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Trafficking x CRSV

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What is Trafficking?


“Trafficking in persons” (TIP), as set forth in the UN General Assembly Trafficking in Persons Protocol (2000), refers to 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, which includes, 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.

Root Causes/Contexts of Concern

As UNODC notes, the root causes of trafficking are various and often differ from one context to another. Trafficking is a complex issue that is mainly driven or influenced by social, economic, cultural and other factors. Many of these factors are specific to individual trafficking patterns and to the contexts in which they occur. There are, however, many factors that tend to be common to trafficking in general. These include:

  • Poverty
  • Oppression & human rights violations
  • Lack of social or economic opportunity
  • Dangers from conflict or political instability
  • Militarism
  • Civil unrest & internal armed conflict
  • Natural disasters

Many of these factors are often present in conflict, post-conflict, or fragile situations, and thus, destabilization and displacement of populations increase their vulnerability to various forms of exploitation and abuse through trafficking and forced labour.

Who is vulnerable to trafficking in persons?

According to the 2020 UNODC Report, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, women and girls comprise the largest share of detected trafficking victims worldwide. Furthermore, vulnerabilities vary depending on the individual situation of the person – for instance sex, gender, age, ability or disability, sexual orientation, religion, nationality and legal status, access to and level of education, family dynamics, experience of abuse and/or an intersection of such factors.  

Children and adolescents are vulnerable to trafficking for a range of exploitative practices. In general, girls are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced marriage, while boys are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for forced labour, for use in armed forces or groups and forced begging. Unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) and LGBTQI youth are especially vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse, and in situations of conflict and displacement, particularly in the absence of adult male members of the household, boys and increasingly girls, are expected to contribute to the household income. This expectation may increase their vulnerability to trafficking, as they may be targeted by traffickers willing to exploit their precarious situation. Both the children themselves and their family members may be more willing to consider risky options, such as migrating alone in search of economic opportunities, or taking up work in high-risk sectors. 

Relevant UN Resolutions on Trafficking in Persons



Relevant UN Security Council & General Assembly Resolutions on Trafficking in Persons

General Assembly resolution 55/25 (2000)

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, also known as the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, is first legally binding instrument with an internationally recognized definition of human trafficking and provides a vital tool for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of trafficking offences, as well as to the protection of the trafficked persons,

General Assembly Resolution 63/156 (2008)

This resolution on Trafficking in Women and Girls aims to address the particular problem of trafficking in women and girls and to address the factors that increase vulnerability to being trafficked.

General Assembly Resolution 64/293 (2010)

This resolution incorporates the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons which urges coordinated and consistent measures to try to defeat human trafficking, including those that address trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and provide support to victims of trafficking in persons that have been sexually exploited.

Security Council Resolution 2331 (2016)

This resolution condemns trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflicts and specifically requests sanctions teams to include in their discussions the issue of trafficking in persons in the areas of armed conflict and the use of sexual violence in armed conflict as it relates to UN-designated Terrorist groups

Security Council Resolution 2388 (2017)

This resolution reaffirms the Security Council’s condemnation of all instances of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, who make up the vast majority of all trafficking victims in areas affected by armed conflict.


Nexus with CRSV

Crisis contexts can exacerbate pre-existing trafficking trends and give rise to new ones. As earlier migration and political crises have demonstrated, criminal groups or individuals will take advantage of large flows of people to exploit the most vulnerable in transit and destination countries. While undertaking their journeys or upon reaching a destination, people seeking refuge can be exposed to trafficking for various purposes (OSCE, 2022). More generally, there are also other forms of trafficking that are a direct result of crises, for example people may be trafficked for use as combatants to finance armed conflict, to provide exploitative sexual services, for forced labour, for forced marriage and, in some cases, to reinforce the enslavement of ethnic minorities. 

