Unemployment and cuts in public spending increase risk of human trafficking, says UN expert

In situations of economic crisis, such as that experienced by Brazil, the high unemployment rate and cuts in investments in public services aggravate the risk of vulnerable populations being victims of trafficking in persons. Eurídice Márquez, a specialist at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), conducted the assessment. During a visit to Rio de Janeiro for an international seminar on human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, she pointed out on Tuesday (19) the need to combat these violations by guaranteeing rights.

"The challenge is to prevent crime, to try to prevent people from falling into the hands of trafficking," said Euridice, who highlighted education, health and, above all, work, as important areas of action for prevention initiatives.

"We have seen that in situations like that in Brazil and other countries in crisis, it can increase (human trafficking) because they increase people's vulnerabilities. There is more unemployment, less public services and less investment in public services", she explained.

Eurídice, who is a UNODC Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention Officer, came to Brazil for a meeting concluded on Wednesday (20) in Rio de Janeiro, which brought together around 150 specialists, government managers, legal professionals and representatives of civil society. The meeting was organized with the support of the European Union, in partnership with the federal government, UNODC, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The aim of the initiative was to enrich the national debate on the subject, addressing the adoption by Brazil of a new regulatory framework on trafficking in persons - Law 13.344/2016.

The legislation has broadened the concept of human trafficking, formerly classified as an activity solely for the purpose of sexual exploitation. With the directive adopted last year, cases of trafficking in persons are considered to be cases in which victims are brought into situations of work analogous to slavery or any form of servitude; have their organs or tissues removed, or go through illicit processes of international adoption.

Astério Pereira dos Santos, secretário nacional de Justiça e Cidadania, do Ministério da Justiça. Foto: UNIC Rio/Pedro Andrade

"What we need now is, above all, to make the population aware of this reality," declared the National Secretary of Justice and Citizenship, Astério Pereira dos Santos. "The challenge is also to seek partnerships with other countries," he added, also emphasizing the transnational nature of trafficking in persons.

Also regarding on the new law, Eurídice stressed that the measure aligns Brazil with the international standards defended by the UN to deal with human trafficking. This is positive not only in the domestic scenario but also in cooperation among the country and other nations since the adoption of standard global parameters favors joint action against crime.

Lack of data

Also attended the event the General Coordinator of Social Protection for Youth and Adolescents of the Ministry of Social and Agrarian Development, Alline Birol, who criticized the lack of accurate data on the victims of human trafficking in Brazil. Among the causes are the underreporting of crime and the lack of common variables for entities collecting information on crimes.

In Brazil, institutions in the victim support, social protection, criminal justice and other sectors compile the statistics, but there is no standardization of statistical collection or a mechanism that can coherently unify the data.

The result shows disparate scenarios and figures - Health, Human Rights and Social Protection agencies, for example, tend to register many more cases of trafficking associated with sexual exploitation, while legal entities identify more episodes linked to slave labor.

According to Alline, with the currently available data, it is not possible to trace a profile of the victim of trafficking consistent with reality and that accurately reflects proportions of age, gender and human rights violations associated with the transportation and displacement of the trafficked person. In addition, there is not a reliable total number of how many Brazilians are victims of this crime per year.

"Even if it is an underreported crime, if when situations come to the system, I do not know how to register or I can not register because the system does not offer me the necessary variables to do so, I can not know the phenomenon", the coordinator deplores.

Erica Kaefer, IOM's Project Assistant, also warned of what she called a "bottleneck" in statistics, a difficulty faced by different organizations that provide assistance to victims and groups susceptible to trafficking and smuggling. The expert points out that the new Brazilian law is quite complete, but "lack of data is something that hinders the implementation of public policies" to combat crime.

Global Context

Over the last 12 years, UNODC has catalogued traffic incidents involving some 200,000 victims. The most recent analysis of the cases catalogued by the UN body in 2014 revealed that in 85 countries, 51% of the victims are women aged 18 years or over. Twenty percent are girls and adolescents up to the age of 17, and 8% are underage boys. Men 18 years of age or older accounted for 21% of all victims.

According to the UN Office survey, gender differences are also associated with the type of exploitation to which the victims are subjected. With data from 71 countries, UNODC estimated that, among women, 72% of victims were sexually exploited, while 85.7% of men were placed in forced labor contexts.

We thank our UN Online Volunteer, Juliana Nogueira, for her contribution to the translation of this article.  Juliana is an online volunteer mobilised through www.onlinevolunteering.org

(Photo Credit: UNIC Rio/Pedro Andrade)

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