ZOE protects the identity and dignity of children and does not show trafficked children.

How does Australia's definition of
human trafficking compare with the United Nations?


"Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat, use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or 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."

Source: International Labour Organization & United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


"Human trafficking is the physical movement of people across and within borders through deceptive means, force or coercion. The people who commit human trafficking offences are motivated by the continuing exploitation of their victims once they reach their destination country."

Source: Australian Federal Police

The difference between the two definitions is the emphasis on movement

Australia requires movement across and within borders

The United States Government recommended in their global 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, that Australia "ensure the statutory definition of trafficking under the criminal code does not require movement of the victim as an element of the crime".

The United States, have enacted domestic child trafficking legislation under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA, 106-386) that defines domestic minor sex trafficking  as the:

"recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of U.S. minors for the purposes of a commercial sexual act."

In Australia, the term 'modern slavery' is often used to include; trafficking in persons, slavery, slavery-like practices and the worst forms of child labour.  

Did you know?

In 2022, the Attorney-General's Department initiated a Targeted Review of the sections* within the Australian Criminal Code that pertain to the definition of human trafficking.

ZOE made a submission as part of this review voicing our concern about the restrictive nature of the law in Australia.

*Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 are under review.

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Human Trafficking Definition:

(a) "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; 

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used; 

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) "Child" shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also know as the Palermo Protocol) is the internationally accepted definition of human trafficking.  The Protocol was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 November 2000. Australia signed the Protocol on 11 December 2002.


Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery. Globally, the number of people living in modern slavery is on the rise. It is estimated that right now there are approximately 50 million people in modern slavery.

Modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery like practices, and human trafficking. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts.
To make this set of complex legal concepts measurable, the Global Estimates focus on two key forms of modern slavery: forced labour and forced marriage.

Of the estimated 50 million people enslaved today:

  • 27.6 million are in forced labour
  • 22 million are in forced marriages

Children account for 25% of all people in Modern Slavery.


Estimated number of children in forced labour: 3.3 million.    Estimated number of children in forced marriage: 9 million.

"The tragedy of children subjected to forced labour demands special urgency... And because of data constraints... these numbers, may well be just the tip of the iceberg."  



The definition of trafficking consists of three main elements:

  • The act of trafficking, which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.
  • The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability.
  • The purpose of  trafficking  is always exploitation.

Source: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/faqs.html


Children are highly dependent on others to care for their basic needs,
making childhood one of the most vulnerable times of life.

The purpose of trafficking is always exploitation.
Children are exploited in two main ways:

1. Forced marriage.    2. Forced labour. 

Half of the children in forced labour are in commercial sexual exploitation.


There are several factors that can increase a child’s vulnerability.  These include:

  • Individual factors
  • Family factors
  • Social and economic factors
  • Demand factors


The International Labour Organization states, "modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world, and cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious lines. More than half (52 per cent) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages can be found in upper-middle-income or high-income countries."

 Global Estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage.

Victims of trafficking can suffer devastating physical and psychological harm due to language barriers, lack of knowledge about services, and the frequency with which traffickers move victims, law enforcement and service providers face significant challenges in helping victims and bringing traffickers to justice.


In Australia, there are approximately four undetected victims of human trafficking for every one victim detected. It is estimated that the number of human trafficking and slavery victims in Australia in 2015–16 and 2016–17 was between 1,300 and 1,900. 

However, according to estimates by the Global Slavery Index, on any given day in 2021, there were 41,000 individuals living in modern slavery in Australia.

Australia, a prevalence of 1.6 victims of modern slavery for every thousand people in the country. Due to the hidden nature of exploitation, quantifying the extent of victimisation in Australia presents many challenges

According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report :

  • Human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in every state and territory in Australia. Traffickers primarily exploit women and men in forced labor, and to a lesser extent, women and girls in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit a small number of children, primarily teenage Australian and foreign girls, in sex trafficking within the country.
  • The Government of Australia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Australia remained in Tier 1. Efforts included more than doubling funding for victim protection services; updating, adopting, and funding a new five-year national action plan; and creating a publicly available registry of annual modern slavery statements from more than 250 businesses on their efforts to reduce the risk of forced labour in their supply chains. 
  • Australia’s trafficking convictions remain low in comparison to the number of trafficking cases identified and sentences appear very lenient considering the overall scope of the crime.
  • The government did not adequately screen vulnerable groups traffickers may target, including domestic workers, international students, and migrant workers.

