During the first decade following the adoption of the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons, which entered into force in December 2003, most efforts to prevent trafficking focused on what is often referred to as the supply side, concentrating on those who were seen as vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking in persons. Two of the primary strategies were, first, increasing the awareness of vulnerable communities to trafficking risks associated with certain actions. This included, for example, pursuing irregular migration channels and particular forms of employment. Second, there were attempts to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities through economic capacity-building activities. These strategies seek to address some of the root causes described above, particularly poverty, restrictive migration laws and harmful cultural stereotypes and practices. As Kara (2011, pp. 69-70) notes, the supply "of contemporary trafficked [persons] is promoted by longstanding factors such as poverty, lawlessness, social instability, military conflict, environmental disaster, corruption, and acute bias against female gender and minority ethnicities".
Currently, evidence on the success of either of these approaches is limited. There are debates regarding the viability of preventing trafficking in persons solely by interrupting the "supply" of potential trafficked persons in countries and communities of origin. Many counter-trafficking practitioners argue that the supply of potential victims is too large for trafficking in persons to be addressed in this manner and that, even if individual programmes prove effective, they are more likely to displace the problem rather than reduce its overall size. That is, traffickers will relocate operations away from communities who have been made aware of trafficking risks and made more economically resilient, and towards the many communities that remain vulnerable.
Work supported by UNODC, including the work of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons ( ICAT), highlighted the fact that "design of counter-trafficking responses often failed to reflect either the recommendations of previous evaluations or critical knowledge accumulated over time in the sector and beyond" ( Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, 2016).
The ICAT Issue Paper (2017) entitled Harnessing accumulated knowledge to respond to trafficking in persons - A toolkit for guidance in designing and evaluating counter-trafficking programmes contains a warning :
"A considerable number of counter-TIP programmes, including many prevention programmes, are based on assumptions that are not supported by existing research evidence. Common, often unarticulated, assumptions that appear to inform many counter-TIP programmes include:
Worse still, prevention strategies may also work counter-intuitively by increasing the vulnerability of potential victims or creating additional obstacles to safe migration channels or opportunities for employment. In turn, they may actually increase persons' risks of being trafficked and the leverage that traffickers have over them.
The above-mentioned ICAT Issue Paper on evaluating anti-trafficking responses poses a series of questions to be asked when mapping and developing responses to trafficking in persons:
- How are victims recruited? By whom? From where?
- How are victims transported? By whom? From where to where?
- What is the exploitative purpose?
- What allows traffickers and trafficking networks to maintain the victim in a situation of exploitation? (This might include: deprivation of liberty, threats against the individual or their family, debt, delayed payment, withholding of documents).
- What factors increase the vulnerability of an individual or a community to TIP? What, if any, factors distinguish victims from other members of their community? This requires comparative data. Victims may, for example, be poorly educated in general terms but not in relation to their communities. To what extent are these factors systemic (e.g. exploitation of a particular ethnic group)?
- What factors allow traffickers/trafficking networks to commit this crime?
- What factors allow traffickers/trafficking networks to profit from this crime?
- What factors allow traffickers/trafficking networks to mask or escape detection for this crime?
- What factors allow traffickers/trafficking networks to avoid prosecution for this crime?
- What factors allow people to justify actions that are considered by the law as TIP?
Despite criticisms of supply side approaches, economic and educational interventions can play a key role in reducing the vulnerability of groups of potential victims of trafficking, particularly groups made more vulnerable by poverty, gender-inequality and lack of equal opportunities. Box 8 lists initiatives aimed at empowering women issued by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Boxes 9 and 10 below, instead, provide examples of well-intentioned prevention strategies that result in rights violation for the beneficiaries, increasing the persons' risks of being trafficked and the leverage that traffickers have over them.
The authorities in many countries now insist that children leaving their own country who are below a minimum age (such as 15 or even 18) should carry a letter signed by one or both parents giving their formal permission for the child to leave the country. This is more likely to prevent children being taken abroad by one of their own parents, following separation or divorce, than to stop traffickers taking them across a frontier, due to the various ruses which traffickers use. Border formalities give immigration officials various opportunities for protection, for example to record which children are entering a country in circumstances which, even vaguely, suggest they may be exploited subsequently and to arrange for them to receive a subsequent visit from a social worker to check on their welfare. However, interceptions can easily become abusive if children who are not being trafficked are refused permission to proceed with their journey.
