This module is a resource for lecturers




Trafficking in persons is a violation of human rights. The practices associated with trafficking, such as slavery, forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced marriage, breach basic rights to which all persons are entitled. Victims of trafficking frequently suffer serious harm, including:

  • Physical injuries.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental or emotional disorders.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/ AIDS.
  • Substance abuse and addiction.
  • Relational harm, including breakdown of relationships with parents, spouses and children.
  • Shame, stigmatization and rejection from their family and community.

These kinds of harm can have long-term physical and psychological consequences for people who are subjected to them, both during the trafficking process and after the exploitation is over. Survivors of trafficking, who are often persons particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses (such as children, women, migrants and persons with disabilities) require protection, assistance and support, which may need to be carried out for long periods of time. States should provide victim support programmes, which assist victims in rebuilding their lives and reintegrating into their communities. This Module sets out the protection obligations of States towards victims of trafficking.

Fundamentally, protection of victims of trafficking requires a human rights-based approach. Such an approach requires comprehension of how victims' rights may be violated during the trafficking process, together with the obligations of States under international law. The rights of victims, whether citizens or non-citizens, must be ensured by the State in whose jurisdiction they are present. Measures to combat trafficking in persons, prosecute traffickers, and assist victims must be designed and implemented in accordance with the human rights of victims. A human rights-based approach further requires States to take active steps to identify victims of trafficking and endeavour to prevent and eliminate the crime. Critically, victims of trafficking must be seen as bearers of human rights and not just as part of the criminal justice process (see Hoang 2015).

This Module provides an overview of a human rights-based approach to trafficking in persons. It first addresses the fact that trafficked persons are "victims" of crime under international law. Following this, it sets out protection and assistance provisions in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children ( Protocol against Trafficking in Persons) and highlights the obligations of States parties towards victims of trafficking under the Protocol. Next, the Module explains some of the key human rights that victims are entitled to, which derive from the broader international legal framework. Many of these rights attach to victims based on their humanity, as well as other specific status, including where victims are children, persons with disabilities or refugees. The Module then discusses State responsibility for trafficking in persons and highlights the importance of identification of victims, before concluding with a brief explanation of the non-criminalization principle.

The Module draws primarily on international legal standards included in the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons and international human rights and refugee law instruments, as well as various principles and guidelines, in particular recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Module will also refer to good and promising practices from various jurisdictions around the globe.


Learning outcomes

  • Understand what it means to be a "victim of trafficking".
  • Understand State's obligations towards victims of trafficking under the Trafficking in Persons Protocol.
  • Identify the human rights of victims of trafficking.
  • Understand States' responsibility for trafficking.
  • Comprehend the means of identification of victims.
  • Understand the implications of the principle of non-criminalization of victims of trafficking.

Lecturers should begin this Module by instructing students to complete Exercise 1.

Next: Key issues
Back to top