Human trafficking, trafficking in persons, and modern-day slavery are umbrella terms – often used interchangeably – that refer to the exploitation of individuals through threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, and/or deception. It includes the practices of forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced marriage, sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers, among others. 

For a precise definition of the term “trafficking in persons,” please see article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Protocol or the UN TIP Protocol).

Human trafficking is often broken into two broad categories – sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  Please see below for more information on these two types of trafficking.  A detailed typology of trafficking in persons, detailing twenty-five different categories, was developed by Polaris in 2017 and can be found here

Sex Trafficking & Child Sex Trafficking


Sex trafficking is when an individual engages in a commercial sex act as a result of force, fraud or coercion. If the individual is under the age of eighteen, then any commercial sex act is considered trafficking even if there is no force, fraud or coercion.  Sexual exploitation occurs in various settings, including (but not limited to) brothels, strip clubs, massage parlors, on the street (sometimes coined “track”), or in private homes. Individuals can be trafficked domestically and across international borders. According to the ILO, 4.8 million individuals are exploited for sex, 3.8 million adults and 1 million children. Women and children are the most common victims found to be trafficked for sex.  LGBT identifying individuals, especially transgender individuals, are increasingly found to be victims of sexual exploitation. 

For More Information on Sex Trafficking:
Department of Health and Human Services: Sex Trafficking Fact Sheet 
Sex Trafficking Victim Outreach Card



Forced Labor


Forced labor is “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself of herself voluntarily.” Types of forced labor include, debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced child labor, and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. The International Labor Organization estimates that 16 million victims of forced labor work in private sector, and 4 million are in state sanctioned forced labor. 

Resources for information on forced labor: 


Debt Bondage


Debt Bondage is a type of forced labor, involving a debt that must be paid off through work.  The Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines debt bondage as “the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.”  The ILO estimates that 50% of people in forced labor in the private sector are in debt bondage.  Debt bondage is also known as peonage, debt slavery, or bonded labor.

For more information on debt bondage:


Forced Child Labor


Children older than the minimum age of work, are in forced child labor if they are working involuntarily and are under the menace of penalty.  Voluntariness is not required if the child is under the minimum age of work.  Sometimes children are forced to work on their own, other times their parents are in forced labor and they work alongside them.  Forced child labor occurs in the production of a wide-range of goods, including carpets, bricks, cocoa, cotton, rice, and garments.     

For more information on forced child labor:



Involuntary Domestic Servitude

Involuntary domestic servitude occurs when a domestic worker becomes ensnared in an exploitative situation that he or she is not free to leave. Typically occurring in private homes, the individual is forced to work for little or no pay while confined to the boundaries of their employer’s property. These workers may experience confiscation of travel documents; threats of arrest or deportation; isolation from family or any other type of support network; and subjection to psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

For more information on involuntary domestic servitude:

Unlawful Recruitment & Use of Child Soldiers


Children are recruited and used in armed conflict as combatants and in support roles.  When their recruitment or use is a result of forced, fraud, or coercion, then it amounts to trafficking.  The U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report includes a list of countries where the government or government-supported armed groups recruit and use child soldiers.  Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen were on the 2019 list.

 For more information on the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers: