South Asia: UNIFEM and UNODC determined to strengthen cooperation against human trafficking

Human trafficking threatens human security and human development of any country. It has an economic angle as the majority of women who are trafficked are economically vulnerable. It has a health angle, as trafficked women and children are most at risk of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. It is also a social and a gender problem, as unequal power relations in society makes them more vulnerable to human trafficking. Lastly, it is a serious legal-judicial issue, as its victims are stripped of their human rights and lack any access to redress for the crimes committed against them.

In South Asia, human trafficking is often referred to as one of the fastest growing transnational organized crimes. Poverty, conflict, poor gender sensitive service delivery mechanisms contribute to trafficking in persons. Many girls and women are being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation being forced into unprotected sexual acts with multiple partners, and this is a significant factor in the spread of HIV. These growing problems in South Asia have been recognized universally and states in general have committed to strengthen their responses including legal framework and initiatives to jointly fight this crime effectively.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) views trafficking of women as an act of violence against women and views trafficking as a severe form of violation of human rights. Through close partnerships, the organization helps establish protective laws and national action plans, and put in place mechanisms for prevention of trafficking. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) response to human trafficking is underpinned by the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, especially Women And Children, which defines the trafficking of human beings, as a serious crime and a form of transnational organized crime. In the light of the Protocol and its provisions, UNODC promotes an integrated approach by focussing on prevention, protection and prosecution aspects. As victims of human trafficking are vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS, UNODC also advocates for and promotes HIV and AIDS prevention and care as critical components of its mission, vision and goals.

Under the vision of increased joint UN cooperation, UNIFEM and UNODC have committed themselves to address these realities collaboratively by thinking, planning and implementing programmes together. By collaborating each other's expertise, mandate areas and common priority interventions, they will address development challenges like human trafficking and HIV and AIDS strategically rather than opting for a standalone intervention. By working together in a more coherent and coordinated way, UNIFEM and UNODC aim at enhancing the quality and impact of its programmes.

To further this, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on 9 July 2009 between UNIFEM and UNODC with regard to the South Asian countries of Bangladesh Bhutan, India Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The signing of the MoU by Ms. Anne F. Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UNIFEM and Ms. Cristina Albertin, Regional UNODC Representative for South Asia, was a step ahead for a collaborative UN response to fighting trafficking in persons.