Australian Institute of Criminology, Estimating the dark figure of human trafficking and slavery victimisation in Australia, 2019
Global Slavery Index (2023), Country Studies: Australia, Retrieved from: Minderoo Foundation. Global Slavery Index. Accessed from https://www.walkfree.org/global-slavery-index/country-studies/australia/
Australian Red Cross, Support for Trafficked People program, 2019, https://www.redcross.org.au/getmedia/7a957782-a7a1-4b25-97c0-86930dbf0f53/ARC-Support-For-Trafficked-People-Program-Data-Snapshot-2009-to-2019-small.pdf.aspx
United States of America Department of State, 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Australia, https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-trafficking-in-persons-report/australia/

Australia’s key legislation:

  • Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. The right to freedom from slavery and forced labour is contained in Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  • Australia’s Commonwealth Criminal Code Act was introduced in1995. Division 270 of the Criminal Code criminalises offences relating to slavery, which is defined in accordance with the 1926 Slavery Convention. Division 271 of the Criminal Code criminalises human trafficking into, from, or within Australia, and contains specific offences for domestic trafficking, child trafficking and organ trafficking.
  • Division 272 and 273 criminalises sexual offences against children outside of Australia and criminalises child abuse material outside Australia.
  • The Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2018, requiring entities based, or operating, in Australia, which have an annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million, to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and actions to address those risks. Other entities based, or operating, in Australia may report voluntarily.
  • The Passports Legislation Amendment Bill (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) 2017 was introduced to amend legislation relating to passports and criminal law.
  • The Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced in 2019 to strengthen the Commonwealth framework of offences relating to child sexual abuse and forced marriage. The bill removes references to ‘child pornography’ and replaces them with ‘Child Abuse Material’, which is the correct legal term.

Australian Government, Attorney General’s Department, Right to freedom from slavery and forced labour, https://www.ag.gov.au/rights-and-protections/human-rights-and-anti-discrimination/human-rights-scrutiny/public-sector-guidance-sheets/right-freedom-slavery-and-forced-labour
Ibid, above
Australian Government, Federal Register of Legislation, Criminal Code Act 1995, https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2012C00776
Australian Government, Federal Register of Legislation, Modern Slavery act 2018. https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2018A00153
Australian Government, Federal Register of Legislation, Passport Legislation Amendment Act, https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2017A00073
Australian Parliament House, Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_LEGislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r6376


Since the criminalisation of human trafficking and slavery in Australia, until 30 June 2023, there have been two cases prosectuted, involving children who were trafficked into Australia. When it comes to the specific offence of ‘domestic trafficking of children,’ there has been one recorded conviction of child trafficking within Australian borders. 

While the United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of individuals for the purpose of exploitation, Australia's definition of human trafficking specifically requires the physical movement of individuals across borders or within the country for the purpose of exploitation. 

The Australian National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery uses the umbrella term ‘modern slavery’ to describe all human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offences in Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (Criminal Code). These offences include trafficking in persons, slavery, servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting for labour or services, debt bondage, and forced marriage.

Modern slavery is also used to describe the worst forms of child labour, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the exploitation of children for illegal activities such as drug trafficking.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children:

  • Twenty-one reports of trafficking in children were referred to the AFP in the financial year ended 30 June 2022 
  • 14 per cent of the people referred to the Support for Trafficked People Program (STPP) between 2017 and 2020 were children, however, the form of exploitation is not specified. 

