Trafficking of People with Disabilities

January 13, 2017 by dccinc

“As defined under U.S federal law, human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. Victims are forced, defrauded, or coerced into trafficking. Even if victims initially offer consent, that consent is rendered meaningless by the actions of the traffickers to exploit them for labour, services, or commercial sex.”

While people with disabilities have made many strides in living more independent and inclusive lives, there are still challenges to living with a disability. One of them is a vulnerability to human trafficking. This insidious crime is actually one of the biggest money makers in the world – traffickers earn billions of dollars through trafficking people for labour and sex. Four specific reasons why some people with disabilities would be more vulnerable to being trafficked are:

  • Social powerlessness
  • Communication skill deficits
  • Diminished ability to protect oneself due to lack of instruction and/or resources
  • Inability to detect who is safe to be around

Unfortunately, this aspect of human trafficking is poorly understood and under-researched. Children in under-developed countries are perhaps the most at risk. When these children are born to impoverished parents, the parents lack the resources to support them appropriately, and they are vulnerable to traffickers who offer them money for their child. Young girls and boys are forced into prostitution and/or labour.

The common characteristics of human trafficking are controlling and limiting the victim’s movements, threatening to harm the victim or his/her family, and physically harming the victim, promises of employment or housing, controlling the victim’s finances, exorbitant travel and recruitment fees, the withholding of victim’s visas and other identifying documentation, threatening deportation. (Hidden in Plain Sight, 2010)


Traffickers generally use force, fraud, and coercion to traffick individuals. One of the strong motivators is to steal peoples’ disability pensions and other government subsidies. In fact, it is all too often that the families of the individuals are themselves involved in the crime, or a caregiver who has been hired to work with someone. An infamous case took place in the U.S. in 2009 in The United States v. Kaufman. Arlan Kaufman, a Doctor of Social Work, and Linda Kaufman, a nurse ran a facility for twenty years. During that time, they stole from their residents, forced them to perform heinous acts and exchange recorded sex acts.

There are still many countries where the kinds of support available in countries such as Canada, the U.S., the E.U. and other developed countries, are completely unaware. In these areas of the world, people with disabilities become especially vulnerable. A person with a disability may not have any recourse or support to report the abuse they have experienced. As such, their abuse goes completely unnoticed. They are therefore more vulnerable to traffickers who understand that such a person is less likely to raise the alarm over their abuse, and even if they do, it’s unlikely anything will be done about it.

In 2011 Newsline online reported “a 20-year-old disabled man Sajad Chadar was rescued by the Khairpur police as he was being kidnapped. Chadar was the victim of a gang involved in the abduction of individuals with disabilities for purposes of trafficking to Iran and other Gulf countries where they are forced into beggary.” What police found was over two hundred disabled and child trafficking victims

In her book Trafficking for Begging: Old Game, New Name author Iveta Cherneva states that in forced begging situations a handicapped child earns three times more than a healthy child. A website under the title of Conspiracy of Hope details the statistics and the facts of international human trafficking, and provides a great deal of valuable information on how persons with disabilities are taken advantage of. Author and journalist Benjamin Skinner spent four years underground as he investigated slavery and trafficking. The author stated that, to this day, he is haunted by the fact that he was offered a young girl with Down Syndrome in exchange for a used car. While difficult to read, the book is an important addition to the literature on this horrendous situation.

Another point of vulnerability is the high number of migrants in the world. People fleeing countries such as Syria are at risk for human trafficking. Migration for a person with a disability can be a frightening situation as they lack the resources and support that non-disabled people might have. However, even non-disabled migrants are at risk for human trafficking.

There is a definite need for up-to-date research on this topic especially as it relates to people with disabilities and how to provide protections and support from the insidious practice of human trafficking. Governments and organizations in developed countries need to take the initiative and develop protocols to protect people with disabilities from this crime. While it occurs in higher numbers in under-developed countries, it is happening right here in Canada, and other developed countries as well. We cannot claim to be creating a fully inclusive society if all people are not protected from this form of abuse and violence in their lives. Human trafficking continues to be a heinous crime that must be stopped.

Here is a list of important groups shedding light on this issue and helping people who have been trafficked back to safety:

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