UNITED NATIONS (AN) — U.N. leaders urged an international crackdown against human trafficking on Tuesday, pointing out that most victims are women and girls and the percentage of child victims more than doubled in a dozen years.
The incidence of human trafficking is made worse by criminal exploitation of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers who fled their home country.
“Most detected victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation; victims are also trafficked for forced labor, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation and abuse," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a call to action on the U.N.'s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
The Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, said 72% of detected victims are women and girls — and the percentage of child victims more than doubled in the dozen years through 2016.
Guterres pointed to a web of factors why vulnerable people fall into the hands of traffickers.
"Armed conflict, displacement, climate change, natural disasters and poverty exacerbate the vulnerabilities and desperation that enable trafficking to flourish," the secretary-general said.
"Migrants are being targeted," he said. "Thousands of people have died at sea, in deserts and in detention centers, at the hands of traffickers and migrant smugglers plying their monstrous, merciless trades."
Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, an Italian judge who serves as the U.N. special investigator, or rapporteur, on human trafficking, said nations must make "profound changes" to reverse a rising trend exacerbated by "restrictive and xenophobic migration policies and the criminalization of migrants."
She said social inclusion is the “only and right answer” to end human trafficking, and “politicians fueling hatred, building walls, condoning the detention of children and preventing vulnerable migrants from entering their territories are working against the interests of their own countries."
Giammarinaro is one of dozens of U.N. investigators and working groups assigned by the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council to look into specific human rights themes and countries.
She urged more education and training for victims, and called on all nations to “remove obstacles hampering access to justice for victims" by giving residency to trafficked victims and ensuring they are not detained or prosecuted for crimes that occurred because they were trafficked.
“I believe that effectively including survivors in society and valuing their potential, skills and expertise can give them an opportunity to rebuild and change their lives, prevent re-trafficking and actively contribute to the dismantling of criminal networks," she said.
Fight against apathy
Human trafficking is a serious crime and grave violation of human rights that affects every nation, UNODC says. The U.N. agency oversees the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which includes additional protocols against human trafficking. It applies to crimes such as sexual exploitation, enslavement and removal of human organs.
According to UNODC's latest global report for 2018, 30% of the victims are children, and most of the victims that are detected had been trafficked for sexual exploitation.
"Human trafficking is a crime and violation that should have no place in our world. Yet 225,000 trafficking victims were detected between 2003 and 2016, and there are many, many more hidden victims who need our help," UNODC's executive director, Yury Fedotov said in his agency's call for greater action.
In 2010, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a global plan against human trafficking that appealed for more coordinated and consistent measures among nations. It sought to integrate the fight into broader development and security initiatives, and, in 2010, it created a U.N. Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
The General Assembly met in 2013 to assess how the global plan was working, and established July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”
The U.N.'s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, included calls to end human trafficking, violence against children and all violence against and exploitation of women and girls.
Last December, the 193-nation General Assembly adopted a global migration pact to set up a universal system for ensuring the humane movement of people. It also adopted a new global treaty that spreads responsibility for those helping refugees flee from war and persecution.
Both grew out of the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, in which three of 19 commitments were meant to spur action against human trafficking and migrant smuggling.
Most nations have laws to fight human trafficking, Guterres said, and some have begun to prosecute the crime in part due to the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. But more must be done, he said, to ensure victims are identified and get protection and services.
Despite some progress, he said, the world does not seem to care enough about the problem — or about the commercial self-interest that perpetuates the problem.
"Everyday indifference to abuse and exploitation around us also takes a heavy toll," said Guterres. "Indeed, from construction to food production to consumer goods, countless businesses and enterprises benefit from the misery."