Women and girls are often vulnerable to trafficking as a result of discriminatory gender norms and lower socioeconomic status. Circumstances of crisis and displacement heighten the risks of violence to women, which can include psychological and emotional violence, physical and sexual violence, trafficking, rape as a weapon of war, sexual slavery, forced marriage and domestic violence. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2331 (2016) addressed this nexus between trafficking in human beings (THB) and conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), as well as the gender-related nature of these crimes. The term “Conflict-related Sexual Violence” employed by the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG-SVC) also encompasses trafficking in person for the purpose of sexual violence and/or exploitation, when committed in situations of conflict. Moreover, some forms of conflict-related sexual violence typically stem from a trafficking process. According to UNODC, the main forms of trafficking in persons in armed conflict, residing at the between Trafficking in Human Beings and CRSV, are:

Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

According to UNODC research, TIP for sexual exploitation is the most detected form globally, accounting for about 50% of identified cases in the 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. However, sexual exploitation is a broad category that can overlap with definitions and programming on TIP for purposes of forced labour. Furthermore, more specific forms of sexual exploitation have been identified in the context of armed conflict. These can include, but are not limited to:

        • Families exchanging their daughters for marriage to obtain money to support the rest of the family in times of crisis
        • Traffickers providing job offers under false pretences to vulnerable women and girls, and sometimes boys and men, living in fragile contexts for the purposes of sexual exploitation
        • Terrorist organisations, armed groups, or other State and private actors perpetrating trafficking in persons of a sexual nature for financing or recruitment purposes

Trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation has also been reported as part of the generalized sexual and gender-based violence that characterizes conflict areas. It may also be associated with the increased demand for sexual services that often emerges in conflict areas or fragile contexts. This may be due to the deployment of military personnel, particularly when there are significant underlying power dynamics. This higher demand combined with lack of basic services and economic opportunities for affected civilians may provide incentives for trafficking networks to extend their operations into conflict zones or for new networks to develop (UNODC, 2018).

Trafficking for Sexual Slavery or Forced Marriage

Various reports on violence in armed conflict have documented that victim are abducted, held in captivity, and exposed to many forms of sexual abuse, including rape and sexual slavery.  The Secretary-General’s 2021 Report on Conflict-related Sexual violence notes that there was a discernible trend in 2021 of sexual violence and exploitation in the context of abduction and trafficking, including by United Nations-designated terrorist groups operating in conflict-affected settings in which State presence and the rule of law remain weak. For instance, the United Nations received reports in 2021 of women and girls being abducted by fighters from non-State armed groups in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, including cases of forced marriage and rape

In the context of forced marriages, which may be understood as a union of two persons in which at least one has not given his or her full and free consent, the non-consenting partner is often exploited in different ways. This exploitation determines that this phenomenon is trafficking in persons. This type of trafficking mainly targets women and girls, and the type of exploitation leverages on stereotypical gender roles where the wife carries out household duties while experiencing severe forms of violence, abuse and coercion including rape and non-consensual sexual intercourse.

This phenomenon has been identified in most armed conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The 2016 SG Report on CRSV noted that in South Sudan, over 40 per cent of the 376 cases of sexual violence in armed conflict recorded in 2016 were registered as cases of forced marriage, with many of the perpetrators being members of armed groups. Similarly, during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone, members of the armed groups could be ‘assigned’ a wife. Women and girls were abducted, raped and coerced into servitude as “wives”.

Contributing Factors

Factors contributing to increased vulnerability to trafficking for the purposes of sexual violence and/or exploitation in armed conflict include:

        • State collapse, deteriorating rule of law and impunity
        • Forced displacement
        • Limited access to education, financial resources or opportunities for income generation
        • Discrimination and/or marginalization of minorities (including LGBTQI+ individuals)
        • Social fragmentation and family breakdown

To address and prevent both CRSV and Trafficking in Persons, we must address the root causes, including poverty and gender inequality, as well as the above factors that encourage the particular problem of trafficking in women and girls for forced prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation and forced marriage in conflict, post-conflict and fragile situations.

