Migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons and even white slave trafficking: we might hear these expressions being used as synonyms, when in reality they have very different meanings. Let's start by eliminating one, the term "white slave trafficking".
The term "white slave trafficking" was used at different times in history, but today it is completely outdated, as it only refers to the sexual exploitation of "white-skinned women". The problem with using this expression is that it can imply that only women with certain characteristics can be victims of trafficking (a racist concept), and that the only end of trafficking is sexual exploitation, when the reality is much more complex. This brings us to the second and correct concept, "trafficking in persons".
"Trafficking in persons" refers to all those forms of exploitation for the benefit of a third party, such as debt bondage, child labor, forced labor, forced marriage, forced begging and the removal of organs. In international law, the term is left somewhat open depending on the context, since new forms appear periodically in which one person or group of people forces another to take actions against their will to achieve some benefit. It is a form of modern slavery and can occur within a country or internationally.
According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, there are three elements that must be met to characterize a crime as trafficking in persons:
- The action: That is, the crime carried out by organized networks, where it is evident that actions were taken with the intention of facilitating the exploitation of another person, such as capturing, sending or receiving them.
- The means: The means is how the criminals manage to carry out the trafficking, for example, through deceit and lies, force, violence, abuse of the other person's vulnerability, etc.
- Exploitation: In itself, the abuse of another person for the benefit of a third party.
Each of these three elements is made up of many possible actions, but if an action corresponding to each element is carried out, we are dealing with a case of trafficking in persons.
Finally, there is the term "migrant smuggling," which refers to supporting the illegal transfer of a person across border, as "coyotes" do, for exmple. The big difference between "smuggling" and "trafficking" is that traffic violates the laws of the State that is illegally entered, while trafficking violates the human rights of a person. The crime of migrant smuggling is characterized by:
- The facilitation of illegal entry of a person to another country.
- The creation or supply of a false identity document or passport.
- The authorization, by illegal means, of the permanent stay of a non-national or non-resident.
It is clear that both actions, smuggling and trafficking, are often related, since smuggling places people in situations of vulnerability that can trigger a trafficking process. The fact that both crimes are included in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Convention or Protocol) can also lead to confusion and leads to the belief that they are the same, but they are not.
To learn more about the dangers and characteristics of the crime of human trafficking, we recommend visiting the IOMX campaign.