Human trafficking is a violation of human rights

The "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime" (Palermo Protocol) of the UN, which was signed in 2000, provides a comprehensive definition of human trafficking that has been used as a basis for all further international declarations on this topic since. 

Human trafficking means the recruitment of persons by means of threats, deception, violence or abuse of power, and forcing them to take up or continue in an occupation which is exploitative or similar to slavery. It does not necessarily always involve the crossing of national borders; the exploitation of a person in a difficult or vulnerable situation within a country can also be understood under the term human trafficking.

There is a strong connection between human trafficking and the complex problems caused by worldwide movements of migrants and refugees as a result of global social inequalities and the restrictive immigration and labour market policies of nation states. As a consequence, in addition to the criminal justice element, the human rights perspective is now becoming increasingly important in international debates on this issue. NGOs and quasi NGOs working to combat human trafficking have been campaigning for a stronger human rights orientation for over 20 years. 

Indicators of human trafficking

The situation of people affected by human trafficking is characterised by the fact that they live and work under conditions which are similar to slavery. They are able to exert little to no influence over their working conditions. They can be ruthlessly exploited and serve only the profit-making ambitions of others.

For women who fall under the control of human traffickers in the sex industry this can mean being unable to refuse to perform certain sexual practices with their customers, and being unable to insist on the use of condoms. In addition, they must fulfil the sexual desires of the perpetrators (without consent or payment). The money they are allowed to keep, if any at all, is completely disproportionate to that which they earn. The distribution of the proceeds of prostitution plays an important role in identifying human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The Berlin police, for example, consider the distribution of the proceeds when workers are required to give up more than 50% of their earnings from prostitution as important evidence of human trafficking.

For those affected by human trafficking in other industries this can mean having to work for up to 19 hours per day and not being in a position to refuse to carry out certain tasks. If they earn anything at all it is significantly less that other workers in comparable positions.

People affected by human trafficking have no say regarding the conditions of repayment of real or fictitious debts, or on the interest charged on these. Disproportionately high costs are charged for entry into the country, as well as for food and accommodation etc.. The size of the sums clearly does not bear any relation to the actual costs involved. How they are repaid is usually determined unilaterally and women are unable to negotiate. Some are deprived of their freedom and experience violence.

Human trafficking in Germany

Since 2005 human trafficking has no longer been a crime against sexual self-determination, but rather a crime against the personal freedom of an individual. Chapter 18 of the German Criminal Code rules the following offences (legal reform entered into force in October 2016):

  • Section 232 of the German Criminal Code: Trafficking in human beings
  • Section 232a of the German Criminal Code: Forced prostitution
  • Section 232b of the German Criminal Code: Forced labour
  • Section 233 of the German Criminal Code: Labour exploitation
  • Section 233a of the German Criminal Code: Exploitation through the use of unlawful restraint

There is a lot of speculation as to the extent of this crime, however estimates are not and cannot be reliable. The only evidence-based figures we have for Germany are those which are published by the Office of the Federal Criminal Police in its annual report on the situation of human trafficking in Germany. These are based only on those cases which are known to the police or those where preliminary proceedings were started, i.e. the reported cases.

These figures provide no information about the numbers of unreported cases, and reliable estimates on these are impossible. Furthermore, there is a discrepancy between the numbers of cases recorded by specialised advisory centres. In addition to the purely quantitative difference, there is also a discrepancy in the human trafficking figures regarding country of origin as this is not recorded in the overview of the human trafficking situation provided by the criminal police.