Human Trafficking

This paper was written as a research paper in 2011, so it is a little out of date. It was for my English Comp/American History class for our Model UN competition.


In China, the longing for boys and the one child policy is leading to the trafficking of baby girls. Just south of China, in Cambodia, girls are being forced into sexual exploitation at an unbelievably young age. Boys in Uganda are being abducted and forced to be child soldiers and girls are forced into sexual exploitation. Children are being sold for sex on the Internet in the United States and young girls are being manipulated into prostitution by violent pimps. Human trafficking is the international and transnational trade in people for the purpose of servitude. According to a recent study by the Swedish government, human trafficking ranks third, behind drugs and arms smuggling, in the scale of organized crime (Seki). Each year, millions of women, children, and sometimes men, especially from developing nations, are trafficked within and across national boundaries to serve as bonded labor, domestic workers, farm workers, and sex workers (Moore). Victims suffer physical and mental abuse and social stigmatization. They become isolated, losing ties with their former lives and families. Human trafficking is becoming an increasing major issue in hundreds of countries worldwide in different forms of sexual exploitation and labor.

Beginning in the 1440’s, the transatlantic African slave trade is seen as the first documented case of human trafficking. The transatlantic slave trade saw an estimated ten to twelve million Africans taken from their homes in West Africa. They were transported in chains across the Atlantic Ocean under brutal conditions, and then forced to work as slaves on the plantations of the Americas and Great Britain (Fletcher). In 1807, Great Britain passed a legislation forbidding the buying and selling of slaves and then thirteen years later, the United States followed Great Britain’s example and passed the Act of 1820. After the Act of 1820 was passed, participation in the African slave trade was to be considered the most heinous crime on the high seas and it was to be punished by death. Although the slave trade ended in the United States and Great Britain, it still continued in other parts of the world for several years. Finally, when Brazilian authorities began arresting slave ships at the end of 1850, the volume of the traffic slipped back to levels not seen for two centuries, and the last transatlantic slave expedition completed its voyage in 1867 (Eltis).

Attention to white slavery happened at the time of the legal abolition of black slavery and the language of one social phenomenon was transferred to another. White slavery is the procurement – by use of force, deceit or drugs – of a white woman or a girl against her will for prostitution (Kangaspunta).  In 1899 and 1902, international conferences to talk about white slavery were organized in Paris. Then in 1904, an international agreement against the “white slave trade” was created, with a focus on migrant women and children.  The agreement aimed to ensure that women and girls are protected against criminal traffic known as the “white slave traffic”. In 1910, thirteen countries signed the International Convention for the Suppression of White Slave Trade, focusing on the criminalization of trafficking. This International Convention led to the creation of national committees to work against the trafficking of white women.  In June of 1921, the League of Nations held an international conference in Geneva, in which the term “white slavery” was changed to “traffic of women and children’” This was done to make sure that the trafficking in all countries was dealt with, the victims of races other than those termed “white” were recognized, and that male children were also recognized as victims. During this conference, 33 countries signed the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children (Kangaspunta).

In 1949, the United Nations Convention of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others was passed. This was the first convention about human trafficking that was legally binding to the countries that signed it and required the countries to make prostitution illegal. However, like all of the conventions before it, this convention still only dealt with human trafficking that had a sexual purpose. In 2000, the United Nations Protocol against Trafficking in Persons was passed. It made all forms of human trafficking illegal (Kangaspunta).

Towards the end of the transatlantic African slave trade in the United States and Britain, a new issue that could be seen as human trafficking sprung up in these two countries, child labor. In the late 1700s, factory work became very popular and power-driven machines replaced hand labor for the making of most manufactured items. Operating these machines did not require the strength of an adult, so factory owners found a new and cheaper source of labor in children. The working conditions for these children, who often began working before their seventh birthday, were tough. They would often work up to 18 hours a day, six days a week and would barely earn a dollar. They worked in dirty, unsanitary conditions and they did not have time for school or play. These children often came from poor families and when parents could not support their children, they would turn to the mill or factory owners (Fried).

Many churches, labor groups and teachers were enraged by the cruelty of this new form of labor and they pressed for reforms. In Britain, from 1802 to 1878, a series of laws gradually shortened the working hours, improved the conditions, and raised the age at which children could work. In the United States, however, it took many years to outlaw child labor. Connecticut passed a law in 1813 saying that working children must have some schooling. By 1899 a total of 28 states had passed laws regulating child labor. Many efforts were made to pass a national child labor law. The U.S. Congress passed two laws, in 1918 and 1922, but the Supreme Court declared both unconstitutional. In 1924, Congress proposed a constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor, but the states did not ratify it. Then, in 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which the U.S. still follows today. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, 14 for certain jobs after school, and 18 for dangerous work (Fried).

