Slavery and Trafficking in Persons

Report Highlights Abuses

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Last Tuesday Pope Francis and religious leaders from a wide variety of faiths signed a declaration condemning slavery.

The event was remarkable for the number of religions represented – Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and others.

“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored,” the joint declaration stated.

Just a few days before the signing of the declaration the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

Trafficking in persons affects the majority of countries around the world. According to the report between 2010 and 2012 victims from at least 153 countries were detected in 124 countries worldwide. Victims tend to be trafficked from poor countries to more affluent ones.

Overall, at least 510 trafficking flows were detected globally. This, the report qualified, should be considered an absolute minimum as it is based on official data reported to UNODC. The figures do not include the hidden cases of trafficking and therefore, the actual number of flows is likely to be significantly higher.

The report does not give any estimate as to the total number of persons who are trafficked because, it explained, at present there is no sound estimate of the number of victims worldwide. The data in the UNODC report comes from information supplied by individual countries.

In the last few years a number of countries have passed legislation that criminalizes trafficking in persons, but the “overall criminal justice response to trafficking in persons, which has historically been very weak, has not improved,” the report stated.

In fact, between 2010 and 2012, some 40% of countries reported less than 10 convictions per year. As well, 15% of the 128 countries covered in the report did not record a single conviction.

Even when arrested and prosecuted only about one-in-four first-time suspects are convicted. Traffickers are more likely to be convicted in Western and Central Europe compared to other regions.

Trafficking can be local, regional, or it might involve longer distances UNODC explained. More than 6 in 10 of all victims were trafficked across at least one national border. Yet, in many cases it takes place between neighbouring countries.

Domestic trafficking is also common and one in three trafficking cases takes place in the victim’s country of citizenship.

While a significant number of men and boys are victims of trafficking the majority of victims are female, with girls and women accounting for 70% of trafficking victims.

Around 40% of the victims detected between 2010 and 2012 were trafficked for forced labour.  This is a broad category which includes manufacturing, cleaning, construction, catering, restaurants, domestic work and textile production.

Nevertheless, the largest number of victims, around 53% of the total, are persons subjected to sexual exploitation.

Trafficking for exploitation that is neither sexual nor forced labour is also increasing. This includes trafficking of children for armed combat, or for petty crime or forced begging. Some of these minor forms can be significant problems in some locations, but they are relatively limited from a global point of view, according to the report.

Regional variations

There are considerable regional differences with regard to forms of exploitation. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the main form detected in Europe and Central Asia, accounting for 65% of victims. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia this figure rises to 71%

In East Asia and the Pacific, the major form of trafficking is related to forced labour. In the Americas the two types are detected in near equal proportions.

Another point highlighted in the report is that since UNODC started to collect information on the age profile of detected trafficking victims, the share of children among the detected victims has been increasing. Globally, children now comprise nearly one third of all detected trafficking victims. Out of every three child victims, two are girls and one is a boy.

In Africa and the Middle East children comprise a majority of the detected victims. In Europe and Central Asia, however, children are vastly outnumbered by adults – mainly women.

We declare, said Pope Francis in his address to the religious leaders gathered in the Vatican, that “in the name of each and all of our Creeds, that modern slavery, in terms of traffic of persons, forced labor, prostitution, exploitation of organs, is a crime against humanity.”

A crime whose magnitude is made evident revealed in the UNODC report. Eliminating trafficking and slavery is certainly an urgent need, but the task ahead will not be easy.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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