Australian Federal Police (2023), Australian Federal Police, 2022, Reports of Human Trafficking and Slavery to AFP reach new high. Retrieved from: https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/reports-human-trafficking-and-slavery-afp-reach-new-high
Global Slavery Index (2023), Country Studies: Australia, Retrieved from: Minderoo Foundation https://www.walkfree.org/global-slavery-index/country-studies/australia/
Commonwealth of Australia (2020), The National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020–25, https://www.ag.gov.au/crime/publications/national-action-plan-combat-modern-slavery-2020-25



Forced marriage is where someone is married without freely and fully consenting to the marriage because of threats, deception or coercion, or the individual is incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony, or the individual is under the age of 16 years.  
Learn more about forced marriage.  Get 
free and confidential legal assistance from My Blue Sky.

Commonwealth of Australia (2020), The National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020–25, https://www.ag.gov.au/crime/publications/national-action-plan-combat-modern-slavery-2020-25


According to End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), sexual exploitation of children has become a global problem.

"In 2017, almost 800 registered child sex offenders travelled overseas from Australia. About half went to Southeast Asian destinations"

Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2013 to 2018.

In simple terms, sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT) is when someone travels with the primary purpose of paying for sex at the intended destination. Both adult sex tourism and SECTT exist. The former involves consenting adults, and often prostitution, whether or not legal in the country in question. It usually involves an organised element, such as specialised tours, and recognised red-light districts. 

“There's most certainly deep concern among countries in our region about the number of registered child sex offenders in Australia engaging in the child sex tourism industry.”

Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2013 to 2018.

Demand for sex with children:

  • Australia was one of the first countries to criminalise child sex tourism in 1994. In 2010, Parliament passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment for Sexual Offences against Children Bill, which added new and amended existing provisions related to child sex tourism in the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act. Australia has set a high bar by criminalising even acts preceding the actual commission of sexual offences, targeting both predatory and situational or opportunistic offenders.Additionally, these laws apply to corporate bodies and do not require double criminality in order to apply.However, the enforcement of these laws is hampered by challenges associated with extraterritorial investigations and a lack of adequate policing resources. The legislation is still regarded as one of the more comprehensive responses to child sex tourism in the world.
  • Increase efforts to train police, immigration officials, and other front-line officers, both offshore and onshore, to recognize indicators of trafficking and respond to suspected cases of both sex and labor trafficking. • Establish the National Labour Hire Registration Scheme with sufficient compliance tools. • Increase training for prosecutors and judges on Australian trafficking laws.
  • In September 2019, the government enacted new amendments to combat further child sex trafficking within Australia, overseas, and online, and initiated prosecutions for the new offence of possessing child sex abuse material sourced by a communications carriage service.
  • The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism among its citizens. It did so by continuing to publish materials for passport applicants outlining the application of Australian child sex trafficking laws to Australians overseas.
  • The government cancelled 180 passports and denied 20 to registered child sex offenders during the reporting period (88 cancelled and 2,028 denied during the last reporting period, the first year these authorities were implemented) and provided 347 notifications to foreign law enforcement regarding traveling Australian child sex offenders (723 notifications last reporting period). The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex within Australia.
  • As reported over the last five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in every state and territory in Australia. Traffickers primarily exploit women and men in forced labour, and to a lesser extent, women and girls in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit a small number of children, primarily teenage Australian and foreign girls, in sex trafficking within the country.
  • Traffickers hold some foreign women—and sometimes girls—in captivity, subject them to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulate them through illegal drugs, and force them to pay off unexpected or inflated debts. Traffickers attempt to evade authorities by allowing victims to carry their passports while in brothels and frequently move the victims to different locations to prevent them from establishing relationships with civil society or other victims.


