Did you know that human trafficking is the third most lucrative business in the world?

What is human trafficking?

Trafficking in human beings is a scourge that manifests itself in increasingly diverse, complex, and sophisticated ways, endangering the lives of thousands of people.

Human trafficking is the illicit and clandestine movement of people across national and international borders, particularly from developing countries and some countries in transition, with the aim of forcing people (especially women, girls and children) into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for the benefit of recruiters, traffickers, the mafia, as well as trafficking-related illegal activities, such as forced domestic labour.

Types of human Trafficking

Trafficking in human beings involves different types, each with its own specificities, with differences in terms of victim profile, organisation of trafficking networks, modus operandi, duration, and intensity of exploitation. This classification is made according to the purpose of the exploitation to which the person is subjected.

In this sense, several types of exploitation stand out, namely labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced begging, slavery, organ harvesting, illegal adoption.

Labour exploitation means any work or service exacted from an individual, under threat of any punishment, and for which he or she has not offered himself or herself of his or her own free will (“forced labour”). Sexual exploitation is a way of obtaining financial and other benefits by engaging the victim in prostitution, sexual servitude, or other types of sexual services, including pornographic acts or the production of pornographic materials. On the other hand, forced begging is considered a mode of forced labour or services, where the victim is forced to beg or sell small items to raise money for the exploiters and, most often, children and/or persons with disability are used. Slavery is characterized by the conduct of whoever reduces another person or state to the condition of slavery or alienates, cedes, acquires a person, or takes possession of him/her with the intention of maintaining him/her in a condition of slavery. In organ harvesting, organs are extracted from victims and then sold and used in illegal organ transplants. Finally, illegal adoption is one of the purposes of trafficking in children and young people and consists of the enticement and transportation of victims with the purpose of submitting them to illegal adoption processes, either in their own country or in a country other than the one in which they were born and live with their family of origin.

Furthermore, trafficking in human beings is also carried out for the purposes of forced marriage, illicit/criminal activities, among others.

Regardless of the form of exploitation, the rights of the victims are always violated, and the exploiters try to make the maximum profit from their services.

What are the causes of human trafficking?

Trafficking in human beings is an extremely profitable business, as it translates into an attractive activity for traffickers and feeds on situations of fragility, inequality, and poverty. In this context, we can identify some factors and situations that make people more vulnerable to the phenomenon, thus promoting the development of this type of crime: unemployment and precarious employment, lack of information on safe means of obtaining work abroad, poverty and indebtedness, low levels of education, growth of the sex trade, inefficiency of legal migration channels, great ignorance of the phenomenon by the population, making it difficult to report situations, among others.


Human trafficking situation globally

According to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020, around 50,000 victims were detected and reported in 148 countries. The report also mentions that the real number of victims may be much higher due to the hidden nature of this crime.

According to the report, female victims continue to be the main targets of human trafficking, that is, almost half of the victims identified worldwide were adult women and 20% were girls. The other around 20% were adult men and 15% boys.

Overall, half of the detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation, 38% for forced labour and 6% for forced criminal activities.

On the other hand, covid-19 threatens to worsen the general trend by increasing the number of cases of human trafficking globally due to the economic situation, which each country is experiencing, and the increase in armed conflicts, making people more vulnerable.

To improve this situation of human trafficking, it is necessary to empower the population to identify suspicious situations, thus promoting the public reporting of this crime. In this sense, we can list the following general indicators of a potential victim of human trafficking: presenting signs of being controlled by someone; presenting signs of fear, sadness, anxiety and distrust; presenting extremely reactive, aggressive and violent emotions and acts; presenting bruises or signs of physical aggression; inability or difficulty to communicate in the language of the country in question; being unable to access their identification documents; and, presenting signs that their responses are instructed by others. Therefore, if you identify any of these indicators in a person, report it, as it may be in your hands to change the fate of this possible victim of human trafficking.



Written by: Maria Luisa Pereira



Instituto de Estatutos Estratégicos e Internacionais (2012). A Proteção dos Direitos Humanos e as Vítimas de tráfico de Pessoas.

OIKOS. Available: https://www.oikos.pt/traficosereshumanos/.

UNODC (2020). GLOBAL REPORT ON TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS. Available: https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/tip/2021/GLOTiP_2020_15jan_web.pdf



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