The Palermo Protocol


Palermo ProtocolIn December 2000, the international community took the bold step of putting together the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the “Palermo Protocol”). It provided a powerful legal tool that has generated the adoption of legislation and institutional frameworks at international and national levels. Despite all these efforts, human trafficking remains a tragic reality with wide-ranging social, economic and legal implications that affect all segments of society.


The Palermo Protocol defines human trafficking as:

[…] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of 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, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.


This definition is structured around three major elements:

  • ACT: Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring and/or receipt of a person.
  • MEANS: It can be the threat or use of force, deception, abduction, the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, or other forms of coercion.
  • PURPOSE: The purpose of human trafficking is exploitation, which can include the forced prostitution of others, forced labor, slavery or servitude.

While we use this definition as the basis of our work, we look at trafficking in a broader context – acknowledging that trafficking can happen on a small scale without organized criminal involvement and that children, women and men can be trafficked within as well as between countries.

Approximately 2.5 million people are trafficked every year. They are recruited or transferred through some form of coercion or deception and exploited, mainly for forced labor or sexual exploitation. Women and children are the primary targets, but men are also trafficked. Each country is affected either as a source, transit or destination or combination of all three.

Human trafficking is a human rights violation at every stage of the trafficking process. The lack of understanding, and often the denial of the scope and nature of the crime, is persistent. But there is no doubt that human trafficking is a crime against the dignity and integrity of a person. It may include deprivation of liberty, cruel and degrading treatment, physical and psychological violence, theft of documents and property, sexual abuse, labor violations, deprivation of access to medical care and education, among others offences. This modern form of slavery is a covert activity involving hidden populations and manifests itself in various forms, in all countries worldwide.