1904 International Agreement on Trafficking in Women and Girls

May 21, 2022

May 18, 1904:
International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic 1904 (Arrangement international en vue d’assurer une protection efficace contre Ie trafic criminel connu sous Ie nom de “Traite des Blanches” 1904) was adopted in Paris on May 18, 1904. It is the first trafficking convention.

Adopted in Paris in 1904

Background to the Convention

In 1880 it was discovered that about 50 minors from Belgium and other countries, mainly England, had been trafficked into servitude and forced to work in houses of ill repute in Brussels. The case became known as the Affaire de la traite des blanches (the white slave traffic case). It was triggered by the trafficking of Louisa Hennessey, a fatherless girl who worked as a domestic servant in London. She was misled by the traffickers with the promise of a more lucrative job as a receptionist in a hotel in France. The traffickers discovered that she was a virgin. But they still wished to use her. Fifteen people were convicted. The case became a major scandal when it was discovered that the real perpetrators were members of the Brussels police force. The mayor of Brussels and the chief of police were forced to resign.

By 1893 large numbers of women and girls had been trafficked across international frontiers. Women and girls were kidnapped. Sometimes they were trafficked with threats and violence, but often with promises of domestic work with a nice family or as a governess for the children of a good family. The traffic was often organised by international crime syndicates.

In 1924 an undercover US police officer visited Europe. When he visited Lisbon, an American woman told him that if she tried to escape, the owner would only have to inform the police, which would bring her back immediately:

“You don’t know Lisbon! A girl in a house here has a hard time to get away. If I had money enough to leave and she (the owner) wanted me to stay, all she would do is to tell one of the police and he would arrest me”. Source League of Nations Archives, Lisbon, 28‑29 January 1925, p. 10).

In Constantinople (known as Istanbul since 1930) in the Republic of Turkey, he discovered that the police themselves were the traffickers.