders illegally and to evade law enforcement. Further, globalization has generally focused on reducing international barriers governing the flow of goods and money, but has generally not allowed for the increased flow of human capital. This has created strong demand for labor, both sexual and otherwise, as labor flows have failed to match the flows of capital and goods. This is particularly an issue along the U.S.-Mexico border, where an increased in human trafficking has been attributed to high demand for unpaid labor in the U.S. And a decreased ability of Mexican citizens to travel freely across the border relative to the increase of money and goods that flow across that border. In short, goods and money represent jobs and survival. People will always want to follow the flow of jobs, and this makes large segments of the migrant population vulnerable to exploitation, often in the form of human trafficking.
Existing Legal Frameworks
The most prominent legal framework in the United States with respect to human trafficking is the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), which has been amended a few times since it was first enacted. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is the first part of the larger law, and sets out a definition of human trafficking. There are several components to this act. The annual country reports are used to gauge the recipients of U.S. financial and security assistance with respect to their efforts to confront human trafficking, the idea being that some of that assistance will be tied to compliance with international efforts to curb human trafficking (TVPA, 1471-1473). An interagency task force was created in order to monitor and combat human trafficking. A number of internal agencies are involved in this effort, including the Secretary of State, the Agency for International Development, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services the Director of Central Intelligence and the White House (TVPA, 1473). The different agencies are coordinated through the task force so that their efforts work together towards common objectives with respect to the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking.
There are a number of prevention mechanisms with the text off the TVPA. These include a variety of economic initiatives to provide economic opportunity in developing nations (microcredit, programs to promote women's participation in economic opportunity, education programs, and programs to increase public awareness of human…