Virtually no country immune from scourge of human trafficking – UN report

24 April 2006

Virtually every country in the world is affected by the crime of human trafficking in millions of people for sexual exploitation or forced labour, and governments must take serious steps to eliminate a scourge whose main victims are women and children, according to a new United Nations report released today.

Virtually every country in the world is affected by the crime of human trafficking in millions of people for sexual exploitation or forced labour, and governments must take serious steps to eliminate a scourge whose main victims are women and children, according to a new United Nations report released today.

“The fact that this form of slavery still exists in the 21st century shames us all,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said of the report - Trafficking In Persons: Global Patterns.

“Governments need to get serious about identifying the full extent of the problem so they can get serious about eliminating it,” he added, noting that organized criminal gangs behind the trafficking are often multi-national in their membership and operations.

The UNODC report identifies 127 countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries. It shows that global efforts to combat trafficking are being hampered by a lack of accurate data, reflecting the unwillingness of some countries to acknowledge that the problem affects them.

“It is extremely difficult to establish how many victims there are world-wide as the level of reporting varies considerably, but the number certainly runs into millions,” Mr. Costa said. “It is difficult to name a country that is not affected in some way.”

He outlined three main challenges for governments:

  • to reduce demand, whether for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops, under-priced commodities produced by bonded people in farms and mines, or services provided by sex slaves;
  • to target the criminals who profit from the vulnerability of people trying to escape from poverty, unemployment, hunger and oppression;
  • to protect trafficking victims, especially women and children.

The absence of reliable global data, such as that which UNODC compiles on the illegal drugs trade, makes it more difficult for governments and international bodies to fight trafficking effectively. “Our experience in compiling this report has been that some countries of destination have great difficulty in acknowledging the level of trafficking within and across their borders,” Mr. Costa said.

“Efforts to counter trafficking have so far been uncoordinated and inefficient. The lack of systematic reporting by authorities is a real problem. Governments need to try harder,” he added of the traffic, usually from poor countries to more affluent ones.

“Traffickers capitalize on weak law enforcement and poor international cooperation. The low rate of convictions for the perpetrators of human trafficking is a matter of serious concern which needs to be addressed.

“Protecting the victims may sound obvious, but in practice they are all too often treated as criminals who may face charges for violating immigration or anti-prostitution laws. Humane and sensitive treatment is not just a moral imperative - it also increases the likelihood that victims will overcome their understandable fear and testify against their abusers,” he declared.

The report lists countries on a scale from “very low” to “very high” as countries of origin, transit and destination.