Gender, Social development and protection

Fighting the trafficking of women and children in Asia

Human trafficking is often considered gender-based harm (Lansink 2006), as women and children are more likely to face this form of violent exploitation. Over 60% of women and 27% of girls reported being trafficked for gender-specific labor, such as domestic work, childcare, and sex work (UNODC 2021). In 2021, over 22 million women were trafficked and forced into marriage (ILO, Walk Free, and IOM 2022), with this type of trafficking being particularly prevalent in Southeast Asia (UNODC 2023). The social and development impacts are severe.

Female victims, particularly girls, are 3 times more likely than male victims to experience physical or extremely violent treatment during trafficking (UNODC 2021). Moreover, they lack support from public and social service officers, and many state authorities treat them as criminals or illegal migrants. Victims of trafficking often suffer from infectious diseases, psychological trauma, physical injuries, and poor healthcare treatment. Among the survivors of trafficking in Southeast Asia in 2016, 22% reported having serious physical injuries and depression (Hughes 2000). Moreover, besides experiencing physical abuse, children are often deprived of education, stigmatized, and experience poor living conditions and hygiene. They are exploited to carry out heavy labor in hazardous environments and must endure other unbearable and traumatic labor conditions (Sharmin and Rahman 2017).

Thus, traffickers target the most vulnerable groups of society. Factors such as extreme poverty, a lack of equal opportunities, unemployment, and a lack of rights fuel illegal migration and trafficking. In addition, patriarchal traditions, gender-based violence, unequal access to education, limited opportunities for access to property, and social pressure increase the vulnerability of women and girls, especially in rural areas (Poudel and Shrestha 1996; Lansink 2006).

Many countries have started initiatives and developed various mechanisms to address the issue of human trafficking. The first important global legally binding instrument, the United Nations “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women, and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organization Crime,” also known as the Palermo Protocol, was adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession in 2000. It calls for countries to adopt the Protocol and ensure their national legislation is in accordance with its articles (UN General Assembly 2000). Today, 183 countries are signatories or have ratified the Palermo Protocol and amended their national laws to criminalize and prosecute human trafficking and provide aid and protection to trafficked victims. Among them, most countries in Asia and the Pacific have amended their domestic laws to comply with international standards and created mechanisms to prevent modern slavery (UNODC, 2023).

Examples include India’s adoption of human trafficking legislation and acts to prevent forced labor and sexual exploitation, such as the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. The government has established 80 protective custodial care centers, vocational training, and rehabilitation for the victims of trafficking (Chakrabarty and Chakrabarty 2013). Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have criminalized sex and labor trafficking (Trajano 2018), while Pakistan has banned the emigration of domestic servants under the age of 45, which has discouraged almost all illegal migration (Paul and Hasnath 2000). In 2012, Bangladesh adopted the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act. Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law has been twice amended and improved, imposing stronger penalties and enhancing the rights of the victims (Saad and Salman 2014). Meanwhile, in 2007, the Chinese government approved a nationwide action plan for protecting children’s legal rights and interests, preventing and eradicating criminal activities related to the trafficking of women and children, and assisting the victims of human trafficking. Additionally, the People’s Republic of China has increased inspections of labor, improved its criminal laws to include harsher punishments for perpetrators involved in trafficking, and established hotlines and shelters for victims (Chamie 2015).

However, despite government efforts, further action is needed to eradicate the trafficking of women and children. As prominent global leadership groups, the Group of Seven (G7) and Group of Twenty (G20) are well placed to take measures and commitments to stop the trafficking of women and children by encouraging countries to ratify and implement international treaties and acts and ensure the harmonization of their national legislation.

G7 and G20 leaders can provide support and expertise for countries to develop effective legal frameworks and improve investigation and prosecution mechanisms. They can also encourage governments to spread awareness and information about safe migration and the threat of trafficking through outreach to schools, universities, and the media. Finally, G7 and G20 countries can strengthen mechanisms to monitor and curtail the trafficking of humans through the development and deployment of digital technology, and also facilitate dialog and the exchange of expertise on policies to tackle illegal migration and better understand the factors leading to cases of human trafficking.


Chamie, J. 2015. Human Trafficking: A Serious Challenge to HumanityGreat Decisions 2015: 77–88.

Chakraborty, R., and M. Chakrabarty. 2013. Politics Of Women Trafficking: A SurveyThe Indian Journal of Political Science 74(2): 253–262.

Hughes, D. M. 2000. The “Natasha” Trade: The Transnational Shadow Market of Trafficking in WomenJournal of International Affairs 53(2): 625–651.

International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and International Organization for Migration (IOM). 2022. Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage.

Lansink, A. 2006. Human Rights Focus on Trafficked Women: An International Law and Feminist PerspectiveAgenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity 70: 45–56.

Paul, B. K., and S. A. Hasnath. 2000. Trafficking in Bangladeshi Women and GirlsGeographical Review 90(2): 268–276.

UN General Assembly. 2000. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Poudel, M., and A. Shrestha. 1996. Dealing with Hidden Issues: Trafficked Women in Nepal. Development in Practice 6(4): 352–363.

Saad, S., and A. Salman. 2014. Government Policy and the Challenge of Eradicating Human Trafficking in Malaysia. Geografia: Malaysian Journal of Society and Space 10.

Sharmin, S., and A. M. A. Rahman. 2017. Challenges in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings in South Asia: Need for a Right-Based ApproachJournal of the Indian Law Institute 59(3): 264–287.

Trajano, J. C. 2018. Combatting Human Trafficking In East Asia: Mind The Gaps. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2023. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2022. UNODC.

UNODC. 2021. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020. UNODC.

Walk Free Foundation. 2018. The Global Slavery Index.

Aichurek Kurmanbekova

About the Author

Aichurek Kurmanbekova is a graduate of the International University of Japan and has previously worked for the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Turkmenistan and Human Rights Watch.
Dil Rahut

About the Author

Dil Rahut is vice-chair of research and a senior research fellow at ADBI.

, , ,

Comments are closed.