Trafficking in human beings

Chapter in Laura J. Shepherd (Ed.), Gender Matters in Global Politics: A feminist introduction to international relations (pp. 89-101) Abingdon, Oxen, U.K.: Routledge.

Human trafficking emerged as an important issue in world politics in the I 990s. A wide range of feminist and human rights organizations argued that sex trafficking - the forced migration and labour of women and girls in prostitution - was a growing international problem, a form of 'modern day slavery' that needed urgent international attention. In 2000, after many years of lobbying and debate, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new anti-trafficking protocol - the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Many countries and regions around the world have since developed extensive regimes designed to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers and protect victims.

There has also been increasing recognition over this period that trafficking is not confined to sex trafficking, Women and girls are not only subjected to forced sexual labour; they may be trafficked for other purposes, for example, domestic or agricultural work. There has also been increasing recognition that men and boys may be victims of trafficking. Consequently, the language used to discuss trafficking has undergone a shift - from 'sex trafficking' to the more gender-neutral formulation of 'people trafficking' or 'trafficking in human beings'. However, it is clear that gender matters in the trafficking arena particularly in terms of how the problem of trafficking - and the 'solutions' to this problem - have been constructed in recent times. It is still women and sex trafficking that tends to be the primary object of concern, especially for the media, police and law and policy makers. Also, anti-trafficking campaigns may have particularly gendered consequences, While anti-trafficking campaigns have clearly led to the rescue of some women trapped in dire circumstances, they can also have a serious and negative impact on the human rights of migrant women workers who engage in sex work.

In this chapter, I first look at how trafficking has been constructed as a problem in world politics and in international law. I then look at research which attempts to ascertain the incidence of trafficking and its causes. Finally, I explore some significant and gendered issues of concern in contemporary debates about the trafficking problem.

(abstract authors' own)

Year of publication: 
Barbara Sullivan