Although human trafficking is now illegal, it still exists in many parts of the world. In China, it is traditionally more honorable to have a male child rather than a girl. According to the one child policy, families are permitted only one child if the first is a boy. A second child is allowed if a girl comes first. But once a family has two children, there are no more chances. The punishment of having another child is a high fine that most cannot afford in the poorer parts of China, such as Yulin. In March of 2003, police found a bus full of 28 unwanted baby girls between the ages of two to five months. When the police raided the vehicle, one girl had already died from suffocation and the rest were blue from lack of air. They had been stuffed into nylon bags, two to four of them at a time, and thrown into the bus like farm animals. The police arrested twenty passengers on the bus for human trafficking. All of the babies had been purchased from the same distributor in Yulin, most sold by poor farmers so they could have another attempt at a son (Rosenthal).

Poor families sometimes sell their baby girls to gain money and to have another chance at having a boy. But it is not always just baby girls that are trafficked. Twenty percent of the babies that are trafficked in China are boys that have some kind of health or physical impairment. The baby girls are often sold to city dwellers, who tend to have a slight preference in girls because they are believed to take better care of aging parents. Some are sold to rural families who already have a son but want a daughter to help with the housework; others are sold for stranger purposes. In August of 2002, the police in neighboring Guizhou Province arrested four traffickers with seven baby girls who were being sold to be reared as child brides for farmers in remote regions (Rosenthal).

Besides the high demand for boys and the one child policy, another reason baby trafficking is so popular in the poorer parts of China is because it is a good money maker. Middlemen earn several hundred yuan, about $30, for procuring a child, and that money has built houses and bought tractors in villages that once relied on subsistence farming (Rosenthal).

The trafficking of babies in China is not the only type of human trafficking that Asia has problems with. In Cambodia, girls are being sold as sex slaves. Srey Prov was sold by her family to a brothel when she was just six years old. Her virginity was purchased by a Western pedophile, who tied her down naked to a bed so he could rape her. Because of her young age, there was a high demand for her unwilling sexual services and she was raped by at least twenty customers a night. Srey Prov often tried to escape but was unsuccessful and punished by being beaten and electrically shocked. Sometimes she was punished by being locked naked in a closet full of scorpions for up to a week at a time. At age nine, Srey Prov was lucky to escape the brothel and outrun the guard. She found her way to a shelter run by Somaly Mam, an anti-trafficking activist who was also prostituted as a child. Srey Prov is now twenty years old and feels that she is ready for a boyfriend, when before, the only men she knew were her customers who beat and raped her. The reason trafficking continues in Cambodia is because of the customers. They honestly believe that the girls are in the brothels voluntarily because they fake their smiles and sometimes even flirt to avoid being beaten (Kristof). Unfortunately, not all of the trafficked victims end their story by escaping. There are thousands of girls who are still stuck in brothels, not only in Asia, but all over the world, with no hope of being rescued.

When hearing about human trafficking in other poor, underprivileged countries such as Cambodia, the American heart melts. But when seeing girls in the United States on the corner of streets, wearing short skirts and low cut tops, their hearts harden. Many Americans do not perceive these girls as human trafficking victims but as miscreants who have chosen that way of life. Although many are prostituting themselves because they are mentally sick or they need to support themselves and feel that they have no other way to do so, there are some who are utterly controlled by violent pimps who take every penny they earn. In the stereotypical story of the American runaway, she is a young girl from a troubled home, possibly living with just her mother. She runs away to bus station, where a pimp is on the lookout for girls like her. He buys her dinner, gives her a place to stay and next thing she knows she’s earning him $1,500 a day. He keeps her under his iron fist by abusing her lack of self-esteem and making her feel like she has no other alternative. The girl often has a terror of the pimp and a misplaced love for him. When the girl gets caught, usually she is the one arrested and prosecuted, not the pimp (Kristof).

Another form of human trafficking that exists in the United States is sexual exploitation of children through the Internet. One of the most heinous crimes in America is the trafficking of children but this selling of minors quickly becomes less hidden when Internet sites for community advertising become giant magnets for the sex trade. In 2009, the classified-ad giant Craigslist was forced under public pressure to end its sexually related advertising, in large part because of the difficulty of blocking ads that also lead to sexually exploiting children. Now, a popular site run by Village Voice Media is being targeted for not screening its “adult” advertising very well for criminals in the business of exploiting children for sex. The Village Voice, which makes millions from its adult Web ads, claims it has lately devoted resources to blocking such ads, even working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, while at the same time claiming a free-speech right to keep its adult ads. But the attorneys general cite dozens of arrests in various states for child-sex crimes related to the site. This popular advertising hub for sexual services posts pictures of adults, but then “minors are substituted at the ‘point of sale’ in a grossly illegal transaction.” Sexual predation of minors requires a zero-tolerance policy by both media and government. Such actions are even more difficult in the digital age in which predators can use smart phones or other devices to avoid detection (The Village Voice).

