What is

Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking. Children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide.

Child trafficking is defined as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt” of a child for the purpose of exploitation. This definition comes from the United Nations Palermo Protocol, which has been adopted by Sweden and the majority of countries around the world, making it the internationally accepted definition of human trafficking. A child is defined by the Palermo Protocol and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as any person under the age of 18.


”Children who are moved within a country for the purposes of exploitation, whether or not they are children from abroad or a citizen of that country, are therefore also victims of trafficking.”

The trafficking of children is a process comprised of two distinct stages: the Act and the Purpose. The Act is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or reception of persons, including the exchange or transfer of control over those persons” and the purpose is “exploitation”.

The definition of child trafficking is different from that of adults, which in addition requires “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”. This is known as the Means stage, which is not required for the definition of child trafficking. The definition therefore recognizes that a child cannot give informed consent to his or her own exploitation, even if the child agrees.

Trafficking can occur across international borders, but also within a country. Children who are moved within a country for the purposes of exploitation, whether or not they are children from abroad or a citizen of that country, are therefore also victims of trafficking.

Child trafficking involves the exploitation of children. The definition is not limited to specific types of exploitation, but the most common ways children are exploited are through:

  • sexual exploitation;
  • forced labour in factories, restaurants or agriculture;
  • benefit fraud;
  • domestic slavery like cleaning, cooking and childcare;
  • forced begging;
  • forced marriage;
  • adoption;
  • children in armed forces; and
  • committing crimes, like theft, drug trade or scams.

Human trafficking is not the same as human smuggling. Smuggling involves the movement of people across an international border, when a person cannot access a legal route to migrate. In smuggling, the transaction between the person and the smuggler ends on arrival at their destination. In cases of human trafficking, the movement can take place through illegal border-crossing, but it can also happen when a person enters a country legally or within a country where a person does not cross an international border at all. However, there is a grey area between the two due to the vulnerability of people who cannot access safe, legal routes in migration. In some cases a person may think they are being smuggled by paying an agent to enable them to travel overseas. However, the agent may deceive the person and exploit them. This then becomes human trafficking.

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