Poverty and Unemployment: Main Drivers of Human Trafficking in Brazil 

Brasilia, 16 September 2021 -  A new UNODC report on human trafficking trends in Brazil highlights how socio-economic vulnerability and the lack of decent employment opportunities are leading people into the hands of criminal networks who exploit them for profit.

The publication, “National Report on Trafficking in Persons 2017-2020”, brings together knowledge and expertise from over 70 national and international experts who are active in the anti-human trafficking field and was produced in partnership with Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

“Over 90 percent of the professionals who provided us with information concluded that poverty and unemployment are the main reasons why people become victims of this crime, especially in cases of forced labour,” says Heloisa Greco, a human trafficking expert at UNODC, Brazil, who drafted the report.  

“Precarious economic conditions and lack of job prospects can lead them to accept degrading offers, which later turn out to be exploitation. It is often the only option of survival they identify,” she adds.  

Specialists from Brazil’s law enforcement and criminal justice sectors, as well as government and non-governmental organizations, contributed to the report which includes quantitative data from 12 public institutions from the past three years.  

It is the first national report since the enactment of Brazil’s 2016 law on human trafficking that expanded the legally recognized definition of the crime beyond sexual exploitation to include forced labour, servitude, illegal adoption and trafficking for the purpose of the organ removal.  

“This law was a major step forward because it’s aligned with the UN’s Trafficking in Persons Protocol, which Brazil ratified in 2004, and is based on the three main areas of this treaty - prevention, prosecution, and protection of the victims,” says Heloisa Greco.  

The report also analyses the vulnerability of migrants, in particular from Venezuela, to human trafficking and examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased socio-economic vulnerabilities. These new risk factors have exposed victims to further exploitation, abuse, and violence, while restrictions in movement have prevented activities that can result in the detection of cases of human trafficking,” Ms. Greco adds. 

Collected data shows that while women and girls predominate in cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation, men represent the majority of victims of forced labour, which was the most identified form of trafficking within Brazil during the reporting period of 2017 to 2020.  

Based on the feedback from the anti-human trafficking experts who were interviewed for the report, forced labour occurs mostly in the agricultural sector.

“It is important to note that the trafficking of transgender women was often mentioned by the contributors to our report,” says Ms. Greco. “However, this group does not appear in official data as there is no disaggregated information for gender identity.”

According to the report, criminals who traffic people for sexual exploitation are increasingly using internet and smart phone applications to entice and exploit their victims.

João Chaves, a Federal Public Defender who contributed to the report, says in recent years “there has been great improvement in Brazil in the prevention of trafficking in persons”, adding this is largely due to the support of international organizations like UNODC and the International Organization for Migration.

“In my opinion, the main need now is to strengthen our capacity to detect and assist victims of human trafficking, and with regards to the migrant population, there is a considerable lack of structure to prevent trafficking, especially in border regions,” he adds.

Further information:

The Brazil National Report on Trafficking in Persons:  Data from 2017 to 2020 results from UNODC’s partnership with Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security and was supported by the Government of Sweden. The full report is available in Portuguese. The Informative summary is available here in Portuguese and here in English.


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