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.


Anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, age, gender or socio-economic status. However, children are especially vulnerable to being targeted by traffickers and being caught in exploitative situations.


Some of the risk factors for children living in Ireland being vulnerable to trafficking include:

  • Poverty and Homelessness
  • Living in State Care
  • Belonging to a Minority Group
  • Living in homes where Domestic Violence is Present
  • Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children
  • Increased access to the internet
  • Children being trafficked into Ireland from other countries

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 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.

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.

Forced 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.

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.

(Sources: ECPAT UK & OHCHR)


  • In low-income countries, children make up half of the victims detected and are mainly trafficked for forced labour. Criminals trafficking children target victims from extremely poor households, dysfunctional families or those who are abandoned with no parental care.
  • In higher income countries, children are trafficked mainly for sexual exploitation, forced criminality or begging. In these countries, child trafficking is generally less detected and typically takes the characteristics of sexual exploitation.
  • Most child victims globally are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • In addition to sexual exploitation and forced labour, children are exploited for begging and forced criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, among other crimes.
  • According to the International Organisation for Migration, the extent of family involvement in the trafficking of children is more than four times higher than in cases of adult trafficking.

Sources: Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (February 2021), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and, International Organisation for Migration.


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.

Minister McEntee noted in October 2020 at the launch of a Human Trafficking public awareness campaign: “The terrible reality is that victims of human trafficking may potentially be hidden in plain sight, in any community in Ireland.”

(Department of Justice and Equality, Government of Ireland)

US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2021

There were 22 victims (22adults, 0 children) of human trafficking identified by An Garda Síochána in 2020, significantly reduced on the previous year.

15 of these were victims of sexual exploitation and 7 were victims of labour exploitation.

The 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.

With victim Identification remaining critically low in Ireland, we find ourselves in an environment of concerning deficiencies. International agencies continue to shine a spot-light on Ireland which is now ranked ‘The Worst Country in Western Europe for Anti-Human Trafficking Responsiveness.

Read The 2021 TIPs Report here

Identified Victim Statistics 2013 – 2020

Irish Research, 2021

A report from researchers at Mary Immaculate College (MIC) has examined the true scale of human trafficking on the island of Ireland, illustrating that there are substantially more victims of human trafficking in Ireland than are officially recorded with the authorities. Data collated for the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Project on the Island of Ireland (HTEPII), led by MIC, has shown that the number of adults and children trafficked onto the island of Ireland between 2014 and 2019 is at least 38% higher in the Republic of Ireland and 20% higher in Northern Ireland than has been officially recorded by authorities north and south. This new data represents an increase of 132 victims on top of an official count of 346 victims in the Republic of Ireland and an increase of 54 victims on top of an official count of 268 victims in Northern Ireland over a six-year period. Of these, 89 minors were officially recorded. New data from the HTEPII has also uncovered an additional 12 minors which have not been recorded by authorities in either jurisdiction.

The official figures, which are generated via a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in each jurisdiction, do not include the ‘invisible’ victims of trafficking – those who have never come to the attention of An Garda Síochána or the Police Service of Northern Ireland (deliberate and not deliberate), or those who are known to the police forces but who will not self-identify as victims of human trafficking. In addition, there are also victims of trafficking who will not cooperate with the Gardaí in a criminal investigation. The report details multiple reasons for the lack of self-identification by victims.

This report reflects more accurately the scope of Human Trafficking in Ireland than previously published research. The full report can be read here

Human Trafficking Law in Ireland

Source: Department of Justice

Ireland has in place a comprehensive range of legislative measures to combat human trafficking and support its victims as follows:

Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008: The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 commenced operation on 7 June 2008. This legislation creates an offence of recruiting, transporting, transferring to another person, harbouring, or causing the entry into, travel within or departure from the State of a person or providing the person with accommodation or employment for the specific purpose of the trafficked person’s sexual or labour exploitation or removal of his or her organs. It provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment and, at the discretion of the court, a fine for persons who traffic or attempt to traffic other persons for the purposes of labour or sexual exploitation or for the removal of a person’s organs.

Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013:  The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013 was enacted on 9 July 2013. The purpose of this Amendment is to facilitate full compliance with the criminal law measures set out in Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA by criminalising trafficking for the purpose of forced begging and trafficking for other criminal activities. This legislation also defines the term ‘forced labour’ as used in the 2008 Act. The definition is based on that set out in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 29 of 1930 on Forced or Compulsory Labour. In addition, the Amendment Act contains provisions to better facilitate children giving evidence in criminal prosecutions by increasing from 14 to 18 years the upper age threshold for out-of-court video recording of a complainant’s evidence and by making provision for video recording the evidence of a child (other than an accused) who is under the age of 18 years.

Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998: This Act makes it an offence to organise or knowingly facilitate the entry into, transit through, or exit from Ireland of a child for the purpose of the child’s sexual exploitation.  The Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking in Ireland  makes it an offense to exploit or provide accommodation for the child for such a purpose while in Ireland. It is also an offence to take, detain or restrict the personal liberty of a child for the purpose of the child’s sexual exploitation, to use a child for such purpose or to organise or knowingly facilitate such taking, detaining, restricting or use. Section 1 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 amends the 1998 Act by extending the definition of a child from a person under the age of 17 years to a person under the age of 18 years. The maximum penalty on conviction is raised from 14 years to life imprisonment.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017: This was enacted on 22 February 2017. The Act enhanced and updated laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, including new offences relating to child sexual grooming and new and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography. The Act also criminalises the purchase of sexual services, introduces new provisions regarding the giving of evidence by victims in sexual offence trials and introduces a new offence addressing public indecency.


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