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Human Trafficking: A Brief Glossary of Legal Terms

July 24, 2018
Faramarz Davar
5 min read
Human Trafficking: A Brief Glossary of Legal Terms

For a better understanding of the technical and legal terms with regards to aspects of human trafficking that have been discussed in IranWire’s series on the issue, the following glossary should be helpful. 


Trafficking: trade or transit of anything through international borders that is forbidden by law.

Human Trafficking: the illegal entrance, departure or relocation of human beings through international borders, with the aim to force, abuse, torture or harm the victims. Trafficking is a crime that can be committed locally, nationally or globally.

Immigrant Trafficking: the illegal entrance, departure or relocation of human beings through international borders, with their consent.

Childr Trafficking: illegal trade or transit of human beings under the age of 18 inside a nation territory or through international borders. In such cases, the consent of victims does not matter.

The Distinction between Human, Immigrant, and Child Trafficking:

The distinction is in the element of consent. In the case of children, it does not matter if the child has consented or not, or if the human trafficker was violent or not; either way, the relocation of human beings under the age of 18 with any ill intent is considered to be a human trafficking crime, which is regarded as an international organized crime.

In the case of immigrants, the only important factor is the illegal relocation of the victim/client. In such cases, the victim/client has given consent and the criminal act is complete as soon as the victim/client sets foot in the destination country. In contrast, in the case of human trafficking, after reaching the destination, new criminal activities are set into motion in order to exploit the victim/client.

Human Trafficking as a Crime Against Humanity: the enslavement, rape, or force of individuals into sex slavery and prostitution, or any other form of sexual exploitation, that has been executed in an organized manner against civilians, or in some cases, even against military personnel, is considered to be human trafficking — which is a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity can be committed by individuals, a group of individuals, and/or private or state organizations.  

International Organized Crime or Transnational Organized Crime: refers to criminal acts recognized by international conventions, which are committed by international organized groups inside the territory of more than one country in order to gain profit.

International Organized Group: refers to a group that consists of more than two members that commit crimes recognized by international doctrines as international crimes.

International Borders: refers to where the territory and sovereignty of a country ends, either on the ground, in the air or in open waters. This measure determines a country’s territory and its separation from other neighboring countries.

The Elements of Crime: in order for a behavior to be considered a crime, specific criminal elements should be identifiable. Besides the unique elements of each crime, all criminal acts share common elements, which are known as the “Common Elements of Crime.” The elements are the legal element (the crime being defined), the physical element (the criminal act) and the mental element (the criminal intent).

The Legal Element of Crime: an act can be considered a crime only if it is defined and recognized as such in the law books — for example, human trafficking.

The Physical Element of Crime: the committing of an act (or the lack thereof) leads to the advent of the “Legal Element of Crime.” The physical element in the crime of human trafficking is the employment, relocation, hiding or transference of victims for exploitation, with the use of intimidation, coercion or any other forms of force, such as kidnapping, deception, and abuse of position or power.

The Mental Element of Crime: this refers to committing a criminal act with complete awareness and free will, and under no coercion or deception. In other words, the individual’s knowledge of an act being criminal is the “Mental Element of a Crime.” The criminal and ill intent of the person who commits the crime is the constituent factor of the mental element.

The Criminal Intent: in the case of human trafficking, the criminal intent is the mal-intent of the human trafficker against the victims, and is done by relocating and exploiting the victims or facilitating such acts.

The Criminal Outcome: In the case of human trafficking, this includes sexual exploitation, coerced prostitution, or any other form of the coercive act, organ harvest, enslavement, and forced marriage of victims.   

Agreement: a mutual or multilateral binding legal document between states. This is a generic term for various documents regarding a nation’s transnational legal obligations. Examples of international documents or agreements include: Covenants, Pacts, Treaties and Conventions. The most honored document with respect to a nation's transnational legal obligations is a covenant, followed by a convention and then a treaty. 

Convention: a series of documents agreed on and signed by states with the aim of creating new laws and regulations at the national and international level.

Declaration: a document in which two or more nations take a stance on specific issues. A declaration is not a binding document.

Protocol: a supplementary document added to an existing document that creates new rights and obligations for the signatory members.

Signed Document: when a document is signed by a state but is not yet ratified in the national parliament. A document at this stage is not binding until the parliament ratifies it. However, although not binding, governments cannot act contrarily to the document that they have signed.

Accession: after the document is signed, it will be proposed in the form of a bill to the national parliament for the ratification process. After the ratification process (for example, in Iran, ratification requires the approval of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Guardian Council; and in the USA, the approval of both Houses is required), the state is officially bound to the signed document — which is now considered as the law of land.

Binding Document: a document signed by states with the aim to act upon or prevent a specific issue. The violation of the document, or the failure to meet the obligations, would result in international consequences and punishments against the violating nation.   



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