Human Trafficking Policy Typologies: Making Sense of Diverging Laws in Eurasia

27 May 2020
Research Innovation

Laura A. Dean  | Director of the Human Trafficking Research Lab and Assistant Professor of Political Science, Millikin University

Human Trafficking is criminalized in most of the 193 UN Member States but countries around the world still struggle to hold traffickers accountable and to recognize and locate victims. Spurred by a variety of pressures, including the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, countries have adopted a variety of human trafficking policies.

As policies have diffused to the national level, there is significant variation around the world today regarding the scope of these laws and different policy approaches. This has resulted in human trafficking policy leaders (countries adopting policies more quickly than others) and laggards (countries that were slower to respond with policy changes) as some countries adopt more stringent approaches to trafficking.

Diffusing Human Trafficking Policy in Eurasia employs a content analysis of human trafficking policy approaches from 1998—when the first policy in the region was adopted—until 2015, and reveals how these policies have transferred from the international to national level policymaking. I use process tracing to map the legal developments in Eurasia by uncovering and locating the human trafficking policies, building a database of 135 different human trafficking policies from different blue papers, organization documents, research and newspapers obtained from archival research.

Creating a Typology of Policy Responses in Eurasia

After analysing the content of human trafficking policies in Eurasia, I created a policy typology exemplified in Table 1 to categorize human trafficking policy responses. The typology is broken down into five different categories: criminal codes, national action plans, national laws, decrees and other miscellaneous policy documents.


The second type of policy document adopted in the region is the national action plan or program. The national action plan outlines specific measures the country will undertake to combat trafficking over a specified time period. After the action period is completed, a sunset clause stipulates that the plan ceases to exist, and the country must rely on its other pieces of legislation to combat trafficking.

The first type of policy document is a change or amendment to the criminal code. A short paragraph typically establishes the illegality of human trafficking, outlining the types of human trafficking included in this article and prescribing sentencing guidelines for perpetrators. For the most part, trafficking provisions are found in the criminal or penal code, but some are also found in the administrative code and code on social services.

The third type of policy document is a national law. A national law is similar to the national action plan but lacks a temporal component, making it a more enduring policy approach to human trafficking. Trafficking laws are also more general in their content, while national action plans have concrete dates for implementation and tend to assign ministries and budgetary funds to implement the projects they prescribe.

The fourth type of policy document is a decree, regulation or decision usually given by the executive branch of government. Decrees, regulations or decisions can be on different topics related to trafficking, such as recommendations on how to fight trafficking, establishing a working group or asking the legislature to adopt a certain policy.

The fifth type of policy documents are miscellaneous policies that do not fit into any of the other typology categories. These include National Referral Mechanisms (NRM) or policies aimed at increasing cooperation and identification of victims.

Application of the Typologies to Eurasia

When policy adoptions are examined by year, a pattern of diffusion begins to emerge. The graph below displays the patterns of policy diffusion for human trafficking policies in Eurasia. In ten years, all of the countries in the region had some sort of policy related to human trafficking, and this diffusion is categorized as a policy outbreak since there was a 100% adoption rate of the criminal code.

Note: This figure displays the cumulative number of policies on human trafficking adopted in Eurasia from 1998-2015 with the four main types of policy. Once a country adopts the policy, it is counted for that country with the exception of the national action plan, which has an expiration date. Once the plan expires, it is subtracted from the total unless the country adopts another plan to replace it.

Eight countries adopted changes to the criminal code as the first policy related to human trafficking in their country, which shows that more than half of Eurasia chose to adopt criminal code changes over other types of policy. All countries in Eurasia adopted at least two different policy types with the exception of Russia, which only had one criminal code amendment. Conversely, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan had four types of human trafficking policies.

There are a number of different policy approaches taken by governments in Eurasia to combat human trafficking, and this typology will allow researchers to move beyond criminalization statues and examine the breadth of policies that are adopted to address this complex crime. This type of analysis is important because policy type can determine the politics: examining regulatory policy embodied in criminalization statutes and other human rights-based redistributive policy approaches alongside victims’ service laws can help explain the politics of human trafficking policy. Criminalization statutes were the most comprehensive type of policy adopted in the region. They are the simplest and most cost-effective mechanism to combat trafficking. On the other hand, redistributive policies that allocate resources to victims or raise awareness about the crime are more controversial because they cost money. Thus, breaking up the different policies by type reveals why one of type of policy is more prevalent than others.

These different policy documents on human trafficking demonstrate the variety of approaches countries in the region have used to combat trafficking. They also reveal that there is not just one way to combat human trafficking as well as why it is necessary to look beyond criminalization statutes—which is only one type of policy approach. Human trafficking policies around the world should go beyond basic criminalization statutes and have an inclusive approach to solving this crime.

Dr Laura Dean is Assistant Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Human Trafficking Research Lab at Millikin University. Follow her on Twitter: @proflauradean

This article has been prepared by Laura Dean as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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