UN human trafficking report hails East Asia for strengthening legislation and increasing convictions

But concerns remain that many offenders still act with impunity

Opium Poppy Cultivation in South East Asia: Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand (2008) BANGKOK - Despite major advances in the response to the trafficking in persons, and the increase in convictions around the world, traffickers still act with massive impunity, according to a new global report launched by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today.

Global Report on Trafficking in Persons - This is UNODC's first comprehensive report on criminal justice statistics related to human trafficking from around the world. It provides a global picture of the data available from official statistics on trafficking in persons, and supplements this with data from international organizations and NGOs. The report highlights both progress and major information gaps in the struggle to fight this heinous crime.

The report delivers five main findings:

  1. The momentum created a decade ago by the adoption of the UN Protocol against Trafficking in Persons has led to a doubling of the number of countries since 2003 - the year when the Protocol came into effect - to implement its provisions.
  2. Convictions are increasing but impunity remains immense.
  3. Sexual exploitation is the most commonly-identified form of human trafficking. The second most reported form of human trafficking was forced labour.
  4. There are a disproportionate number of women who are recorded as offenders.
  5. Most trafficking is national or regional and is carried out by people whose nationality is the same as that of the victims.

"This report suggests that frontline law enforcement officials require greater training in how to identify and respond effectively to all types of trafficking cases. Prosecutors and judges must also be willing and ready to use the full measure of the law to throw the book at traffickers," said Mr. Gary Lewis, Representative for UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific, based in Bangkok. "Once victims of trafficking are quickly and accurately identified, they must also be protected from further harm. We also need to help criminal justice agencies in different countries to talk to each other and stop the impunity for those at the top of trafficking organization."

East Asian countries are highlighted in the report as a major source for long-distance, trans-regional trafficking. The data shows that victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour, including domestic servitude and begging. Mainly East Asian victims were found in Australia, Japan and Malaysia.

Trends indicating an increase in the number of trafficking and related offences were detected in Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Viet Nam.

However, the report also shows that 23 of the 27 countries in the Asia and Pacific region which contributed information to the report have adopted specific legislative provisions to combat trafficking in persons or at least some of its aspects. Between 2005 and 2008, 10 countries in the region introduced new anti-trafficking laws or modified old ones. This makes most of the legislation in the region recent.

The data, however, does not show - for those convicted - what was their level of involvement in any given trafficking operation. It has often been noted that law enforcement tends to target people involved in recruitment and transport, rather than the "end-exploiters" - the managers and owners of institutions into which people are trafficked. "For the worst offenders who benefit most from the trafficking crime," Mr. Lewis states "trafficking remains a highly profitable and largely risk-free business."

"This Report shows that in a remarkably short space of time, tremendous progress has been made in combating a crime which - until relatively recently - was neither widely acknowledged nor acted upon. The Report does increase our understanding of modern slave markets. But it also exposes our ignorance," said Mr. Lewis. "So,while we get the big picture, we realize also that it is impressionistic and lacks depth. If we do not increase the collection of data, and improve the information-gathering and sharing on human trafficking we will be forever fighting the problem blindfolded."

The report is the result of a massive data collection exercise carried out during 2007-2008. A first of its kind, the report reflects the state of the world's response to human trafficking containing information from 155 countries and territories during the period 2003-2007. This is the widest coverage ever recorded in terms of both data and geographical coverage for a report on trafficking in persons. It offers an unprecedented view of the scope of human trafficking and what is being done to fight it. It contains data for about 50,000 victims of trafficking as well as offenders who were detected by national authorities across the globe.