Trafficking is not sex work

Published on juin 25, 2012

SRI statement during interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children

Delivered by Debolina Dutta, CREA (India)

Thank you Madame President,

We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The report calls for the adoption of a rights-based approach to trafficking and rightly identifies that ‘discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power’ underlie trafficking. This is an important lens to understand the phenomena of trafficking, often ignored by States that approach the issue solely from a criminal law perspective and does not look at the social and economic inequalities that fuel it.

The report also recommends that victims of trafficking be kept out of the purview of any criminalisation based on their status as trafficked persons, including sex crimes, begging, working, or immigration violations. This is a crucial recommendation that asks for law reform beyond stringent anti-trafficking legislations to ensure the protection of the human rights of a trafficked person.

In most countries, national laws on trafficking equate it with sex trafficking and only focus on women. This equation wrongly conflates trafficking with sex work. As a result, criminalising sex work is considered to be the most effective measure to combat trafficking. The SR’s report rightly highlights that anti- trafficking laws that do not comprehensively cover the whole range of end purposes (including forced and exploitative labour) and recognise that women, men and children can all be victims of trafficking, fall short of international human rights standards. Since anti-trafficking laws always fall within the ambit of law and order, and the focus is primarily on prosecution of traffickers and effective border control, it results in restricting the right to safe migration across international borders. This places the right to freedom of movement in opposition to the right to not be trafficked.

We urge States to be mindful of their accountability under international human rights law to ensure that in their endeavour to combat trafficking, they:

  • must not conflate it with sex work
  • ensure that trafficked persons are not criminalized and their human rights are protected, and
  • anti-trafficking laws do not hinder the exercise of the right to freedom of movement.


Thank you