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Sex trafficking is a grave violation of human rights and a form of violence against women and children

Sex trafficking violates women’s right to life, liberty and security of person. The fundamental individual right to life, liberty and security of person is reflected in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), Chapter II, Article 3 provides for the right of women to be free from violence within both the public and private spheres, specifically listing “trafficking in persons” as a form of violence against women regardless of whether it involves the knowledge or acquiescence of state agents. 

Sex trafficking is often referred to as modern-day slavery.  Many countries have ratified various international conventions that create obligations to prohibit slavery and slavery-like practices.  While some sex trafficking situations may not involve the permanent ownership historically associated with slavery, they can involve exploitation and deprivations of liberty that render the situation tantamount to slavery. Slavery-like practices that can manifest in sex trafficking situations, including servitude, forced labor, debt bondage, and forced marriages, are also prohibited.(See also the section on Forced and Child Marriage in this module)

Some acts of sex trafficking involve conduct that can be understood as a form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, which is prohibited under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), Article 5 of the UDHR and Article 7 of the ICCPR, and has attained the status of a jus cogens norm. The failure to protect women from sex trafficking also represents a failure to ensure women’s right to equal protection under the law. This is a well-enshrined principle of international law.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 35 states that “States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.”

Illustrative Example: 

Olaide A. Gbadamosi Esq, Executive Director of the Network for Justice and Democracy, prepared a chart, adapted from a publication by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, which details the human rights violated by the component criminal acts that make up the crime of human trafficking in International Perspectives and Nigerian Laws on Human Trafficking, 46-49, 2006.