According to the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish the Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, “trafficking in persons means “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 of organs”.
Discrimination in the denial of economic and social rights are critical factors in rendering certain persons more vulnerable than others to trafficking. The impact of discrimination results in fewer and poorer life choices. This lack of genuine choice can in turn, can result in heighted vulnerability of women and girls as compared to men, particularly in certain circumstances and from certain nationalities and ethnicities, to being trafficked. For example, minority women and girls, women and girls living in poverty, or women and girls living in conflict and post conflict settings may face increased risks of being trafficked.
Many of the practices that are associated with trafficking are prohibited under international human rights law. For example, many trafficked persons who enter into a debt with their exploiters find themselves in a situation of debt bondage, where the debt is used as a means of controlling and exploiting them. This practice is prohibited under human rights law, as are forced labour, slavery, servitude, child sexual exploitation, forced marriage, servile forms of marriage, child marriage, enforced prostitution and the exploitation of prostitution, which are frequently linked with trafficking.
OHCHR advocates for a human rights based approach to addressing trafficking in persons. The human rights-based approach places the victim at the centre of any effective and credible action. It also extends the focus to the root causes such as patterns of discrimination, unjust distribution of power, demand for goods and services derived from exploitation and complicity of the public sector that underlie trafficking, maintain impunity for traffickers, and deny justice to victims.