Human trafficking is a horrific crime and “a total assault on the rights, safety and dignity of people”, Secretary-General António Guterres said Friday, on the eve of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
“Tragically, it’s also a growing problem – especially for women and girls, who make up the majority of detected trafficking victims globally.”
Separated and vulnerable
Conflict, forced displacement, climate change, inequality and poverty have left tens of millions of people around the world destitute, isolated and vulnerable.
And the COVID-19 pandemic has separated children and young people in general from their friends and peers, pushing them to spend more time alone and online.
“Human traffickers take advantage of these vulnerabilities, using sophisticated technology to identify, track, control and exploit victims,” the UN chief explained.
Traffic in cyberspace
Often using the so-called “dark web”, online platforms allow criminals to recruit people with false promises.
And technology anonymously authorizes dangerous and degrading content that fuels human traffickingincluding the sexual exploitation of children.
This year’s theme – Use and Abuse of Technology – reminds everyone that while it can enable human trafficking, technology can also be a vital tool in combating it.
The Secretary-General stressed the need for governments, businesses and civil society to invest in policies, laws and technological solutions capable of identifying and supporting victims, locating and punishing perpetrators and guaranteeing a safe, open and secure Internet.
“As part of the 2023 Future Summit, I proposed a Global Digital Compact to rally the world around the need to bring good governance to the digital space,” he said, calling on everyone to “give this issue attention and action”. she deserves and works to put an end once and for all to the scourge of human trafficking”.
In her message of the day, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, spoke more about the theme.
Acknowledging that digital technology has been “a vital lifeline” during pandemic restrictions, she warned that it is “increasingly being exploited by criminals”.
The borderless nature of information and communication technology (ICT) allows traffickers to extend their reach and profits with even greater impunity.
More than 60% of known victims of human trafficking over the past 15 years are women and girls, most of whom have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
And as conflict and crisis increase misery, countless more people risk falling victim to false promises of opportunity, jobs and a better life.
Secure online spaces
To protect people, digital spaces must be protected from criminal abuse by harnessing technologies for good.
“Partnerships with technology companies and the private sector can prevent traffickers from preying on vulnerable people and stop the circulation of online content that amplifies the suffering of trafficked persons,” said Ms Waly.
With the proper support, law enforcement can use artificial intelligence, data mining, and other tools to detect and investigate trafficking networks.
“On this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, let us commit to preventing online exploitation and promoting the power of technology to better protect children, women and men, and support victims,” he said. she concluded.
Trafficking in Conflicts
A UN-appointed group of independent human rights experts have stressed that the international community must “strengthen prevention and accountability for human trafficking in conflict situations.”
Women and girls, especially those who are displaced, are disproportionately affected by human trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced and early marriage, forced labor and domestic servitude.
“These operating risks, arising in times of crisis, are not new. They are linked and stem from existing structural inequalities, often based on intersectional identities, gender-based discrimination and violence, racism, poverty and weaknesses in child protection systems,” the experts said. .
Refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons and stateless persons are particularly vulnerable to attacks and abductions which lead to trafficking.
And the dangers are heightened by continued restrictions on protection and assistance, limited resettlement and family reunification, inadequate labor guarantees and restrictive migration policies.
“These structural inequalities are exacerbated in the periods before, during and after conflicts, and disproportionately affect children,” they added.
Despite the links between the activities of armed groups and human trafficking – particularly targeting children – accountability “remains weak and prevention is weak”, according to UN experts.
Child trafficking – of which schools are often targeted – is “linked to grave violations committed against children in situations of armed conflict, including recruitment and use, abduction and sexual violence”, they said. .
“Sexual violence against children persists and often leads to trafficking for sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced marriage, as well as forced labor and domestic servitude.”
While girls are more often victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, boys are not immune to the scourge.
Gender stereotypes and discrimination can lead to men and boys not being identified as victims, leaving them without assistance or protection.
“Men and boys may face additional barriers to disclosing experiences of exploitation, particularly sexual exploitation,” they said, stressing the need to recognize that discriminatory attitudes and violence, based on orientation and gender identity, increase the risk of not receiving assistance or protection.
Experts also pointed out that in conflict situations, organ harvesting trafficking is another concern, as well as the inability of law enforcement to regulate and control the finances of armed groups and other traffickers – at least national and cross-border level.
“We have seen what can be achieved through coordinated action and political will to prevent trafficking in conflict situations,” they said, advocating for international protection, family reunification and expanding opportunities for resettlement and planned relocation.
Special rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, to examine and report on a specific human rights theme or country situation. The posts are honorary and the experts are not remunerated for their work.
Click here for the names of the experts.
Protection services are “seriously lacking”
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned on Friday that protection services for refugees and migrants making perilous journeys from the Sahel and the Horn of Africa to North Africa and the Europe, including survivors of human trafficking, are “seriously lacking”.
Its recently published report maps the protection services available to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants traveling along these routes.
It also highlights protection gaps in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Somalia and Sudan – particularly in terms of accommodation, identification of survivors and responses to gender-based violence and trafficking. .
“I am appalled by the abuses faced by refugees and migrants as they travel through the Sahel, East and Horn of Africa to North Africa, and sometimes to Europe,” said said the UNHCR special envoy for the situation in the central and western Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel. . “Too many lives have been lost or shattered on these roads.”