Human Trafficking and Armed Conflict

By Dialogo
August 15, 2013

In armed conflicts across the world, governments and armed groups commit war crimes and human rights abuses and attack civilian populations.

Armed conflict leaves local populations, including men, women, and children vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation, forced prostitution, forced labor, and the unlawful recruitment of children as soldiers by government forces and armed groups. Likewise, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) struggle to survive in precarious situations that make them highly vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking. Women and girls bear enormous hardship during and after armed conflict, and they are particularly vulnerable to sexual slavery.

Current global conflicts have placed populations at serious risk of trafficking. For example, Colombian illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to serve as combatants, to cultivate illegal narcotics, or to be exploited in prostitution.

Members of gangs and organized criminal networks force vulnerable Colombians, including displaced persons, into sex trafficking and forced labor, particularly in the sale and transportation of illegal narcotics. Colombia is a destination for foreign child sex tourists from the United States, Europe, and other South American countries.

Another example is Somalia, where the militant group al-Shabaab has forcibly recruited Somali children to be child soldiers or has forced them into prostitution; some children who flee Somalia to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Kenya are forced into prostitution and forced labor as herders.

In Rwanda, women and children in refugee camps are vulnerable to being lured into forced prostitution in the capital or other countries in the region through false promises of work or schooling opportunities.

In Syria, some foreign migrant workers and Iraqi refugees may be trafficking victims and are susceptible to violence, abuse, and arrest by government and opposition forces. Syrian refugees are also vulnerable to trafficking in the countries to which they have fled.

Mewael is an Eritrean refugee who was forcibly taken by criminal groups in Sudan and transported to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where he was held for months and tortured by his captors, losing both of his hands. His story is not unlike thousands of other highly vulnerable migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers around the world—some of whom are trafficking victims—who have been kidnapped along the borders of countries undergoing internal conflicts.