A new UN report shows human trafficking is on the rise and taking on “horrific dimensions”, with sexual exploitation of victims the main driver.
Children now account for 30% of those being trafficked and far more girls are detected than boys.
The study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) draws on information from 142 countries, examining trafficking trends and patterns.
Yury Fedotov, UNODC executive director, said: “Human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions as armed groups and terrorists use it to spread fear and gain victims to offer as incentives to recruit new fighters,” citing child soldiers, forced labour and sexual slavery as examples.
While the average numbers of reported victims fluctuated during earlier years for which UNODC had data, the global trend shows a steady increase since 2010. Asia and the Americas are regions which have seen the largest increase in numbers of victims detected, which may be explained by improved methods of detecting, recording and reporting data on trafficking – or a real increase in the number of victims.
Most victims of trafficking detected outside their region of origin are from East Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa: while there is an increase in convictions for trafficking in these regions, the study concludes large areas of impunity still exist in many Asian and African countries and conviction rates for trafficking remain low.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation is most prevalent in European countries, while in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East forced labour is the main factor driving the illicit trade.
Women and girls make up most trafficking victims worldwide: almost three-quarters of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation and 35% are trafficked for forced labour.
Armed conflict the focus
The main focus of the report is on the impact of armed conflict on trafficking.
In conflict zones, where the rule of law is weak, and civilians have little protection from crime, armed groups and criminals take the opportunity to traffic people. One example in the study is girls and young women in refugee camps in the Middle East being “married off” without consent and subjected to sexual exploitation in neighbouring countries.
Addressing human trafficking is a key part of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, requiring member states to monitor progress in tackling the problem and report victims by sex, age and form of exploitation.
Significant gaps remain in the knowledge with many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and some parts of East Asia lacking capacity to record and share trafficking data.
“This report shows we need to step up technical assistance and strengthen co-operation to support all countries to protect victims and bring criminals to justice, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” Fedotov said.