The Palermo Protocols were adopted by the United Nations to supplement the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Among the three protocols there is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. It was adopted by General Assembly resolution 55/25. It entered into force on 25 December 2003. It is the first global, legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons.


Human Trafficking is defined in the Trafficking Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”


The definition on trafficking consists of three core elements:

  • The action of trafficking which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons
  • The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability
  • The purpose of trafficking which is always exploitation. In the words of the Trafficking Protocol, article 3 “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.


This definition has been agreed upon by the countries who have signed the Protocol. The intention behind this definition is to facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offences that would support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases. An additional objective of the Protocol is to protect and assist the victims of trafficking in persons with full respect for their human rights.


Trafficking in persons, or human trafficking, was re-defined by the international community in 2001 to incorporate a broader definition that recognizes it as a human rights problem involving forced labor, servitude or slavery among other issues. Trafficking also begins through recruitment, forced migration, purchase, sale or receipt of people. Following movement (whether forced or voluntary), through deception or coercion—including force, the threat of force or debt bondage—a person is then forced into an exploitative situation such as servitude, forced or bonded labor. In many cases trafficking begins when a person voluntarily decides to migrate, but ends up being trafficked. This can occur whether people move by legal or illegal means. Migrants are often forced by restrictive and complicated immigration laws to rely upon third parties to help them travel or to find jobs in other countries and this can increase the risk of trafficking. For this definition, consult the website of the Global alliance against traffic in Women GAATW.



Notes from the Anti Trafficking Working Group of UISG/USG

Short, up-to-date information on Human Trafficking. This resource is useful for information, for training, and can be used together with the Trafficking in Women and Children Information and Workshop Kit.




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