World Facts

The Worst Countries For Human Trafficking

These countries made the Tier 3 List of the US State Dept.'s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons in 2017.

To many around the world, the term "slave" is a word of the past, as the idea of selling and buying humans is rightfully a practice left behind in the malicious annals of time. The reality of the situation is that human trafficking is still one of the most lucrative criminal industries today, raking in an estimated 32 million dollars per year. It is not only confined to developing countries - even within the United States, there are around 15,000 people trafficked each year.

The U.S. Department of State periodically releases a report outlining their ranking system of three tiers, which are based off of a given country's agreement and compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The TVPA was created by the U.S. Department of State to combat and educate people and governments about human trafficking, This act not only works within American borders, but also across international ones as well. It is important because it monitors human trafficking on a global scale, and provides more resources to combat human trafficking at all levels. The act requires the U.S. government to not engage in any contracts with those countries which are found in significant violation of the TVPA. The countries that are listed here are all found in the "3rd tier" under the aforementioned act.

To be a Tier 1 country in regards to the TVPA, a country must be in compliance with the minimum standards of the of the TVPA, with evidence of their compliance readily available. Tier 2 includes countries that are not yet fulfilling their obligations for the minimum TVPA standards, but are actively trying to get there. The Second Tier also has a subsection called the "Tier 2 Watch List". This is inclusive of countries that claim they are trying to comply with the TVPA standards, but the evidence seen within their countries is to the contrary. Facts and data are what puts the countries in their respective designated sections, and this is an important part of the TVPA. It allows the U.S. Department of State to distinguish which countries are just saying they want to change, and which countries actually are. This information also helps to mitigate the sharing and use of resources to combat human trafficking, and as useful foreign relations tools all around.

In this article, we will focused on "3rd Tier" countries, and their distribution across the world. In the case of most of those countries, their governments do not, and have not, made any significant attempts to comply with the TVPA. The human trafficking situation in these countries, as we will explore below, is dire, and the common link between a lot of them is poverty at the lower levels of societal structure, matched with unstable and corrupt political situations at the highest.

What Creates Circumstances Conducive for Human Trafficking?

The countries currently on the TVPA-designated Tier 3 List are actively not complying with the minimum standards of the TVPA, and have high numbers of human trafficking incidences. All of the countries on the list are considered developing countries, though this should not be taken to mean that developed countries do not have cases of human trafficking. It is just that in developed countries the government is more likely to be seen actively trying to stop human trafficking, and putting money and effort into such operations.

Many of these countries have gone threw unstable governments over the last couple years, if not even longer. Such can be seen in the cases of South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and others. It is also difficult to get reliable, accessible data from some of these countries, because they are very closed off and have a state-run media, such as in the case of North Korea and, to a less extreme degree, in Belarus. Even when dealing with the fairly developed nation of Russia, it is difficult to get actual data regarding the number of human trafficking victims. Some of these countries listed on the Tier 3 have corrupt governments who have turned a blind eye, or, even worse, the governments themselves are directly involved in, and profiteering from, the human trafficking trade. Tier 3 countries will be those with the presence of one or more of the three components of human trafficking. Looking at the primary component of human trafficking prevailing in each country, they are typically classified as either a "source" (where victims are taken from), "transit" (where victims are moved through), or "destination" (where victims are ultimately sold and resettled) country.

North Africa

Algeria is a primarily a transit country because of its prime geographical location for smugglers from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East to get into Europe. It is also a destination country for human trafficking victims, primarily for the purpose of forced labor and prostitution.

Libya also is a major transit country. Libya has been for years experiencing civil unrest and violence, both of which are making it relatively easy for smugglers to get through Libyan borders unhindered. Without a strong Libyan Government, it is almost impossible to combat human trafficking and to enforce anti-human trafficking laws.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The Sub-Saharan countries that made the list all have similar socioeconomic commonalities. Namely, each have large impoverished populations, weak governments, and a great deal of civil violence and unrest. Sub-Saharan countries are major source and destination countries alike, especially for children and women. South Sudan has corrupt government officials that are actively involved in the prostitution of trafficking victims and forced labor. A lot of the victims in South Sudan, apart from the South Sudanese themselves, are from Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Congo.