Across the Atlantic Ocean, in Uganda, Africa, children are being trained to be killing machines. Some are as young as eight years old when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abduct and introduce them to the rebellion movement. They kill, they plunder and they mutilate. In their defense, they do not know any better; they have been brutalized into submission, and have forgotten all that was once understood about decency as they descended into debasement (Child sadists). Since rebellion against the government began, some 30,000 children have been abducted to work as soldiers and porters. Young girls have been made to serve as the “wives” of rebels and bear their children. Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group engaged in a violent campaign to establish theocratic government based on the Ten Commandments throughout Uganda (The Deadly Cult). Kony sees himself as a spirit medium and has created an aura of fear and mysticism around him. His devotees follow strict rules and rituals, believing him to be a prophet carrying a message from the spirit of God. When threatened with intense offensive military operations, Kony has pushed back with staggering violence. With the approval of the Central African Republic, Ugandan troops were deployed in that country in 2009 for a major operation. Two of Kony’s senior deputies were captured and a third killed. But Kony responded by unleashing havoc in a horrific string of attacks, torching village upon village and ambushing humanitarian convoys (Child sadists). To evade the rebels and escape attacks and killings, streams of children, often with their mothers, flee their homes to squalid and overcrowded camps. Some 40,000 “night commuters” sleep under verandas, in schools, hospital courtyards and bus parking lots (Talwar).

Although several actions have been taken to prevent human trafficking, it still exists and it probably always will. But together, people from all over the world can come together and at least decrease the numbers of people being trafficked on a daily basis. There are several organizations worldwide, dedicated to ending human trafficking and to help the victims. Just typing in “human trafficking campaigns” into Google, thousands of links pop up. The Not for Sale Campaign is building a global movement of abolitionists that support anti-slavery projects in the United States and abroad.  The A21 Campaign focuses on sex slavery in Europe. This young nonprofit has a thriving community on Causes and just finished a fundraising project to provide holiday gifts to the women in their programs. GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, focuses on providing transitional services for young girls to help them move on from sex trafficking into healthy, productive lives through counseling, job training, and educational services (Gordon).

Possibly the biggest campaign that is stirring the world at the moment is Kony 2012. The Invisible Children organization is hosting Kony 2012 with the goal to raise support for Joseph Kony’s arrest, set a precedent for international justice and bring the child soldiers home. Invisible Children has been working for nine years to end Africa’s longest-running armed conflict. U.S. military advisors are currently deployed in Central Africa on a “time limited” mission to stop Kony and disarm the Lord’s Resistance Army. If Kony is not captured this year, the window will be gone, which means Kony will still be out there, abducting thousands of more children (Kony 2012). Support for the Kony 2012 campaign has been spread all over the media via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and has been Invisible Children’s biggest campaign so far.

Another way to help prevent human trafficking is to support education opportunities for girls and women. Many females end up being sucked into the brutal world of prostitution because they feel that they have no other alternatives. Being a female, it is often difficult to get a well-paying job, especially if they are uneducated, and this causes them to be vulnerable to pimps. Also minimizing support for the commercial sex industry is another big step that can be taken. Many people are unaware that a lot of pornography on the Internet has human trafficking victims in it. By watching these pornography films, the pimps are earning more money and therefore more power, causing more girls to become victims of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Human trafficking is a worldwide issue that has been going on for centuries and often goes unnoticed. Every year, thousands of people become the victims of sexual exploitation and labor against their will and do not know how to escape. By joining organizations, creating more opportunities for females and minimizing support of the commercial sex industry, the world can take baby steps into decreasing the numbers of human trafficking victims.



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Fried, Milton. “History of Child Labor.” Teachers. Scholastic. Web. 01 Mar. 2012. <;.


Gordon, Susan. “Human Trafficking Awareness Day: 27 Million People Are Enslaved Right Now.” The Causes Blog. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. < 2011/01/human-trafficking-awareness-day-27-million-people-are-enslaved-right-now/>.


“Human Trafficking.” Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Ed. John Moore. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 134-138. Global Issues In Context. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.


Kangaspunta, Kristina. “A Short History of Trafficking in Persons.” Freedom From Fear 2010. Web. 5 Mar. 2012. < content&view=article&id=99:a-short-history-of-trafficking-in-persons&catid=37:issue-1&Itemid=159>


“Kony 2012.” Invisible Children. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <;.


Kristof, Nicholas D. “The Face of Modern Slavery.” New York Times 17 Nov. 2011: A31(L). Global Issues In Context. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.


Kristof, Nicholas D. “What About American Girls Sold on the Streets?” New York Times 24 Apr. 2011: 10(L). Global Issues In Context. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.


Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “A longing for boys leads to trafficking of girls in China.” International Herald Tribune 22 July 2003: 1.Global Issues In Context. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.


Seki, Akira. “A rising tide in Asia Human trafficking.” International Herald Tribune 20 July 2002: 6. Global Issues In Context. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.


Talwar, Namrita. “Fostering terror: child soldier crisis in Uganda.” UN Chronicle June-Aug. 2004: 7+. Global Issues In Context. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.


“The Deadly Cult of Joseph Kony.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 8 Nov. 2008. Web. 07 Mar. 2012. <;.


“The Village Voice and the selling of children for sex on the Internet.” Christian Science Monitor 31 Oct. 2011. Global Issues In Context. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.




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