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Human trafficking is first of all a complex social phenomenon. The nature of human trafficking and exploitation is closely related to the spread of poverty and segregation in the labor market, limited access of many layers of population to effective employment, education, social protection and other resources (Aronowitz, 2001).
The unfavorable situation in the labor market, limited employment opportunities also provide fertile ground for human trafficking (Table 1).
Since the late 1990s the economy began to show signs of recovery. This contributed to some reduction in unemployment and a tension in labor market, raising the average wage. However, as shown by historical experience, economic growth does not automatically lead to any poverty reduction or the elimination of exploitation and human trafficking. Thus, improvement of the socio-economic situation in many CIS countries did not result in adequate reduction of illegal migration and did not reduce the scale of the slave trade. On the contrary, economic growth, accompanied by increasing competition in business, social inequality and disintegration, was in some way a catalyst for the spread of exploitation and slavery (Salt, 2000; Batstone, 2010).
Significant gaps in key socio-economic indicators describe the current living standards in different countries, and there are several explanations for why poor people are most vulnerable to traffickers.
First, people in abject poverty and hopelessness are prone to risky forms of social behavior. This is reflected in both the labor market when choosing a job and in the implementation of other social transactions (in education, seeking medical care, housing, etc.). These models are, for example, illegal migration, informal and marginal employment (informal employment in heavy work in construction, agriculture, logging and other industries, prostitution and the types of work related to the provision of sexual services, various underground production of counterfeit goods (clothes, shoes, CDs, alcohol, etc.)). Hoping to break the vicious circle of poverty, people often consciously or unconsciously, take risks and become victims of fraud and manipulation for the purpose of exploitation, become easy prey for traffickers (Shelley, 2010).
Gradually, the risk becomes the norm for entire groups of population; the criteria of rational behavior become distorted, resulting in the so-called “consent to exploitation” or “voluntary slavery”. The boundaries of social norms widen to limits unacceptable in terms of human rights and human development.
Second, income poverty is closely linked to the so-called opportunity poverty, i.e. limited access to quality education, good employment, medicine and other resources for human development. Limited access to social resources in itself is an important factor in the marginalization and vulnerability of large groups of people for various kinds of exploitation, including human trafficking as a result (Goodey, 2008). So the lack of general education and legal illiteracy are the factors that facilitate the manipulation of these people and setting them into dependence and exploitation.
The spread of various forms of exploitation of people is also contributed by the processes like family crisis, the spread of family violence, the growth of dysfunctional families, child abandonment, alcoholism, and other factors. For example, over 10 million American children grow up in incomplete families. These are mostly single-mother families. The level of income in these families is significantly lower than in families with two working parents.
Total gender inequality, lack of equality in the family is expressed in a proliferation of domestic violence and family problems. Along with severe living conditions and housing problems, alcoholism, and the devaluation of family values (the spread of informal marriages, cohabitation, etc.) these are also the root causes of the growth of human trafficking and the vulnerability of large groups of people to various forms of criminal exploitation (Aronowitz, 2001).
The mechanisms of exploitation of people are embedded in the modern economic order. In conditions of people’s limited access to the resources of development, traffickers often use the “holes” in the official structures and services, offering people exactly what they need at the moment and what they cannot get through official channels. Thus, the elderly people are offered lifetime support and assistance, and as a result they are “sold” along with their apartment; disabled people are used for begging in exchange for “support and protection” they cannot get from the government; young women seeking a foreign partner are offered “dating services” that lead them into the hands of traffickers; people seeking ways to make money are offered help in “employment” which turns into labor slavery, etc. The services proposed by traffickers are often formed at the sites of vacuum of official social infrastructure and public services. The risk of involvement in the situation of human trafficking is particularly high where governmental support of vulnerable groups is problematic or restricted.
The analysis of root causes of human trafficking is very important both for understanding the problem and for the organization of preventive work, assistance to victims, as well as to identification and investigation of the crime. Thus, preventive work, in addition to reducing poverty, as such, should be aimed at reducing the risk of vulnerable people in the commission of various social transactions in the labor market, education, housing, etc. (Batstone, 2010). The work on assistance and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking should take into account the fact that a return to conditions of extreme poverty increases the risk of re-entering into the situation of slavery and exploitation.