Nina KhanHuman trafficking is the world’s third largest underground network, deeply entrenched in both the developed and third world. Measures to curb human trafficking are continually being revised to ensure that the aid provided to the 20 million affected by slave trade is funnelled into where it is needed most, in order to combat this $31 billion industry.

Over a hundred years ago the United States headed the campaign which would see the world take the first step in combatting trafficking, finally attempting to put a stop to this “debasement of our common humanity” through the 1904 International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic”. At the base of this foundation, the 1904 agreement intended to cleanse domestic trafficking but applied solely to women and girls, specifically only “white” women and girls. Though a step for mankind, this still allowed the transportation of persons within the international grid of sex and drugs and left the male population unprotected. It also failed to recognise human trafficking as a violation of human rights and rather than explicitly outlaw unconsented sex of any nature, it sought to address “debauchery” and “immorality” which are semantically ambiguous and fail to truly combat the underlying issue at its core. This act was ratified by thirteen European states including the United Kingdom and was acceded by a further nine states including the United States: the initial proposer state. The total number of signatories in 1904 reached thirty-four.

This was followed by 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of White Traffic, which sought to release annual reports and also saw a number of NGOs get involved. It gave this cause further recognition and in doing so also provided them with a greater amount of bureaucratic apparatus in order to carry out this task. At this point it was recognised that the clamp down needed to be extended into the third world and was taken to Asia-minor, Asia and the Middle East, which was a movement away from the euro-centric stance which had existed up until 1921. Despite this, the UK placed a reservation on article 5 (affecting persons under 21) and limited the impact in colonial territories, namely India, a motion also reserved by Japan and Thailand. During the next quarter of a century between the build up to WW2 and the formation of in the UN, the number of child slaves doubled in Asia and it estimated by later British reports that the number of organisations affiliated with this trade also rose by a staggering number too. Britain’s reservation was later lifted in 1947 by Britain, yet the number of slaves being trafficked did not drop to pre-war levels and have just continued to rise since.

After this 1921 movement headed up by the League of Nations, the anti-trafficking push went cold, despite a follow up convention being scheduled for 1937. In actuality, little was done to further this cause and the publication annual reports which were stressed in 1921 were not rigorously followed with only a percentage of nations actively seeking to put any statistics out into the international sphere.

Though only a small percentage of people forced into this industry are male, it still exists and as well as being used as sex slaves many men are forced into labour camps. The recent upsurge in the demand for boy dancers in Afghanistan proves why it is just as important to hone in on both sexes and not assume that men as simply only ever the oppressors in this industry, as was assumed by the US in the first half of the twentieth century. The world recognised this necessity for revision and inclusion of outlawing trafficking against men in 1976.

Actions taken to combat trafficking have been progressively expanding in the last 25 years; one of the more recent establishments as of 2000 is a Trafficking in Persons Report, which seeks to evaluate the progress and efforts made by countries in minimising trans-national trade. This in turn often leads to greater measures being put in place by the host nation, and despite this, the slave trade remains one of the fastest growing global network. This agreement was the stepping stone which has been built upon over the last decade and in January of 2013 Obama declared January “Human Trafficking Awareness Month”, which has further thrust this key issue into the public domain, rather than one which remains concealed within government documents.