Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...


Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...

Events and News


Trafficking in Persons is an issue of growing concern in the international community and is now recognised as a global phenomenon, yet what exactly is trafficking?
GAATW receives regular requests for information about trafficking, to help individuals, students, policy-makers, organisations and many more understand this complex issue. We have compiled the questions below to help explain some of the concepts and definitions related to trafficking in persons.

For information about our organisation, including updates about employment and internships, please see the 'frequently asked questions' section below.

FAQ: Understanding Trafficking in Persons

What is migration?
Migration is where a person moves from one country to another. It can be by legal or illegal means and it can be either voluntary (with the consent of the person migrating) or forced (without their consent), but usually it is voluntary. Displacement of persons and trafficking are examples of forced migration.
A migrant is someone who leaves her/his community or country of origin to live, and possibly work and/or marry in another place. “Migrant” is an overarching term that covers many categories of migrants, including refugees, trafficked and undocumented persons and migrants who are in a smuggling situation.

What is smuggling?
According to the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, "Smuggling of migrants" means the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.

An individual may voluntarily engage the services of a smuggler, but increasingly be drawn into a web of exploitative relationships in order to pay off the debts they incurred in the process. If the individual falls into a situation of debt bondage, it can become a case of human trafficking.
GAATW publication on Smuggling:

What is trafficking in persons?
Trafficking in persons, or human trafficking, was re-defined by the international community in 2001 to incorporate a broader definition that recognises it as a human rights problem involving forced labour, servitude or slavery among other issues.
Trafficking in persons involves three core elements: 
1. the movement of a person (inside a country or across borders)
2. with deception or coercion
3. into a situation of forced labour, servitude or slavery-like practices

Trafficking also begins through recruitment, forced migration, purchase, sale or receipt of people. Following movement (whether forced or voluntary), through deception or coercion - including force, the threat of force or debt bondage - a person is then forced into an exploitative situation such as servitude, forced or bonded labour.
In many cases trafficking begins when a person voluntarily decides to migrate, but ends up being trafficked. This can occur whether people move by legal or illegal means. Migrants are often forced by restrictive and complicated immigration laws to rely upon third parties to help them travel or to find jobs in other countries and this can increase the risk of trafficking. 
The first international definition of "trafficking in persons" was in 2000, as part of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, also called the Palermo Protocol. 

This Protocol defines trafficking in persons as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal or organs".

What is child trafficking?
Child trafficking is defined as the movement of a person (18 years and younger), into a situation of exploitative work such as forced labour or slavery-like practices.

This definition is significantly different from the Trafficking in Persons, which is comprised of three core elements: the movement of a person (inside a country or across borders), with deception or coercion, into a situation of forced labour, servitude or slavery-like practices. The definition for child trafficking reflects the vulnerability of children and the special rights set out by international conventions for their protection.

Like adults, children are trafficked for many reasons including begging, work on construction sites, agricultural work, sexual exploitation and for domestic work.

Child trafficking is included in the ILO Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour definition of the term "the worst forms of child labour", which includes:
(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;

(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

What is slavery?
Slavery-like practices are prohibited by the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Practices similar to Slavery. The Convention does not contain a definition of slavery, but does list a number of practices and institutions that constitute slavery-like practices such as debt bondage, serfdom, forced and early marriage, and the exploitation of children and adolescents.

Two common criteria can be derived from the listed examples:
- the infringement of the formal or de-facto legal status of a person, resulting in a serious and far-reaching deprivation of fundamental rights, in combination with
- the one-sided economic exploitation of the person through the abuse of long-term relations of dependency.
SOURCE: GAATW and Anti-Slavery International:

What is forced labour?
Forced labour and slavery-like practices are the extraction of work or services from any person or the appropriation of legal identity and/or physical person by means of violence or threat of violence, abuse of authority or dominant position, debt bondage, deception or other forms of coercion.

In Article 2 of the ILO Forced Labour Convention, "forced or compulsory labour" means all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.

What is exploitation? 
Partially defined in Article 3 (a) of the UN Trafficking Protocol (Palermo Protocol, 2000): "Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs." No agreement was achieved when the UN Trafficking Protocol was being discussed on the precise definitions of the terms ‘sexual exploitation' and ‘exploitation of the prostitution of others'.

What is debt bondage?
Debt bondage is "the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined" - as defined in Article 1 (a) of the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Practices similar to Slavery.

What is demand?
Demand is a term used in reference to sex work, to describe the needs or wants of clients who frequent sex workers.

