Defining the Offense
last updated September 1, 2005

The first step in the creation of criminal law on trafficking in persons is a clear definition of the crime.  The articulation of the meaning of 'trafficking in persons' in the 2000 UN Trafficking Protocol is the only legally binding international definition.  The definition is broad and describes the crime in detail, focusing on the conditions of forced labor and slavery-like practices, without required cross-border movement.  As Ann Jordan, Director of the Initiative Against Trafficking in Persons of the International Human Rights Law Group. a U.S. NGO, points out, however, the international definition is not appropriate for use in domestic criminal codes.  From The Annotated Guide to the UN Trafficking Protocol.  Such a broad definition of the crime contains many elements and some of the language is vague, both of which would make prosecution difficult. 

The International Human Rights Law Group suggests alternative language that could be used in a domestic criminal law:

"Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by any means, for forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Under this definition, prosecutors would not have to prove threat, coercion, abuse of power or other forms of fraud or deception.  The proposed definition focuses on the process of moving a person in order to hold them in conditions of forced labor or slavery as essential to the crime.  The proposed definition also eliminates undefined terms used in the UN Trafficking Protocol, such as "the exploitation of prostitution of others," and "other forms of sexual exploitation," referring only to broad categories of acts that are already defined as crimes in international and national law.

The OSCE takes a different approach from the International Human Rights Law Group, recommending that the definition of trafficking should include at least the three following elements:

  • Acts:  recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person;
  • Means:  threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability;
  • Purpose:  forced labor or services, slavery, slavery-like practices or servitude.