Government Policies and Practices

last updated September 1, 2005




Trafficking in women persists, in part, due to the fact that many national governments neither control nor prevent the problem. Government policies and practices may actually facilitate trafficking. The connections between national government practices and trafficking vary. At one end of the continuum, government inaction and lack of attention to the matter make it possible for trafficking to exist. At the other end, corrupt government officials may be actually involved in the trafficking process.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Right’s report, Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, specifically cites the lack of adequate legislation on human trafficking as a major obstacle in the fight against trafficking.  It additionally states the need to harmonize legal definitions and procedures and cooperation at the national and regional levels in accordance with international standards, as well as the need for cooperation and coordination between states and regions because trafficking is a regional and global phenomenon that “cannot always be dealt with effectively at the national level.”

At a minimum, a government may lack legislation on trafficking or existing regulations may be out-dated and thus ineffective in addressing the problem, particularly in the case of trafficking perpetrated by transnational crime rings. Combating organized crime at this level requires sophisticated investigation, monitoring and prosecution procedures as well as constant cooperation with colleagues in other countries. Related to the lack of legislation, government agencies, especially those involved in law enforcement, border control and immigration must receive specific education and training to effectively work against trafficking. Many national governments do not provide this type of support for government servants. Likewise, many governments have not implemented national policies that coordinate the work of the various branches that deal with trafficking, including law enforcement, immigration and social welfare agencies. Many countries lack the capacity to respond to trafficking, either due to infrastructure weaknesses or lack of material resources.

A government's national immigration policy can inadvertently impact trafficking routes. Weak border controls and untrained immigration officials make it possible for victims of trafficking to be transported both through transit countries and to destination countries without detection. On the other hand, strict border controls and entry requirements limit the possibility of legal migration. In such situations, women seek out agencies that will aid them to travel, and the agencies themselves are often fronts for traffickers.  An report entitled “Human Traffic, Human Rights: Redefining victim protection,” finds that “increasingly, governments have responded to trafficking through restrictive immigration policies.  These not only render immigrants more vulnerable to traffickers, but often lead to trafficked persons being swiftly returned to their home countries as undocumented migrants, returned to the very same conditions form which they left, rather than being identified as victims of crime.”  Thus, government responses to trafficking need to ensure adequate training for law enforcement officials so that they can recognize instances of trafficking and ensuring that the rights and particular needs of victims of trafficking are addressed.

The Anti-Slavery International Report also focuses on governmental best practices and shows the importance of both strong criminal laws to prosecute traffickers as well as measures for victim assistance: “research found that the countries which fare better in prosecuting traffickers for various crimes…were the…countries which also had the most comprehensive measures for assisting victims…”  The report also goes on to say that “there is a growing awareness at all levels of the need for a human rights framework to combat trafficking most effectively.  Cases of ‘best practice’ in terms of successfully protecting victim’s rights exist where there has been a genuine understanding and goodwill on the part of authorities involved.  In these successful cases, there have been committed teams of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, lawyers and service providers, who all displayed sensitivity to the needs and rights of trafficked persons.” 

Guideline # 6 of the Recommended Principles and Guidelines also calls for adequate protection and support for trafficked persons saying, “the trafficking cycle cannot be broken without attention to the rights and needs of those who have been trafficked.  Appropriate protection and support should be extended to all trafficked persons without discrimination.”  Ensuring that victims are treated as such by providing safe houses, counseling, health care, access to legal assistance in criminal proceedings, and protection from harm by traffickers can help break the cycle as well as dismantle the trade in human beings.

In extreme cases, individual government officials, such as border guards, police officers, court officials participate in or benefit directly from trafficking. Government corruption may take the form of receiving bribes from traffickers or profits from the trafficking industry, cooperation with traffickers or refusing to provide trafficking victims with assistance. Non-governmental organizations have raised concerns about reports of government officials demanding bribes from trafficking victims in order to begin investigation, police colluding with traffickers to return women to brothels and of border guards assisting in the abduction of women. Strategies for fighting government corruption can include the creation of internal affairs departments within the government structure as well as prosecution of members of the government who are found to have been complicit in trafficking.

The United States Department of State releases an annual Trafficking in Persons Report that contains country by country narratives with regards to the legislation in place, the number of prosecutions, and the number of convictions related to trafficking.