Global Statistics:

  • 49.6 million human beings are enslaved in the world today:
    • There are 27.6 million people in situations of forced labour on any given day
      • There are 3.5 people in forced labour for every thousand people in the world. 
    • Women and girls make up 11.8 million of the total in forced labour
    • More than 3.3 million of all those in forced labour are children
  • No region of the world is spared from forced labour:
    • Asia and the Pacific: 15.1 million (more than half of the global total)
    • Europe and Central Asia: 4.1 million
    • Africa: 3.8 million
    • The Americas:3.6 million
    • Arab States 0.9 million
  • Children make up 25% of all modern slavery victims
  • Children are trafficked for many reasons, including forced labour, commercial sexual exploitation and recruitment as child soldiers and beggars
  • After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing

International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation, Geneva, 2017
International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage.
The worst forms of Child Labour, ILO, https://www.ilo.org/ipec/Campaignandadvocacy/Youthinaction/C182-Youth-orientated/worstforms/lang--en/index.htm
United States Department of Health and Human Services, Human Trafficking Factsheet file:///Users/hudsongordon/Downloads/23329.pdf

Online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) or cybersex trafficking in Australia:

  • The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE, pronounced ‘ACE’) was announced by the Australian Government in March 2018 in response to the increasing number and severity of reports of child exploitation received by Australian law enforcement
  • In 2020, the ACCCE Child Protection Triage Unit received more than 21,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation. Each report contains images and videos of children being sexually assaulted or exploited for the sexual gratification of online child sex offenders. The AFP charged a total of 191 people with 1847 alleged child abuse-related offences in 2020. In the past 12 months alone,  ACCCE has intercepted and examined more than 250,000 child abuse material files
  • 256 Australians spent 1.3 million dollars live streaming sexual abuse online live from the Philippines, over 13 years. Some Australians paid less than $49 to watch children being sexually abused live online
  • There are Australian forums active right now with over 100,000 members and global sites with over a million visitors, all of whom believe they can offend with impunity. 
  • Australian offenders are involved in producing material and also travelling to impoverished places to exploit vulnerable children.
  • Over a decade ago, the AFP received about 300 referrals for online child exploitation material a year. In 2019, the AFP had just under 17,000.
  • The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) compiled the data in a landmark study of criminal behaviour online and found the majority of the Australians paying for what has been dubbed "webcam child sex tourism" were aged in their 50s and 60s.

ACCCE and AFP, Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, Overview, https://www.accce.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-05/20210406_ACCCE%20Overview_A4_v1.1_0.pdf
ACCCE, ACCCE Statistics 2020, https://www.accce.gov.au/resources/research-and-statistics/2020statistics
Ibid, page 1, ABC News
Australian Federal Police, 2020, Countering Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse - National Press Club, https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/national-speeches/countering-child-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-national-press-club
Ibid, page 3, AFP
ABC News, 256 Australians spend more than $1.3million watching child sexual abuse online, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-19/australians-paying-to-watch-child-sex-abuse-online/11979844

Online Child Sex Abuse networks:

AFP, 2021, Operation Arkstone Update: Additional 152 charges laid against Sydney man, https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/operation-arkstone-update-additional-152-charges-laid-against-sydney-man

Child Labour:

  • Child labour has increased globally for the first time in years. The latest global estimates indicate that 160 million children – 63 million girls and 97 million boys – were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost one in ten of all children worldwide. Seventy-nine million children – nearly half of all those in child labour – were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development

ILO and UNICEF, Child Labour: Global Estimates 2020 trends and the way forward, 2021, file:///Users/hudsongordon/Downloads/Child-Labour-Report_ILO_UNICEF_2021.pdf

Asia and the Pacific:

  • 62% of all modern slavery victims are located in Asia and the Pacific. For forced labour specifically, the prevalence is highest in Asia and the Pacific, where four out of every 1,000 people were victims

Ibid, ILO and Walk Free Foundation

Global Slavery Index:

  • Australia is a G20 country that imports $12 billion US of products at risk of modern slavery. The top 5 at-risk products include electronics (laptops, computers, mobile phones), garments, fish, cocoa and sugarcane.
  • The Global Slavery Index (GSI) reports that G20 countries need to take action to stop sourcing goods & services at risk of being produced by forced labour.
  • The 2018 GSI focused on the significant role that economically-developed countries have in perpetuating modern slavery, particularly through their supply chains: “All countries are affected by modern slavery and therefore all have a responsibility to bring an end to this scourge”. 
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