Prevention of CRSV-related Trafficking

As noted above, in armed conflict, terrorist organizations, armed groups, and both State and private actors may engage in trafficking in persons for financing or recruitment purposes that may include dimensions of sexual exploitation and abuse. People fleeing armed conflict are also vulnerable to trafficking due to disruptions of protective social networks and new risks that arise during forced internal or cross-border displacement. To prevent potential victimization, there must be proactive, coordinated prevention efforts by multilevel actors at the initial outset of a crisis to ensure that trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation or abuse is stopped before it starts (iCAT, 2017). The majority of prevention efforts collectively address all forms of TIP, but they are equally relevant and applicable to CRSV-related Trafficking and may be tailored for more specified prevention efforts.

Moreover, various key principles and guidelines urge that strategies aimed at preventing trafficking should take into account demand as a root cause. Anti-trafficking actors, government, and intergovernmental organisations should also aim to address the factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking, including inequality, poverty and all forms of discrimination and prejudice. Effective prevention strategies should be based on existing experience and accurate information.

In the case that CRSV-related trafficking has already occurred, survivors’ specific protection and support needs must be met in trauma-informed, survivor-centred ways to avoid further harm in these situations. Their needs can include highly secure shelter arrangements and specific psychosocial support, and other immediate items such as food, sanitation, clothing, and financial assistance as well as long-term protection. Without support, they may become vulnerable to re-trafficking.

Proposed Prevention Efforts include:


          • Awareness raising and key messaging among key populations. Here is an example implemented by UNHCR in Ukraine.
          • Addressing the specific risks faced by children, particularly those who are unaccompanied or separated from their families through the provision of guardians, safe shelter and reception, and access to education and training.
          • Capacity Building of First Responders and protection partners to ensure they can identify those vulnerable to TIP for the purposes of sexual exploitation and provide the necessary specialized protection services. In the case that an individual is already a victim of trafficking in persons, first responders must be able to tend to potentially heightened medical, psychosocial, or security needs of survivors who have experienced gang rape, sexual torture, forced prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, or enslavement by terrorist organisations.
          • Ensuring psychological support for adults and children by engaging with qualified psychologists or professionals among the population seeking refuge
          • Establishing centralized information sources (e.g., a website) and hotlines to provide official information in languages understood by persons seeking refuge from national authorities on how to obtain relevant residency and documentation. A relevant example is IOM’s information and support hotlines for persons in Ukraine and those fleeing Ukraine in neighboring countries.
          • Integrating anti-trafficking indicators and activities into protection work and strengthening all coordination mechanisms. This may include service mapping of trafficking-related activities and services in specific conflict settings, such as done in this report. on Ukraine by Freedom Fund and La Estrada. This is especially important at the initial onset of armed conflict where there is a flood of resources and actors. Examples of indicators include UNODC Human Trafficking Indicators to identify victims of trafficking in humans and ILO’s Operational indicators of trafficking in human beings (2009).
          • Monitoring information sharing platforms for misleading, deceptive or fraudulent information on employment and housing opportunities and monitoring increased online demand for pornographic material from a displaced population. For example, Thomson Reuters Special Services recently identified a 200% to 600% increase in the use of internet search terms related to sex, pornography, and “Ukrainian women” in the days and weeks after the conflict started which led to the development of OSCE recommendations to mitigate risks of TIP online.
          • Strengthening capacity of police and immigration authorities and border control officers to detect and respond to potential victims of CRSV-related trafficking and other forms of severe exploitation at borders and other contexts of displacement.
          • Developing and following Early Warning Indicators, such as economic or political factors, in order to respond to initial signals of potential, impending or ongoing Trafficking in Persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation. For guidance on how to work with local communities to develop context-specific indicators, see Gender-Response Early Warning: Overview and How-To Guide (2012) by UN Women. For CRSV-related early warning indicators, see Early-Warning Indicators of Conflict-related Sexual Violence Matrix (2011) by UN Action.
          • Issuing identity documents and pathways to regular immigration status for trafficking survivors, if no longer in their countries of origin



