Human trafficking is generally understood to refer to the trade in and exploitation of an individual for another person’s gain. Trafficking can occur within a country or may involve movement across borders. Women, men and children are trafficked for a range of purposes, including forced and exploitative labour in factories, farms and private households, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. Human Trafficking has been documented in almost all countries of the world.

The first-ever agreed definition of trafficking was incorporated into the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol). That definition has since been incorporated into many other legal and policy instruments as well as national laws.

Trafficking in persons shall mean 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. Exploitation shall include, 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. (Source: United Nations, 2019).


On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements;

The Act (What is done): Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons

The Means (How it is done): Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim

The Purpose (Why it is done): For the purpose of exploitation, which includes sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.


Child Trafficking is the sale, purchase and/or control of a minor
for the purpose of exploitation. 

Child trafficking is defined as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt” of a child for the purpose of exploitation. This definition comes from the United Nations Palermo Protocol. A child is defined by the Palermo Protocol and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as any person under the age of 18. Child Trafficking is regarded as a form of modern day slavery.

The trafficking of children is a process comprised of two distinct stages: the Act and the Purpose. This is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or reception of persons, including the exchange or transfer of control over those persons … for the purpose of exploitation.”

The Means stage is not required for the definition of child trafficking. This is not to say that this stage does not occur for child victims, but the definition recognises that a child cannot give informed consent to his or her own exploitation, even if he or she agrees to travel or understands what has happened.

The presence of the three distinct elements is observed in the definition of human trafficking as set out in both the:

  1. Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
  2. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.

In Ireland, these definitions have been incorporated into the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 and the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013.


Child Begging: Children, including babies and younger children, can be used as tools for begging. Children may also be forced to beg alone, with the money handed to adults and gangs controlling them.

Trafficking for Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the grooming and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity. This includes abuse of the child for the production of child abuse images or videos. Children in such exploitative situations may receive gifts, money, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol or affection as a result of performing illegal sexual activities or others performing illegal sexually exploitative activities on them. The child may be tricked into thinking that they are in relationship with the abuser.

Forced Labour is where a child is exploited in labour for someone else’s gain. It may involve victims being compelled to work long hours, often in arduous conditions, and to relinquish the majority, if not all, of their wages.

Forced criminality: Child criminal exploitation (CCE) can be understood as the grooming or exploitation of a child to commit a crime, such as possession of false identity documents, pick-pocketing, shoplifting, burglary, cannabis cultivation, drug transportation and distribution.

Organ harvesting has never been identified or documented in Ireland. This is a very rare form of trafficking where children are exploited for the purposes of using, buying, selling, or otherwise commodifying parts of their bodies.

Child marriage, or early marriage, is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under 18 years of age. Forced marriages are marriages in which one and/or both parties have not personally expressed their full and free consent to the union. A child marriage is considered to be a form of forced marriage, given that one and/or both parties have not expressed full, free and informed consent.

(Sources: ECPAT UK & OHCHR)


Human Trafficking, which includes the trafficking of children, is a growing criminal activity and justice issue in Ireland. The importance of anti-trafficking training is currently being recognised and implemented across the country for frontline professionals working in the areas of health, social work, law enforcement and immigration.

2019 Annual Report on Human Trafficking, The Department of Justice.

There were 42 victims (33 adults, 9 children) of human trafficking identified by An Garda Síochána in 2019.

34 of these were victims of sexual exploitation, 3 were victims of labour exploitation, 2 were victims of both sexual and labour exploitation and 3 were victims of forced criminality.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) research brief in 2019 concluded that the overall level of trafficking in Ireland was approximately 50% higher than what is currently being detected.


MECPATHS was very fortunate in 2018 to meet with Maya,* a young woman from The UK who, as a child, was trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Maya’s story of moving from living her childhood to becoming a victim to now, a survivor of Modern Day Slavery, demonstrates courage and fragility at the same time. Take some time to listen to Maya as she offers an insight into her experience of being a slave. *name changed at Maya’s request

Naomi, aged 13 years, grew up in Western Africa. Her father was in jail and her mother struggled to survive with two young daughters. The three of them shared a one bedroom apartment. Rafi, a male friend of Naomi’s mother, knew that they had very little money and offered to help. He said he had friends living in Ireland who had a very good lifestyle. He said that through his connections he could get Naomi a part-time evening job as a baby-sitter and during the day she could attend school and further her education. Naomi’s mother agreed to let Rafi take Naomi to Ireland. However, the reality of the situation when they arrived was very different. Once in Ireland, Rafi told people he was Naomi’s uncle. He sold Naomi to a wealthy family for a one off payment of €10,000. Her passport was taken from her. She was not sent to school, instead Naomi had to mind three children under the age of four and had to cook and clean for the family. She never got a day off… Read Naomi’s full story here