In 2013, the United Nations designated July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. Member States deemed this day necessary to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”

It is important we salute the fight against human trafficking. It is even more crucial, as we are reminded by Professor Jorgen Carling, we avoid political rhetoric and the mislabeling (hence misuse) of such a sensitive issue:

“By using ‘trafficking’ only when it is warranted, we can support the fight against exploitation and take a stance against opportunistic uses of a powerful word.”

1024px-Small_Flag_of_the_United_Nations_ZP.svg 2The subject of trafficking has received extensive media and political coverage lately, yet, most migration-related stories, according to Carling, had little to do with trafficking. Migrants crossing the Mediterranean to enter Europe illegally are smuggled in not trafficked. It is essential this distinction is clearly stated as lives are gravely affected. Victims of trafficking (around 21 million) are forced or deceived into forced labor, servitude or sexual exploitation. Identifying trafficking crimes and punishing them is not an easy task; hence, it cannot afford to be overshadowed. The first condition to determine and prevent real exploitative crimes is a clear appraisal of what they are. Trafficking is no exception.

There are three basic components to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. The first refers to the action of recruiting, transporting, or harboring people. The second defines the means by which this is carried out: threat or use of force, coercion, or deception. Last but not least, behind every trafficking act lies the purpose of exploitation.

When the illegal transportation of persons across borders is called trafficking instead of what it really is, i.e. smuggling, the fight against human trafficking is rendered more difficult.

This misinformed (and at times opportunistic) mislabeling can make sensational media headlines or serve certain political interests but it certainly does a huge disservice to this cause.

Attempts to mislabel flows of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. illegally through Mexico were common (as we noted last summer). It is important we remember that these illegal crossings are, for the most part, cases of smuggling and NOT trafficking.

After all, and as Carling notes, for those smuggled into Europe across the Mediterranean, “the costs and risks are high, but the vast majority of migrants receive the service that they pay for: they are brought to Europe.”

The same applies to those smuggled into the U.S. across Mexico: They receive exactly what they paid for. They are brought to the United States of America.