Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking constitutes modern day slavery. Slave Trade, or people trafficking, proves to be a phenomenon that, despite legal and governmental reforms, international conventions, bilateral actions and international sanctions, flourishes more than ever before. Human trafficking presents a modern form of slavery which undermines human dignity, exercising psychological terror and physical violence on its victims.

Millions of people are forced to migrate, fleeing their home countries due to war, unequal socio-economic and ecological living standards and the liberalization of the goods, services, and passenger transports. In this context, human trafficking prospers, leaving international criminal networks to make substantial profits. Approximately 2.4 million people have become victims to human trafficking. The profits gained from human slavery are reaching an estimated value of 150 billion Dollar (Source: ILO-International Labour Organisation) per year.

Human trafficking thereby constitutes one of the most complex crimes of the 21st century, manifesting itself in sexual, and labor exploitation, forced begging, arranged marriages and organ trade. The Palermo Protocol, created in 2000, („Protokoll zur Verhütung, Bekämpfung und Bestrafung des Menschenhandels, insbesondere des Frauen- und Kinderhandels, in Ergänzung des Übereinkommens der Vereinten Nationen gegen die grenzüberschreitende Organisierte Kriminalität“) defines human trafficking as a situation in which individuals are forced by threat, deception, violence, or the exploitation of power to engage with or continue exploitative activities. Frontier transgression is not necessary for human trafficking to be legally prosecuted. In Germany, human trafficking is regulated by law under § 232 ff StGB. Human trafficking can be divided into three phases: recruiting – transport – exploitation. The division of labor in human trafficking thereby aggravates police investigation.

Human trafficking is a grave abuse of human rights. Affected parties are stripped of their free will, being robbed of their physical autonomy and their freedom to pursue a professional activity. Worldwide, more than 40 million men, women and children work under coercion and slave-like conditions.

Human trafficking specialized in forced labor and sexual exploitation realizes the most significant profits. International statistics provided by the ILO show that women and girls are most vulnerable to modern slavery, constituting 71% of victims forced into modern slavery. The International Labor Organization asserts women and girls to account for 99% of those affected by forced labor, working in the commercial sex industry.

In our everyday life, we regularly use products and services that were manufactured or offered under coercive conditions. Human trafficking, forced, and child labor exist in nearly all sectors of commerce, dominating the fields of home economics, agriculture, building trade, manufacturing, and prostitution.

Forced Labor is thereby defined as any labor or service that is violently imposed on individuals against their will. The means of coercion can be expressed through physical violence, deception, threats, or the retention of wages. Forced labor takes on various forms. For instance, debt bondage constitutes a form of slavery incurred by financial liabilities. Debt bondage is incurred by the advancement of loans for which the concerned parties and their families are forced to work.

There is no official information, stating the number of people affected by human trafficking in Germany. Statistics, published by the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany, indicate 500 - 700  victims of human trafficking every year. Young women are most vulnerable to be forced into sexual exploitation at the age of 18 to 21 years old. In 2017, police registers inferred that 45,8% of human trafficking victims were younger than 21 years old. The dark numbers are estimated by experts to be much higher. Calculating the number of male victims and children is even more challenging.

Data suggests that a substantial percentage of human trafficking victims are German nationals. Statistical information thereby contrasts the common misconception that those concerned by modern slavery originate from poor countries. Young women and underaged girls account for most the german victims. However, it must be acknowledged that official numbers only reflect the bright field. Real figures are likely to be higher in all forms of exploitation. Quite a number of victims of human trafficking, especially those coming from abroad, endure significant psychological problems, are mentally impaired, suffer from drug abuse and have little school education, making them vulnerable to exploitation in all forms. The violence these women suffer by traffickers, pimps and clients, or employers further traumatizes them.

Discrimination incurred by gender expectations and ethnic affiliations, as well as poverty are push-factors for human trafficking. In many parts of the world, inequality hinders women from accessing school education, vocational training, and the job market. Girls and women from South-East and Eastern European transition states are particularly burdened by their lack of social rights, suffering violence incurred through relationships and the workplace. Victims of human trafficking are in many cases recruited from discriminated groups and ethical minorities, as these women are the most vulnerable persons.   

Forced marriage was also declared a form of human trafficking by EU-Norms. The ILO (International Labor Organisation) estimates that around 15,4 million people worldwide are affected by forced marriage. Women and girls account for 85% of those forced into arranged marriages.

Considering the social, digital, and economic developments, as well as the current economic disparities between various countries in the world, it can be inferred that human trafficking increases globally. Actual figures are thereby challenging to determine as cases of human trafficking must first be officially published through police forces, scientists, or governments.

Nonetheless, it remains clear that human trafficking is one of the most dynamic and productive crimes of the 21st century. The offenders are flexible, adapting and diversifying their mode of operation, thereby taking advantage of legislative and procedural loopholes to maximize profits. This flexibility challenges the law enforcement and organizations which aim to help those affected.

Human Trafficking and Asylum

Individuals fleeing their home countries are exposed to higher risks of suffering from of violence and exploitative conditions, both during their journey and in Europe. Human traffickers further utilize established escape routes, transporting immigrants into Europe. Victims are promised education and employments, luring them to Europe. During their journey and in the destination country, victims will endure exploitation. Additionally, predators will claim fictitious debts, compensating their alleged costs for the transport to Europe. Some of those affected succeed in escaping the traffickers and might then, for instance, flee from Italy to Germany. By applying for asylum, victims of human trafficking can protect themselves, evading persecution in their home countries and by the traffickers. Though, precarious accommodation, restricted personal rights and missing information renders women asking for asylum in Germany vulnerable, endangered to return to exploitative relationships. Vast international criminal networks threaten to retrieve their victims, thereby posing a real threat to women affected by human trafficking, as well as their family members.

Victims of human trafficking applying for asylum in Germany can get special support of counselling centers for victims of trafficking[1] . For their interview by the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt), they can ask to be interviewed by the special representative on trafficking. But recently, women affected by human trafficking are rarely granted asylum protection status as it is challenging to provide credible evidence, indicating personal endangerment. Human trafficking is rarely classified as relevant for asylum decisions. You can explore more on this topic in Chapter 3 under "Offers of JADWIGA”.


Case example

Joy from Nigeria - victim of trafficking into forced prostitution and refugee in Germany

German Police Authorities picked up a total of 68 victims of human trafficking of the Nigerian network of human traffickers. They were the largest group among African victims. There were 41 nigerian suspects in 2018, according to the Federal Police. These women from Nigeria see a lot of violence on their journey to Europe and have to survive life-threatening situations. 




[1]International Labour Organisation, Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking

Further information on this subject on the website of KOK - German NGO Network against Trafficking in Human Beings