Current international discussion about the "demand" for human trafficking is extremely narrow, focusing only on trafficking for sexual exploitation and does not address other forms of trafficked labour (forced or exploitative). Within this narrow perspective, the discussion is limited to the role and demand of the clients of sex workers, and does not address the role or the responsibility of states and the private sector.

The term demand can more accurately refer to globalisation and the demand for cheap, exploitable labour and services in many countries, particularly those in the global north. In destination countries there is a growing need for unskilled and labour intensive work in order to be able to compete with low wage countries. This work is mostly done by irregular and unprotected migrant workers. Both governments and corporations are accountable for this exploitative situation and should take responsibility to change it. Not least, we as consumers have a responsibility to stimulate and support fair trade and perpetuate awareness around this issue.

GAATW publications on the demand side of trafficking:


All definitions come from GAATW documents and publications unless otherwise stated, particularly publications include: Human Rights and Trafficking in Persons: A Handbook, GAATW (2001) and Trafficking in Women, Forced Labour and Slavery-Like Practices in Marriage, Domestic Labour and Prostitution; STV, GAATW (1999).


FAQ: Assistance, Protection and Prevention of Trafficking


Why do trafficked persons need assistance?
Trafficking can be a deeply traumatic experience. Many survivors have been subjected to exploitation, abuse or suffered human rights violations, including forcible confinement, torture, cruel or degrading treatment, rape, sexual or other forms of assault, and slavery. As such, trafficked persons and migrants who have experienced serious human rights violations urgently need access to assistance. Assistance refers to a broad range of restorative actions aimed at supporting a trafficked person to regain his/her health and livelihood. 

What is assistance?

Assistance includes social assistance, support, health care, legal assistance, protection, a reflection period to determine if a person wants to prosecute their trafficker(s) or not, etc.

Legal Assistance is assistance provided to or provided for persons that is of a legal nature, for any length of time (short/mid/long term) and during any phase of recovery (emergency, stabilization, return, social inclusion/(re)integration), including: provision of legal advice, provision of information about the legal process, preparation and submission of documents to courts, tribunals or administrative bodies, representation at court or other hearings.

Social Assistance is any assistance provided to or provided for persons other than legal assistance, for any length of time and during any phase of recovery, including but not limited to: accommodation/shelter, assessment services, counseling, psychological support, economic/financial, health/nutrition, language/literacy, outreach, referrals, repatriation/return assistance, translation services, vocational training.


What does "access to justice" mean?
Access to Justice is the right for a victim of a crime and/or human rights violation, to a hearing before an impartial tribunal to hold perpetrators of such abuses accountable for their actions and/or to seek reparations. It also means that the police, prosecutors and court shall ensure that their efforts to punish traffickers are implemented within a system that respects and safeguards the rights of the victims to privacy, dignity and safety.

This definition focuses only on legal remedies, but the struggle for justice must be seen in the context of gender justice, social justice and just access to resources. These injustices and the struggles to overcome them are a backdrop to the discrimination that trafficked persons face in seeking legal justice.

While Access to Justice is not defined as a human right in international law, elements of the Right to Access to Justice can be found in various human rights instruments. For example, it is framed within the internationally recognized Right to a Remedy for harm suffered as a result of a violation of one's human rights, which is absolutely fundamental to modern human rights law. .

A victim's right of access to justice includes the right to access all judicial, administrative, or other public processes that are available under the domestic law of a particular country, as well as under international law. The right to access to justice is an equal right shared by all people, regardless of their legal status in a country; thus there is no basis for discriminating between illegal migrants and others.

Trafficked Persons have a right to:
- Be treated with dignity and compassion at all times
- Present their views and concerns to be considered at appropriate stages of criminal, civil and/or administrative proceedings against their suspected traffickers
- The procedures for obtaining remedies should be clearly explained in a language that the trafficked person understands
- Compensation or other remedy for the violation suffered
- Procedures that are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and accessible
- Receive proper assistance throughout the legal process including legal counsel and access to the prosecutor
- Information on their role in criminal and civil proceedings, as well as about the scope, time and progress of these and the disposition of their cases
- Ensured physical and psychological protection of themselves, their families and other witnesses throughout the process
- Privacy and confidentiality, within the bounds of the law
- To remain safely in the country in which the remedy is being sought for the duration of any criminal, civil or administrative proceedings.

