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What is trafficking in people?


Trafficking involves men, women and children being brought into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will. People can be trafficked for many different forms of exploitation such as: Forced prostitution, forced labour, forced begging, forced criminality, domestic servitude, forced marriage, forced organ removal.

When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved: simply bringing them into exploitative conditions constitutes trafficking.


People trafficking and people smuggling are often confused. People smuggling is the illegal movement of people across international border for a fee and upon arrival in the country of destination the smuggled person is free.

People trafficking is fundamentally different as the trafficker is facilitating the movement of that person for the purpose of exploitation. There is no need for an international border to be crossed in cases of trafficking, it occurs also nationally, even within one community.


Because  many trafficked persons are never identified, it is difficult to get accurate statistics on the numbers affected, but the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that world wide, at any one time there are some 2.5 million people who have been trafficked and are being subjected to sexual or labour exploitation.

Although trafficking for sexual exploitation gets most of attention, most of all trafficked people are used exclusively for labour exploitation.


Many individuals who are trafficked are seeking to escape poverty and discrimination, improve their lives and send money back to their families. Often they get an offer of a well-paying job abroad or in another region through family, friends or recruitment agencies. But when they arrive in the place of destination, they find that the work they were promised does not exist and they are forced instead to work in jobs or conditions to which they did not agree.

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portrait of Louisiana 

Louisiana (26, Lithuanian) was a victim of human trafficking. She saw an advert for cleaning and waitressing jobs in the UK, and travelled to England with a man from the job agency.
"I had my own passport. But when we arrived he took my passport away and told me I had to work as a prostitute. He said I owed him money for the travel and I would pay him back this way."

©Karen Robinson/Panos Picture


portrait of Jiera 

Jiera (19, Lithuanian) was a victim of human trafficking. "My life has been ruined... They trafficked me into prostitution when I was 17." What Jiera thought was going to be a holiday in London became a nightmare before she escaped with the help of a Lithuanian punter. He took her to the police but they said they couldn't help, so he took her to the Lithuanian Embassy. From there she was referred to POPPY, who run the UK's only shelter for trafficked women. She has taken refuge in drink and drugs.
©Karen Robinson/Panos Pictures