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Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

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

GAATW Logo

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

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

Holding back progress: The barriers to ending trafficking in persons

On Human Rights Day, a global alliance of migrant rights and anti-trafficking organisations names the top three human rights setbacks over the last twenty years

Lack of national laws and implementation of existing laws; the conflation of sex work and trafficking; and growing right-wing and anti-migrant movements have posed the biggest challenges to the realisation of human rights for migrant and trafficked women over the last two decades, says the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) on Human Rights Day.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on anti-trafficking, women's rights and migrant rights around the world named the most pressing obstacles to the fulfillment of migrants' rights – helping to identify the main factors involved in human trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers. The survey took place at GAATW's International Members' Congress, which brought together representatives from GAATW's Member Organisations, as well as partners and allies, in September 2014 to review progress in anti-trafficking and migrant rights work and plan future goals.

Lack of laws addressing trafficking or the failure of governments to implement anti-trafficking laws were identified as major setbacks in recent decades. Even where laws are in place, many NGOs said there was too much emphasis on the criminal element of anti-trafficking, rather than focusing on the protection of human rights. For example, one participant said that in Malaysia there is a "lack of implementation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act. The legislation is very crime centred, absolutely no human rights framework." The participant felt that there was "no political will" in the country to protect migrants' rights. GAATW believes that any government policy on trafficking must centre the human rights of all workers, including migrant workers and those working in informal sectors, such as domestic work.

Many NGOs stated that the rising prominence of right-wing political parties and movements, particularly in Europe, is a major challenge to human rights work. Racism, xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments promoted by right-wing bodies are leading to "stigmatisation of women who are on the move", putting migrant women at increased risk of violence, and increasing the criminalisation of migrants. Outside of Europe, one participant said that "a right-wing government in India... is pulling back all the gains of the last two decades." GAATW is particularly concerned about persistent negative framing of migration in the official discourse, which feeds these discriminatory views and ignores that migration results from state policies and state's labour market needs.

Governments criminalising sex work in the name of combating trafficking was also a top concern for NGOs. One representative from Mexico pointed out that criminalisation of sex work had increased over the years, while many others criticised the conflation of trafficking and sex work in government anti-trafficking policies and NGO advocacy work. Trafficking is not the same as sex work. Trafficking occurs across labour sectors: while some persons are trafficked into the sex sector, not all (or even most) sex workers are trafficked. GAATW has documented the harm done to sex workers, migrants and to people who have been trafficked by anti-trafficking laws, policies, programmes and initiatives that conflate these differing issues. (For more information, read GAATW's publications Collateral Damage, What's the Cost of a Rumour? and Moving Beyond 'Supply and Demand' Catchphrases: Assessing the uses and limitations of demand-based approaches in Anti-Trafficking.)

Other setbacks identified included gender and income inequality and a lack of funding for anti-trafficking work.

Despite these setbacks, participants recognised some gains for trafficked women over the last 20 years through the increased engagement of many anti-trafficking actors with the human rights framework and more recognition of the intersections between trafficking and migrant and labour rights.

About us

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a non-profit organisation that works to protect and uphold the human rights of migrating and trafficked women around the world. Representing a global network of 124 non-governmental organizations, we focus on the issues of migration, labour rights and human trafficking, with a special emphasis on women. Our activities involve research, communications, training and advocacy in order to hold governments accountable, increase access to justice for migrating and trafficked women and further the global debate on the issues.

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