For example, in Nepal non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been allowed by the authorities to set up check-points on roads crossing the border to India. They employ specialists known as 'physionomists' who are reputed (in Nepal) to be able to identify adolescent girls who are being trafficked. In effect the NGOs concerned have given themselves police powers to stop adolescent girls from crossing to India, transferring the girls instead to their own NGO transit centres, where some are kept, often against their will. The 'physionomists' appear to use criteria based on caste and social class to identify adolescent girls who belong to social groups where a disproportionately high number of girls have been trafficked in the past. Many of the 'physionomists' reportedly come from such groups and act in good faith under orders from the NGOs employing them.
The girls who are detained in transit and 'rehabilitation' centres view the NGO as a powerful institution which is in league with the authorities and whose power they cannot contest. In the worst cases, intercepted girls who have attended residential training courses given by NGOs have been stigmatised on their return home, because the NGO is known to be involved in anti-prostitution activities and the girl is consequently suspected (unjustifiably) of having been involved in prostitution. Such interceptions are reported to have diminished as the number of children fleeing from political violence has increased. Interception on the basis of little specific evidence that the child concerned is in danger of harm can be justified if the child concerned has not yet reached puberty and is palpably too young to be travelling alone. However, the same does not apply to adolescent boys or girls. In the case of adolescents, it might be justified if there is substantial evidence that the vast majority of adolescents crossing a border are being trafficked - such a large proportion that it is reasonable to make the presumption that most adolescents crossing the border are destined for exploitation. However, in the case of Nepal, NGOs made this assumption without obtaining adequate evidence. It was not until 2005 that an international NGO commissioned research into the reasons why young people crossed the border and concluded that there were numerous good reasons. Furthermore, interceptions are acceptable when carried out by law enforcement officials such as the police or immigration officials. The involvement of NGOs in stopping adolescents or young adults from exercising their freedom of movement is an abuse of power, as well as of human rights.
A classic misdiagnosis (which has resulted in the wrong strategies being used, with dire results) happened in West Africa. Publicity surrounding cases in which children migrated over long distances and ended up working in circumstances which were clearly abusive (notably as domestic servants in Gabon) precipitated a string of measures in West Africa to stop adolescents from seeking work in neighbouring countries and even to keep young people from migrating from extremely poor villages to seek work in towns in their own country. In effect this was the approach taken by various totalitarian governments in the past, denying peasants the right to migrate to towns.
The starting point for designing efforts to halt abuse was probably right: just because child labour is the norm in West Africa, there is no reason not to initiate action to stop the worst cases from occurring. However, both the problem tree and the remedies offered were designed in large part by outsiders in NGOs and IGOs based in Europe or North America, sometimes under pressure from Western businesses (such as cocoa importers and chocolate manufacturers). These paid scant regard to local realities and recommended strategies based on an international standard that adolescents aged under 18 should not be involved in any work deemed 'hazardous'. This was probably interpreted inappropriately (by international organizations) to refer to any agricultural work involving the use of a machete, a farming tool used on most farms throughout West Africa. These strategies were interpreted broadly in countries such as Burkina Faso to stop any adolescents under 18 from leaving their villages and travelling to seek work abroad or in towns. This has resulted in adolescents being intercepted on their way to town (whatever their reasons for travelling), detained in transit centres and sometimes ill-treated, albeit not intentionally, before being sent home. One consequence in Burkina Faso is that adolescent girls who used to travel in groups to protect each other now travel alone or in pairs and feel more vulnerable to abuse. When such children have been (forcibly) returned home, some parents have been arbitrarily forced to pay fines. Community watchdog groups, ostensibly set up to stop child trafficking, have become part of the problem, reinforcing the arbitrary use of power at local level, rather than being part of a solution.
None of this is surprising, as the initial diagnosis that all cases of children under 14 migrating to work and of older adolescents migrating to work in agriculture were cases of trafficking or were inherently abusive (and consequently should be stopped) simply did not make sense. This diagnosis might reasonably be the basis for a long-term plan but was not viable as a guide to what action should be taken in the short-term. The strategies which resulted were as unsuitable and counter-productive (for children) as the efforts to transform African agriculture in the 1940s and 1950s by importing tractors and other inappropriate technology, efforts ridiculed by text books on economic development.