What is compensation?
A victim of trafficking can suffer a range of crimes, from assault, rape, abuse and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment, to fraud, forgery, kidnapping, forced labour and other crimes. The experience can have long-lasting affects on the victim's physical and mental health, as well as their ability to earn a living.

Compensation, even symbolic compensation, can act as further recognition of the injustice suffered by the trafficked person. More substantive compensation, calculated on both material and non-material loss, give her a tool to rebuild her life and avoid the cycle of re-trafficking to repay debts or just to survive.

What is non-conditional assistance?
Non-conditional assistance means that all trafficked persons have the right to assistance and protection from the governments, and that this assistance is in no way conditional on the person providing testimony or other assistance and/or cooperation in prosecution.
Assistance is a crucial element in the prevention, suppression and prosecution of trafficked persons. Making assistance conditional, in effect bribing trafficked persons to testify against their traffickers, is short-term and wrong-headed thinking.
Demanding cooperation places great emotional strain on individuals who may already be experiencing trauma, and it may increase the risk of retribution against the person or his/her family, and is a denial of fundamental human rights. Experience shows that efforts to coerce people who have been trafficked and exploited into cooperating with authorities will almost certainly not generate evidence suitable for use in court proceedings and eventually fewer and fewer trafficked persons come forward to authorities. Without comprehensive assistance that provides persons with a way out of the cycle of debt and abuse, trafficked persons are at high risk of re-trafficking. 

All definitions come from GAATW documents and publications unless otherwise stated, particularly publications include: Human Rights and Trafficking in Persons: A Handbook, GAATW (2001) and Trafficking in Women, Forced Labour and Slavery-Like Practices in Marriage, Domestic Labour and Prostitution; STV, GAATW (1999).



What is GAATW?

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is an Alliance of more than 100 non-governmental organisations from all regions of the world. The GAATW International Secretariat is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and coordinates the activities of the Alliance, collects and disseminates information, and advocates on behalf of the Alliance at regional and international level.

The Alliance was born of a collective decision to understand the elements of trafficking from a human rights perspective, in order to improve the lives of trafficked women. GAATW has made significant contributions to the anti-trafficking movement. It was the first to conceptualise trafficking as both a consequence and cause of human rights violations, and to see the elements of trafficking apparent in a range of formal and non-formal sectors.

How can an organisation become a member of GAATW?
GAATW is a Membership Alliance, although we also work with individuals and organisations who are not members. The most important thing to the Alliance has always been people’s (be they individuals or representatives of organisations) commitment to social justice and their work on the issues which we address.

GAATW currently has more than 100 member organisations and numerous friends and allies. Read the Conditions, Roles & Responsibilities and Rights & Privileges of Member Organisations

Who are GAATW’s members?
Please see our Members section

How do I order GAATW publications?
To order GAATW publications, write to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can can check out the list of publications in our Resources section.

I am a researcher / a journalist and have some questions. Can GAATW help?
If after having searched our website you still have unanswered questions you can contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For questions related to direct assistance or country-specific questions, we advise you to ask our member organisations.

I want to work/volunteer at the international secretariat of GAATW? What shall I do?
The GAATW IS has positions for interns and volunteers at various times throughout the year.

If you are based in Bangkok or would like to do some translation work from home you can volunteer with GAATW. If you are a student and are required to have working experiences with an international organisation, you can apply for an internship with the GAATW-IS. Please read the section on interns/volunteers for more information on how to apply.

For employment opportunities, please see our Events and News section for more information. Any current job opportunities will be posted here.  

Strategic Thematic Direction

During 2011-13, through our Power in Migration and Work thematic programme, we engaged more directly with the migrant rights and labour rights movements. During 2014-2016 our work will build on the work of previous years; we will continue to push for a human rights based approach in anti-trafficking policies and practices.  We will also deepen our engagement with the issue of migration and labour.

The three thematic strategic issues outlined below are continuations of our work during 2011-13.

ACCOUNTABILITY Increasing the accountability of all anti-trafficking stakeholders involved in the design or implementation of anti-trafficking responses, towards the persons whose human rights they purport to protect.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE Broadening spaces for trafficked persons and migrant workers to practice their human rights by improving access to justice and combating all forms of discrimination that impact women’s ability to exercise their human rights as they relate to trafficking.

POWER IN MIGRATION AND WORK Centring an analysis of women’s power in their labour and migration to better assess migration and labour policies’ impact on women, and to work towards labour and migration processes that reflect migrants’ needs, aspirations and capabilities.