In 2013, the ILO (International Labour Organization) reported the Middle East to be the primary destination for trafficking victims, as they calculated that there are around 600,000 forced labour victims within the region to date (13). This seemingly widespread issue of human trafficking within the Middle East has been subject to significant media coverage and global debate. There are three major elements at the centre of this debate: issues around the interpretations of the widely accepted UN’s Palermo Protocol’s definition of human trafficking, concerns in regards to the depictions of victims of human trafficking, and questions regarding what are the most effective strategies in preventing certain kinds of trafficking. As much of the media coverage, research, and policies have tended to focus on sex trafficking of women and girls within the Middle East, Mahdavi and Sargent argue in “Questioning the Discursive Construction of Trafficking and Forced Labour in the United Arab Emirates” that this has overshadowed “the instances of forced labour experienced by migrant workers outside of the sex industry” (9). Thus diverting attention away from a needed reform of the kafala system in which could have the capacity to address the issue of human trafficking and migrant rights on a broader scale (13). While the 2013 ILO report, “Tricked and Trapped: Human Trafficking in the Middle East” signifies a step forward within the discourses of human trafficking within the region (as its research is focused on those who work outside of the sex industry), Mahdavi and Sargent highlight the need for deeper understandings of the many forms that human trafficking can take as well as the need for the opportunity for victims to “contribute their own narratives to the programmatic paradigms into which they have been scripted” (8).
I. The Palermo Protocol’s Human Trafficking Definition
The adoption of the Palermo Protocol in the Middle East, authors (of the ILO report) Haroff-Tavel and Nasri argue, “the adoption of the Palermo Protocol galvanized people into action, and sparked many debates on an international level” (23). They also state that currently, “all countries of the Middle East have ratified the Palermo Protocol” (123). The protocol outlines 3 elements of trafficking – the act, the means, and the purpose – and defines human trafficking in Article 3, paragraph (a):
(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...