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UNODC: First Report on Human Trafficking Exposes Modern Form of Slavery

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the first global assessment on the issue of human trafficking. The report examines data from 155 countries and offers a general overview of trafficking patterns, legal steps, and country-specific information.

It shows that "after much neglect and indifference, the world is waking up to the reality of a modern form of slavery," as — since the establishment of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (December 2003) — many countries have made progress in creating national legislations and enforcement activities to combat human trafficking. "The number of countries having antitrafficking legislation more than doubled between 2003 and 2008 in response to the passage of the Protocol. In addition, 54% of responding countries have established a special anti-human trafficking police unit, and more than half have developed a national action plan to deal with this issue," the report notes. UNODC also found that the number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing, but that large regional variations prevail and that "progress against human trafficking is…essentially a product of individual national initiative."

A surprising finding in the report is related to gender roles. "The data gathered on the gender of offenders in 46 countries suggest that women play a key role as perpetrators of human trafficking," the report discovers. Thus, women can no longer only be perceived as victims, although "the over-representation of sexually exploited women is true across regions, even in countries where other forms of trafficking are routinely detected." Sexual exploitation is by far the most reported form of human trafficking.

Another outcome of the report deals with human trafficking flows, which seem to be of a more international than domestic nature, although cross-border flows do not necessarily mean long-distance flows. Furthermore, it finds that often local criminal networks select their trafficking victims, who they then sell to criminal networks based in destination countries.

The report is also critical, especially about the fact that there is still no comprehensive and internationally comparable data with regard to the scale and nature of human trafficking, which makes it impossible to sufficiently address the problem. It emphasizes that there is "a knowledge crisis about a crime that shames us all" and notes "We still lack a global understanding of the subject, and how its components interact to make the whole". This lack in data results on the one hand from differences in national legislations, in procedures, in legal systems and in the level of efficiency of data recording systems; and on the other from the inability of criminal justice systems to detect certain criminal activities. According to the report "comparing criminal justice statistics across countries is highly problematic, since it means comparing an unknown and variable mix of phenomena, including the actual prevalence of the crime, the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect it and other factors". It also leads to a statistical bias in current figures, as many forms and nature of exploitation, such as " forced or bonded labour; domestic servitude and forced marriage; organ removal; and the exploitation of children in begging, the sex trade, and warfare," remain under-reported in comparison to, for example, sexual exploitation.

To view the report, click here.

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