Fewer human trafficking victims are being identified due to COVID pandemic: UN

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Fewer victims of human trafficking are being identified, a new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed, blaming the lowered levels of detection on the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a notable impact on the detection of human trafficking cases, particularly those related to sexual exploitation.

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The closure of public spaces and various restrictions may have caused traffickers to move their operations to more hidden and dangerous locations, making it more difficult for authorities to identify victims.

“We cannot allow crises to compound exploitation. The UN and the donor community need to support national authorities, most of all in developing countries, to respond to trafficking threats, and to identify and protect victims especially in states of emergency,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This latest report shows how the pandemic has increased vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons, further undercutting capacities to rescue victims and bring criminals to justice.”

There was a significant decline in the number of victims detected worldwide in 2020.

Specifically, there was an 11 percent decrease compared to the previous year. This decrease is largely attributed to fewer detections in low and medium-income countries.

The ongoing pandemic is believed to have played a role in this trend, as it has reduced the opportunities for traffickers to operate and may have also weakened law enforcement capacities to detect victims.

The number of convictions for trafficking offenses globally decreased by 27 percent in 2020 as compared to the previous year.

This decrease was particularly pronounced in certain regions, such as South Asia where there was a 56 percent decrease, Central America and the Caribbean with a 54 percent decrease, and South America with a 46 percent decrease.

The report also found that a significant number of trafficking victims, 41 percent, are “self-rescued,” meaning they escape and report to authorities on their own initiative. Meanwhile, only 28 percent are located by law enforcement and 11 percent are found by members of the community and civil society.

This trend is particularly concerning as it highlights that many victims may not identify themselves as such or may be too afraid to attempt escape.

The report also delves into the connection between war and conflict and human trafficking, highlighting how these situations offer traffickers ample opportunities to exploit vulnerable individuals. It specifically notes that the ongoing war in Ukraine has exacerbated trafficking risks for the displaced population.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were reported to have higher levels of impunity when it comes to human trafficking.

These regions have a lower rate of convictions for traffickers and detect fewer victims compared to other parts of the world. However, victims from these regions are identified in a broader range of destination countries than victims from other regions.

After examining court cases, the UNDOC report also found that female victims of human trafficking are subjected to physical or extreme violence at a rate three times higher than male victims and that children are also trafficked almost twice as often as adults.

At the same time, women who are investigated for trafficking are more likely to be convicted than men, the research found, suggesting that justice systems may discriminate against women, or that women may be assuming more prominent roles as recruiters, transporters, and managers within trafficking networks.

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