South Sudan is especially vulnerable to exploitation because of the violence that had been occurring for years, creating large displaced and orphaned populations in turn, both of whom are groups particularly susceptible to human trafficking. In many cases, operations are not carried out by wide-spread human trafficking cartels, but instead by local, family-run businesses.

Middle East

Traffickers in the Middle East target men, women, and children alike. Both source and destination countries are found here, and in some cases transit countries as well, as is the case with Kuwait. Trafficking victims are subjected to forced labor or sexual exploitation in the Middle East. In many cases in the Middle East, citizens from poorer, nearby countries willingly go to Kuwait or Yemen for normal work under misleading pretences, but then see their rights stripped away before they are forced into servitude. Kuwait is notable for lacking official laws which explicitly state that human trafficking is illega.

Iran also has people willingly coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan to work who are then are forced into unpaid labor. Yemen is a big source country, especially of young boys, who are forced into street vending, begging, and forced labor for the benefit of others, and many of these are sexually exploited as well.

Yemen is a major destination country for girls coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of Yemeni human trafficking victims come across the border with Saudi Arabia. Syria is a large destination country for traffickers coming from Iraq, and these are mostly children used for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The political and civil unrest in Syria, and the fact that is still lacks a strong central government, makes it a prime country for smugglers to work within, as they are often able to move about unimpeded and undetected.


Thailand is one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. It is primarily a destination country, though it is also a source and transit one as well. A reason why it is so well entrenched in practice in Thailand, and even seemingly unstoppable there, is that the government there is plagued with corruption, and some officials are even actively involved in the trade. One excuse is that cops are paid so poorly that they are easily bribed. Human trafficking victims in Thailand are inclusive of men, women, and children alike, all of whom are used for forced labor and sexual exploitation.

The Marshall Islands is also a large destination portal for victims as so many fishing boats dock there. The Marshall Islands, in particular, has put little to no effort into providing useful data about victims to anti-human trafficking organizations, and does not contribute anything significant to the international dialogue surrounding Human Trafficking. It is difficult to battle something you do not have a clear picture of, which is the case with many of the countries in Tier 3.

North Korea is almost exclusively a source country for human trafficking. People are so vulnerable and desperate because of poverty and hunger that they easily fall prey to human traffickers. There is also evidence that the government is involved in trafficking their own people. The government sends workers to China or Siberia for forced manual labor, and all of this money goes to the government.

Europe and Eurasia

Belarus is often called the last dictatorship in Europe. It is a source and transit country, with estimates being that Belarussians are trafficked to around 30 countries. There are also people who willingly go to work in Russia, who then have their passports are taken away. Physical violence is used if there is any resistance to the work given. This is a problem occurring in many countries across all continents, a practice of abusing people without regard for their desperation for a better life and a little economic security.

Russia is also a big transit country, being a bridge between Europe and Asia, as well as a source and destination country. Human trafficking victims in Russia seem to be primarily used for forced labor, including construction trades and begging for others. Women and children are also sexually exploited all over Russia. There is a lot of trafficking within Russia of their own citizens, with girls from rural areas going to the city for sales jobs and ending up in forced prostitution. As in Belarus and other countries, it is very difficult to get clear data from the Russian government surrounding human trafficking therein. There is also proof that the Russian government is aware of, and possibly even promotes, human trafficking by making deals with neighboring North Korea and Belarus to acquire cheap labor.

Can We Stop Human Trafficking?

The major commonality among these countries is poverty and violence. These socioeconomic factors create situations where people are willing to be illegally trafficked because they are desperate for a better life. There would be fewer people willing to do such malicious jobs if the countries they lived in had more economic opportunities to offer, as well as better monitoring and law enforcement practices that would make their arrest, prosecution, and punishment for trafficking more probable. Violence and civil unrest creates vulnerable populations of people, and these also contribute to the large-scale problems seen in many of the countries on the Tier 3 list. The lack of transparency from governments in getting data is also a major problem, as without proper data it is difficult to gauge and address the situation appropriately.

In many of these countries as well, racism is unfortunately very strong, and many citizens, and even the government, do not see anything wrong with certain ethnicities being exploited. A strong government, education, and economic and social security seems to be the most effective way to combat human trafficking for both the victims and the perpetrators. There needs to be enough opportunities for people so that they will not be so desperate as to willingly place themselves, or even more concerningly, their children, in situations where they are likely to end up being trafficked.

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