            • Discouraging the Demand that Fosters Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation, as outlined in this paper by OSCE. This can include a wide range of activities, including education, public awareness raising campaigns, deterrence initiatives, disruption of buyers, and other holistic responses.
            • Developing programmes that offer livelihood options, including basic education, skills training and literacy, especially for women and other traditionally disadvantaged groups. For example, in 2019, UN Action funded a project implemented by UNODC and UN Women in Myanmar aimed at addressing the gendered impacts of conflict-related to human trafficking through enhancing empowerment and protection of conflict-affected women and girls in Kachin State.
            • Addressing and ensuring accountability for violent extremism, terrorism, and its nexus with conflict-related sexual violence, including conflict-related trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, through strengthened criminal justice response to trafficking in persons at both the supranational and national levels. To support this prevention activity, UNODC and the Global Initiative to Fight Human trafficking developed this Needs Assessment Toolkit on the Criminal Justice Response to Human Trafficking (2010).
            • Training relevant officials, including law enforcement personnel, border control officers, judges, peacekeepers, and prosecutors to identify indicators of trafficking in persons in areas affected by armed conflict or in fragile, at-risk contexts. For example, UNODC’s Training module on the Introduction to Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants for police officers of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.
            • Briefing sanctions committees and proposing concrete recommendations for targeted sanctions to combat terrorism financing and for designations of individuals engaged in the sale, trade or trafficking of women and girls.
            • Development of policies aimed at preventing gender-based violence and supporting survivors, generally.

Resources: Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking (OHCHR), Trafficking in Persons Protocol, OSCE Anti-trafficking Recommendations, and Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons (iCAT)

Main Actors


Main Actors in the Prevention of CRSV-related Trafficking


Community Level



  • IDPs and host communities,
  • law enforcement agencies,
  • relevant ministries and branches of government,
  • local NGOs, civil society and human rights institutions,
  • the private sector,
  • religious/spiritual leaders,
  • educational institutions and the media (such as local radio stations)
  • Humanitarians combating trafficking should aim to work in partnership with development and peace and security actors where possible, in accordance with the principles of the New Way of Working, also known as the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. 


State Level



As outlined in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol as well as in the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, it is first and foremost the responsibility of the State to prevent trafficking, investigate and prosecute traffickers, safeguard the rights of all victims of trafficking or persons at risk of trafficking on its territory and assist and provide adequate redress to victims in accordance with international law and with national legislation where relevant.

Local NGOs & State-wide actors

Humanitarian actors – including Humanitarian Coordinators (HCs), Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs), clusters, agencies and NGOs – should also ensure that the protection of all persons affected and at-risk informs humanitarian decision-making and response, including engagement with States and non-State parties to conflict by designing and delivering a humanitarian response that is principled, timely, effective and efficient and contributes to long-term recovery. Key to the humanitarian response is a common Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) Protection Strategy, developed with support of the Protection Cluster.

Supranational Level (Coordination Groups, INGOs, UN Entities)

Supranational measures operate at the regional or international level.


  • UN Action member entities: IOM, UNODC, UNHCR
  • Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (iCAT), co-chaired by International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and UNODC
  • Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, overseen by the UN Human Rights Council
  • Global Protection Cluster Task Team on Anti-Trafficking
  • La Strada International 
  • ILO
  • Global & Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Forces


Situations of Concern & Current Anti-Trafficking Initiatives

Ukraine & Neighboring Countries

SRSG-SVC Patten warned of the high risk of trafficking in persons, particularly for the purposes of sexual exploitation, in a joint statement with the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons following the acute escalation of armed conflict in Ukraine on 24 February 2022. The According to UNODC’s research, Ukraine has been a situation of concern for both domestic and international trafficking in persons prior to this escalation. The UNODC Global Database on Trafficking in Persons provides evidence of Ukrainian victims being trafficked to many different countries. For example, 29 countries reported Ukrainian victims in 2018. Most Ukrainian trafficking victims were identified in neighbouring countries (e.g., Russian Federation and Poland), but there were also others detected in the Middle East and South Asia.

