Abstract – How do social determinants affect human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and what can we do about it? A systematic review

Kelsey McGregor Perry and Lindsay McEwing

Health and Human Rights 2013, 15/2


Background: The sale of women and children accounts for the greatest proportion of human trafficking globally, with Southeast Asia acting as the illegal industry’s largest international hub. At least 225,000 women and children are trafficked from the region every year, accounting for approximately one-third of the global human trade. The health ramifications of trafficking are severe: many survivors contract infectious diseases including sexually transmitted infections and develop mental health conditions, including anxiety, panic disorder, and major depression. The complications associated with studying a highly secretive illegal trade have severely limited research on effective prevention measures. Because this presents a challenge for organizations that hope to develop prevention strategies, we asked the following question: How do social determinants facilitate or mitigate trafficking of women and children in Southeast Asia, and what recommendations does the literature provide for combating trafficking via these social determinants?

Methods: Using a Cochrane-based systematic search methodology, five independent researchers reviewed 1,148 articles from the past ten years (2001–2011). After three phases of independent review, they selected and analyzed 61 articles to identify the determinants that impact trafficking of women and children in Southeast Asia.

Results: Key social determinants that facilitate trafficking include poverty, female gender, lack of policy and enforcement, age, migration, displacement and conflict, ethnicity, culture, ignorance of trafficking methods, and caste status. Conversely, protective determinants that mitigate trafficking include formal education, citizenship, maternal education, higher caste status, and birth order. Recommendations relating to a variety of the determinants are identified and discussed in detail.

Conclusions: Social determinants are central to the processes that mitigate and facilitate the sale and exploitation of women and children in Southeast Asia. Specifically, the facilitation of education and empowerment, along with the creation and enforcement of effective policies, could lessen the vulnerability of women and children to modern-day slavery.