Trafficking in persons, or human trafficking, refers to the subjection of men, women, and children to exploitative conditions that may be tantamount to slavery. Reports suggest that human trafficking is a global phenomenon, victimizing millions of people each year and contributing to a multi-billion dollar criminal industry. Common forms of human trafficking include trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and debt bondage. Other forms of human trafficking include trafficking for domestic servitude and the use of children in armed conflict (e.g., child soldiers).
Human trafficking is a centuries-old problem that, despite international and U.S. efforts to eliminate it, continues to occur in virtually every country in the world. The modern manifestation of the human trafficking problem is driven by gaps in the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws and regulations and the willingness of some labor and service providers to violate such laws in order to fulfill international demand. Such demand is particularly concentrated among industries and economic sectors that are low-skill and labor-intensive. Human trafficking is an international and cross-cutting policy problem that affects a range of major national security, human rights, criminal justice, social, economic, migration, gender, public health, and labor issues.
The U.S. government and successive Congresses have long played a leading role in international efforts to combat human trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA, Division A of P.L. 106-386, as amended) and its reauthorizations are the cornerstone legislative vehicles for current U.S. policy to combat international human trafficking. Since enactment of the TVPA in 2000, Congress has remained active on international human trafficking issues, particularly with appropriations identified for anti-trafficking assistance purposes, proposed legislation related to the TVPA, and other anti-trafficking initiatives. Periodic oversight hearings have focused in particular on the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, a detailed country-by-country ranking and analysis of government efforts to achieve congressionally established minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
This report provides an overview of recent global trends and U.S. foreign policy responses to address human trafficking. The report focuses in particular on efforts conducted by the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) and the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF) on human trafficking, as well as discussion of the 2016 TIP Report.
The 2016 Global Slavery Index report estimated that some 45.8 million (up from 35.8 million estimated in 2014) individuals worldwide were exploited through human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, or commercial sexual exploitation. In contrast to the TIP Report, which categorizes countries solely on the basis of government efforts, the Global Slavery Index also seeks to provide country-by-country estimates of people experiencing conditions tantamount to modern slavery. For example, the 2016 Global Slavery Index reported the following:
- Countries with the greatest prevalence of their population subjected to “modern slavery” included North Korea (for comparison, the State Department listed North Korea as Tier 3 in the 2016 TIP Report), Uzbekistan (Tier 3), Cambodia (Tier 2), India (Tier 2), and Qatar (Tier 2 Watch List).
- Countries with the highest absolute numbers of people subjected to modern slavery, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, included India (Tier 2 in the 2016 TIP Report), China (Tier 2 Watch List), Pakistan (Tier 2 Watch List), Bangladesh (Tier 2), and Uzbekistan (Tier 3).
- Countries taking the least action to address human trafficking included North Korea (Tier 3 in the 2016 TIP Report), Iran (Tier 3), Eritrea (Tier 3), Equatorial Guinea (Tier 3), Papua New Guinea (Tier 3), Guinea (Tier 2 Watch List), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, Tier 2 Watch List), and South Sudan (Tier 3)