About TIP

What is Trafficking in Persons (TIP)?

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, briefly known as the Palermo Protocol, is the standard legal text used in defining and combating trafficking in persons. According to the Protocol

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean 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


The protocol must be read in a wider context and as a supplement to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.


Other anti-trafficking legislation from around the world adopted their own national definitions of trafficking in persons which contain striking similarities to the standard definition stipulated in the Palermo Protocol. An example is the definition of trafficking in persons in Lebanon’s anti-trafficking legislation entitled Punishing the Crime of Trafficking in Persons, or law number 164/2011. According to the aforementioned law, trafficking in persons is any act that aims to

Attract, transfer, receive, detain or provide shelter for a person, (A) by means of the threat or use of force, or abduction, or deception, or abuse of power or vulnerability, or to give or receive payments or benefits, or the use of such means by someone who has authority over another person. (B) For the purpose of exploiting or facilitating exploitation by third parties (164/2011 (3) 586 (1)).


Another legislation which resembles the Palermo Protocol is the United Sates’ own Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000) which defines ‘severe forms of trafficking in persons’ as

(A)   sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery” (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000 (8) (A) (B)).


For clarity, “the term `sex trafficking’ means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000 (9)). https://www.state.gov/j/tip/laws/61124.htm

On a regional level, and in line with preventing, suppressing and punishing trafficking in persons crimes which constitutes Palermo’s principle aim, the Arab League issued a Comprehensive Strategy for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2012, p.11) centered on eight focus areas, namely:

  • Criminalizing all Types and Forms of Trafficking in Human Beings
  • Ensuring Effective Investigation, Indictment and Trial in Trafficking in Human Beings Crimes
  • Strengthening Prevention Measures and Procedures
  • Victim Protection
  • Strengthening Regional and International Cooperation in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
  • Strengthening National Institutional Capacities for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings
  • Updating the Arab Model Law and Ensuring its Dissemination and Application
  • Ensuring the Coordination of Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings in the Arab Region


Unlike the Arab League which lacks a specific definition for what it considers to be TIP crimes, the European Union, twice dealt with trafficking, defining it in its 2002 Framework Decision, and expanding on its definition of what constitutes Trafficking in Persons crimes in a 2011 Directive. The narrow definition is found in the 2002 framework decision which stipulates that

Trafficking in human beings comprises serious violations of fundamental human rights and human dignity and involves ruthless practices such as the abuse and deception of vulnerable persons, as well as the use of violence, threats, debt bondage and coercion (2002/629/JHA (3)).


Directive 2011/36/EU, which member states like France have accepted, adopts a broader definition of TIP including a category of exploitation it calls ‘exploitation for criminal activities’. According to the Directive

… the exploitation of begging, including the use of a trafficked dependent person for begging, falls within the scope of the definition of trafficking in human beings only when all the elements of forced labour or services occur… The expression ‘exploitation of criminal activities’ should be understood as the exploitation of a person to commit, inter alia, pick-pocketing, shop-lifting, drug trafficking and other similar activities which are subject to penalties and imply financial gain. The definition also covers trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs, which constitutes a serious violation of human dignity and physical integrity, as well as, for instance, other behaviour such as illegal adoption or forced marriage in so far as they fulfill the constitutive elements of trafficking in human beings (DIRECTIVE 2011/36/EU (11)).


Different forms and faces of Trafficking in Persons

As made apparent by some of the legal definitions provided above, trafficking in persons can take many forms, some of which include:

  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Forced Labour
  • Organ Trafficking
  • Child Exploitation
  • Use of Child soldiers
  • Domestic Servitude
  • Slavery
  • Debt bondage


Three Elements Necessary for a TIP Crime to Exist

Many of the legislations stipulated above require the confluence of three factors for a trafficking crime to take form. Those three elements are:

  • Act: recruitment, transfer, detainment, transportation, harbour or receipt
  • Means: force, threat of force, fraud, deception, payments or benefits and abuse of power
  • Purpose: exploitation, prostitution, labour and removal of organs


Combating Trafficking in Persons

The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes relies on a three-pronged strategy to fight TIP, namely:

  • Prevention
  • Protection
  • Prosecution


There is variation in national legislation when it comes to which one of the three P’s emphasis is placed on. In many cases, emphasis can be divined from the name governments choose to give their legislation. By contrast to the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000) which, while not neglecting to punish the traffickers, gives due regard to victim protection, Lebanon’s anti-trafficking law, entitled Punishing the Crime of Trafficking in Persons (2011), places emphasis on punishing the trafficker and goes so far as to allow for the punishment of the victim in the event she committed illegal acts (i.e. prostitution) in the process of his/her trafficking ordeal.

Indicators of Trafficking in Persons

As a preventive step to stop a trafficking in persons crime from occurring or to prevent the coalescence of the three steps (act, means and purpose), governments, international organizations, non-governmental bodies and individuals rely on what is synonymously referred to as signs, identifiers, or trafficking indicators to assist victims about to be, or in the process of being, trafficked. Some of the indicators include:

  • Fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Shows signs of malnourishment
  • Shows signs of beatings and torture
  • Hair loss and teeth cavities
  • Excessive working hours
  • Lacks control over, or possession of, personal documents of identification, money and voice
  • Shows inconsistencies in story
  • Lives in isolated areas or restricted social mobility
  • Works and sleeps at the same premises
  • Disconnected from family and social surrounding
  • Carrying STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases)
  • Children begging in public places