Vulnerabilities within Ukraine have only escalated as a result of the increased hostility. A brief by UNODC noted that as of 22 March 2022, 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine: 2.1 million arrived in Poland (of whom over 100,000 are non-Ukrainians), 555,000 in Romania, 371,000 in Republic of Moldova, 324,000 in Hungary, 257,000 in Slovakia, and 252,000 in the Russia Federation. These people are vulnerable to different forms of trafficking, including for the purposes of sexual exploitation, due to the displacement context and attendant vulnerabilities during the journey and upon arrival in a hosting country. In these settings, criminal networks operating within the region may take advantage of people separated from their support networks and with an acute need to identify alternative methods of income generation. Research has found that economic need is one of the most often identified vulnerability factors for trafficking in persons. Furthermore, children separated from their guardians may be especially at risk, and disturbingly, the onset of conflict in Ukraine has corresponded with an increase in the demand for online sexual content that involve Ukrainian women and girls. This heightened demand is likely to be noticed by traffickers and could result in a subsequent increase in trafficking.

Fortunately, there have been immense global response to the crisis in Ukraine, with various local and international actors aiming to prevent TIP, address trafficking risks, and identify and support trafficking survivors and other vulnerable individuals.

UN Action is currently working on identifying and addressing gaps in the CRSV response to Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. Read more about our work here.

 Some anti-trafficking initiatives in the region include:

              • The Anti-Trafficking Task Force (ATTF) Ukraine, led by the Protection Cluster in Ukraine and co-chaired by IOM Ukraine and La Strada – Ukraine, was established in May 2022.
              • Identification of Persons At-Risk of Trafficking in Human Beings is a practical guide developed under the framework of UNICEF’s response to the evolving crisis in Ukraine involving large-scale movement of children into neighbouring countries (September 2022).
              • UNHCR and UNICEF, partnership with governments and civil society organizations, set up ‘Blue Dot’ one-stop safe spaces for children and women. ‘Blue Dots’ provide key information to traveling families, help to identify unaccompanied and separated children and ensure their protection, and provide a hub for essential services. They also support survivors of SGBV.
              • On May 11th, 2022, the EU Solidary Platform, under the leadership of the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator, released a Common Anti-Trafficking plan to address the risks and support potential victims. It will be implemented in cooperation with the National Rapporteurs and Equivalent Mechanisms of EU countries and the EU Agencies.
              • On March 31st, iCAT complied a document on key resources on trafficking in persons in the context of the Ukrainian crisis
              • GBV Sub-Cluster established the OUTREACH working group, including trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation
              • IOM reinforcement and development of National Counter-Trafficking and Migrant Advice Hotlines. Active hotline numbers here.
              • The La Strada hotline has been operating in the country
              • European Council’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings released a guidance note (4 May 2022) on addressing the risks of trafficking in human beings related to the war in Ukraine and the ensuring humanitarian crisis.
              • The OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings developed recommendations (9 March 2022) on the need to enhance anti-trafficking prevention amid mass migration flows in regard to the current Ukraine crisis.
              • Thomson Reuters Special Services has been monitoring online search patterns for sexual and/or pornographic content in order to assess the demand for trafficked victims from Ukraine. As a result, OSCE developed further anti-trafficking recommendations (22 April 2022) specific to identifying and mitigating the risks of trafficking in human beings online as a result of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
              • The European Police released an early warning notification (March 2022) on risks of trafficking within refugee population.
              • The European Freedom Network, a network of 260 Christian-based anti-trafficking agencies in Europe, has posted relevant information and hotlines on their website and developed trafficking prevention flyers.
              • UNODC’s research team is conducting ongoing research on TIP risks in the Ukraine crisis, developing informative briefs on the key findings of research in order to understand and prevent these risks.

Learning Resources on Trafficking x CRSV

Resources for Practitioners