Other Forms of Exploitation

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour or sexual exploitation is not the only existing phenomenon. Here are some other, less widely-known forms of trafficking and exploitation:

Exploitation in begging

In accordance with the EU Directive, forced begging is a form of forced labour or service under the 1930 ILO Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour no. 29. It follows that exploitation in begging falls under the definition of trafficking in human beings if means such as threat or violence or other forms of coercion are used, or if the perpetrator took advantage of the person’s particular vulnerability. In Germany there are also cases in which people are forced to beg and have to hand over all their earnings. This type of situation often affects women with young children or people with a handicap. Reports from the ground show that it is very difficult to establish a relation with these persons and to help them, especially in the case of minors.

For some time now, many specialised counselling centres working in the field of trafficking in human beings have reported cases of persons forced to beg and hand over their earnings. Begging can take different forms, such as silent begging, selling small objects at a price far exceeding their value, or offering services (e.g. windscreen cleaning).

In the field of forced begging, the experience of counselling centres shows that it is extremely difficult to identify who is being forced and is therefore being exploited, and who is “only” seeking financial support on the streets through begging due to poverty and a lack of any alternative. This field in particular faces a great risk of stigmatisation; over-hasty “labelling” of specific groups must therefore be avoided.

According to specialised counselling centres, people being taken to and picked up from the site where they beg, looking nervous when anybody tries to establish contact, being controlled or having to hand over their earnings can all be seen as evidence of forced begging. Different forms of exploitation can overlap: trafficked persons can be forced to beg and steal or to engage in prostitution as well.

Exploitation of criminal activities

Exploiting criminal activities constitutes another form of trafficking in human beings. In Germany there are known cases of people being forced to engage in credit card fraud, steal from shops or assault people withdrawing cash at ATMs. The stolen goods or money are then collected by the instigators of these acts. A technique used in Great Britain and the Netherlands is to lock up (underage) migrants, usually from Vietnam, to make them work in illegal marijuana plantations. During raids, these persons are often arrested as perpetrators and not identified as victims of trafficking in human beings.

The EU Directive on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings (2011/36/EU, recital 11) states that “exploitation of criminal activities” should be understood as the “exploitation of a person to commit, inter alia, pick-pocketing, shop-lifting, drug trafficking and other similar activities which are subject to penalties and imply financial gain.”

Since the Criminal Code reform carried out in the second half of 2016 to implement the EU Directive in Germany, the exploitation of criminal activities committed under constraint has been included in the list of offences. The explanatory memorandum is closely modelled on the Directive’s wording. In contrast to the terminology used in the Directive, the German Act does not take into account whether the specific action carried out by the victim is punished, but whether the act in itself constitutes an offence. This provision aims to cover cases involving children below the age of criminal responsibility.

In other forms of trafficking in human beings, such as sexual exploitation, it is known that perpetrators use the fact that the affected persons have violated legal requirements (e.g. provisions relating to residence permits or the Act to Combat Undeclared and Illegal Employment [Schwarzarbeitsbekämpfungsgesetz]) to put pressure on them. Perpetrators threaten to report these infringements to the police or the immigration services, which would bring about adverse consequences for the affected person. In cases in which criminal activities are exploited, pressure is considerably higher. Affected persons are afraid of freeing themselves from their situation due to the offenses they have committed. By involving victims in criminal activities, perpetrators establish a means of exerting pressure. But it is also a very lucrative form of trafficking in human beings: perpetrators collect the proceeds of the crimes while exposing the affected persons to the risk of being caught while committing the crime.

Trafficking through marriage

Trafficking through marriage is a form of trafficking in human beings whereby persons involved in marriage migration are wilfully deceived or forced through various means to marry. Their right to self-determination is severely restricted and they usually face sexual, physical and/or psychological violence.

Marriage migration is not necessarily linked to external constraint and pressure. Marriage migration simply refers to a situation whereby female migrants (counselling centres’ experiences shows that this form of trafficking in human beings primarily affects women, which is why this section will deal with women) migrate from their country to marry, or take advantage of their marriage in their home country to migrate to their spouse’s country of residence. Grinding poverty and lack of prospects in the home country are the understandable reasons that explain why women marry men from countries with a stronger economy to try and improve their own economic prospects and help their families survive. 

However, we only use the term “trafficking through marriage” when women involved in marriage migration are wilfully deceived or exploited, when they are forced to remain in a marriage through deceit, constraint or debt bondage, when their rights to self-determination are restricted or when they face sexual, physical or psychological violence. Trafficking through marriage is a form of trafficking in human beings and of exploitation even though they are not included as such in the German Criminal Code.

Regularly, women wishing to migrate are made false promises by other people, be it marriage agencies or (future) spouses, and are deliberately not (or not sufficiently) informed about their legal situation. In such cases, the actual purpose of the marriage is obviously not presented openly to the women. On arrival in Germany, the deceived women often face various forms of violence or exploitation on the part of the perpetrators and/or their husbands. 

Another characteristic of this phenomenon is that the husbands or third parties profit ‒ financially, materially or sexually ‒ from the women’s exploitation. The affected women are totally dependent on their future, alleged or actual husband or on third parties such as dubious agencies, traffickers or middle-men. Debt bondage is one possible aspect of this phenomenon: the women are expected to pay back alleged debts for arranging the marriage, for travel costs and for the visa. This puts enormous pressure on the women, making them easy targets for blackmailing and exploitation. Under the pressure caused by such debts, pressure which is purposefully used against them, the women feel obliged to comply with the often inhumane demands made on them to marry or remain married.

The distinction between trafficking through marriage and migration that is free of any constraint, deceit, exploitation or violence is anything but clear. Even women who married of their own free will can end up becoming dependent or being exploited due to their insecure residence status, their poor language skills, or poor knowledge of laws or social support options in Germany. It should also be remembered that, in view of the global wealth disparities and structural discrimination against women, a conscious decision to engage in a form of marriage migration does not always and fundamentally equate to free will.  

The concept of trafficking through marriage must be clearly distinguished from that of “forced marriage”. Forced marriage is provided for by §237 of the German Criminal Code, and refers to a situation whereby a person is forced to enter into marriage through means of coercion, which can take the form of threats or violence. (You can find more information on forced marriage on the Terre des femmes website).

Trafficking through adoption

Trafficking through adoption is another form of trafficking in human beings. It is misleadingly referred to as “child trafficking” in §236 of the German Criminal Code, which provides for it and defines it as a punishable offence.

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal

Trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal is another form of trafficking in human beings. It is described by the EU Directive as a serious violation of human dignity and physical integrity. It refers to a situation whereby organs are removed from a person against his/her will or by exploiting a predicament. There are very few known cases of trafficking in human beings for the purpose of organ removal in Germany. Globally, this form of trafficking has been the subject of very little research. Up to now, it has not been possible to collect reliable information regarding this phenomenon.

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