Landmark legislation on human trafficking adopted 15 years ago, but harmful anti-trafficking laws and practices persist and are set to continue – international rights group says

News and Press Release
Originally published


The UN Trafficking Protocol is praised as landmark international legislation against human trafficking, however 15 years after its adoption trafficked persons have seen little benefit and in some countries national laws cause more harm than good – says the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) on the launch of the Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 4.
The new issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review looks at the impact of the Trafficking Protocol (in full: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children) and questions whether the 15th anniversary is a time to celebrate progress in anti-trafficking or address the problems it has caused.

‘The Trafficking Protocol may represent an important moment in global anti-trafficking work, however 15 years of legislation and programming have not done enough to protect the human rights of trafficked people,’ says Bandana Pattanaik, GAATW International Coordinator, ‘Rather, governments have sought to protect their borders and criminalise sex work in the name of ending trafficking and to the detriment of migrant workers and people who have been trafficked.’

GAATW participated in the negotiations on the Trafficking Protocol 15 years ago, and succeeded in advocating for a definition of trafficking which included all types of work or services and all genders – rather than the previous definition which focused on trafficking in women alone and only on prostitution. The Trafficking Protocol also created a framework for addressing trafficking in persons where previously none existed.

Several of the articles in the journal highlight successes and problems with country-specific case studies. Anti-trafficking efforts have often focused too much on migration which has distracted states from the crucial aim of ending forced labour and slavery-like exploitation, as an article by independent expert Marjan Wijers argues. Kathryn Baer, of the Trafficking Research Project, outlines how in Singapore anti-trafficking measures have resulted in increased and problematic criminal convictions of migrant workers, but have failed to address human rights abuses such as exploitative labour practices. Prabha Kotiswaran (Senior Lecturer, King’s College London, UK) argues in an article on India that by equating sex work with trafficking the government has used the Protocol to target and harm sex workers.

Other case studies from China, Brazil, Norway and Eritrea show how the ‘one-size-fits-all’ nature of the Protocol and governments’ lack of consideration for the social and economic difficulties faced by migrants also lead to ineffective laws and implementation of the Protocol at national level. Laura K Hackney (Program Associate, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, USA), for example uses the case of bride trafficking across the Sino-Burmese border to illustrate how in many cases the distinction between consensual marriage and human trafficking is not clear.

On a global level, over 15 years there have been low conviction rates of traffickers and gaps between law-making and law enforcement. Kristiina Kangaspunta, a prominent expert on trafficking with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), describes the contrast between high rates of legislation against trafficking (only 166 out of 173 countries surveyed by her office have anti-trafficking legislation) and the low rate of convictions (41% of countries with such legislation recorded less than ten convictions in the two-year period between 2010 and 2012).

‘While there have been problems with the way that anti-trafficking has been implemented in the last 15 years, there is room in the next 15 for progress,’ says Pattanaik, ‘A way forward is to ensure that commitment to protect the rights of trafficked persons and all migrant workers is an integral part of all upcoming international commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.’ Unfortunately, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) only mention trafficking in relation to women and to children. While all genders are recognised in the Trafficking Protocol, the SDGs are taking a big step backward in not recognising men who are trafficked, undermining efforts to end trafficking in persons.

Notes to editors:

• Interviews are available with:

• Rebecca Napier-Moore, Editor, Anti-Trafficking Review • Jacqueline Bhabha, Guest Editor, Anti-Trafficking Review • Bandana Pattanaik, International Coordinator, GAATW • The journal includes case studies from Brazil, China/Burma, Eritrea, India, Norway, Singapore, UK, If you are interested in interviewing any of the authors of these particular case studies please let us know.

• To arrange interviews or for an embargoed copy of the journal, please contact:
Rebecca Napier-Moore, Editor, Anti-Trafficking Review, Bangkok, Thailand Tel: +66 (0) 88893 6068 / Email: