To mark World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the United Nations Network on Migration calls on States to put victims and survivors at the centre of responses to this heinous crime and its related human and labour rights violations.
Trafficking in persons thrives on economic and political instability, weak rule of law, fragile institutional frameworks, fractured family and social cohesion, and all forms of gender-based violence, inequality and discrimination. Victims of trafficking often experience trauma, profound suffering and stigmatization during and after their exploitation.
In most regions of the world, migrants make up more than half of all identified trafficking victims, including, among others, 65% of victims in Western and Southern Europe and 60% in the Middle East. In many of these reported trafficking cases, traffickers took advantage of the immigration status of victims to maintain control, exploit and prevent them from escaping and/or reporting the abuses they suffered (UNODC). Migrant protection is therefore at the heart of eradicating the scourge of human trafficking.
COVID-19 has further increased the risk of exploitation due to factors including rising unemployment, lack of social protection, and the stranding of migrant workers in countries where they cannot access health and social services. The closure of schools is also amplifying the risk to children of online sexual exploitation and the worst forms of child labour (UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children). At the same time, many migrant shelters and support services halted or reduced access in line with public health measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, increasing the situation of vulnerability of migrants.
Research shows that many victims are never recognised as such throughout their trafficking ordeal, nor receive appropriate protection and assistance. Furthermore, victims and survivors’ voices are often unheard, despite being key to developing and implementing strategies, policies and measures to prevent this crime, prosecute perpetrators, rescue victims and support them on their road to recovery. Child and youth victims of trafficking can also bring their particular insights, when their contribution is sought in a child-sensitive, safe and ethical manner.
On this World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the Network recalls the commitments contained in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and the Global Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons. In line with international human rights and labour standards, these commitments aim to facilitate access of trafficked persons to justice; allow them to safely report experiences without fear of detention, deportation or penalty; and provide them with unconditional protection, assistance, and appropriate redress.
States through the GCM also committed to empower migrants to become active members of society, protect their human and labour rights, denounce violence and all forms of discrimination against migrants and to involve relevant stakeholders in the identification, referral and assistance of migrants in situations of vulnerability.
On this World Day, the UN Network on Migration reaffirms its commitment to end human trafficking and calls on States to:
Strengthen the legal framework to combat trafficking – including through ratifying and effectively implementing the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and international labour standards, notably Protocol 29 to the Forced Labour Convention.
Provide a platform to trafficking victims and survivors – empowering them to be agents of change in our societies and learning from their experience and insights to design human rights-based, victim-centred, gender- and child- sensitive and trauma-informed anti-trafficking interventions.
Enhance international, regional and local cooperation – to monitor migration routes to prevent trafficking, collaborate in cross-border investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, and to provide protection and assistance to those vulnerable to or victimised by trafficking in persons at any stage of their migration journey.
Identify, refer, and assist victims of trafficking, including in the context of international migration, in a timely manner – to protect their rights and dignity, and to foster their psychosocial recovery and social inclusion into society.
Ensure that anti-trafficking measures are in full respect for human rights – including that trafficked persons are not punished for violations of immigration laws or for the activities they are involved in as a direct consequence of being trafficked.
Implement a whole-of-society approach to address trafficking in persons –reaffirming the key role of frontline actors, especially victim and survivor-led initiatives, to inform effective responses to the needs of trafficking victims.
Enhance the availability of pathways for regular migration, including regularization of migrants who are in an irregular situation. Pathways should be based on international human and labour rights standards and give due consideration to the specific needs of women and children – to lower the risk of exploitation and human trafficking and ensure that affected migrants are able to access justice and services without fear of arrest, detention and deportation.
Adopt inclusive measures to protect trafficked persons, irrespective of their migration status, by integrating them in their national response to COVID-19 – to facilitate their access to health and social services.
Victims and survivors’ voices must be central to efforts to end trafficking in persons and exploitation. We must hear their stories, learn from their experience, and involve them in the responses to the crime, while empowering them to rebuild their lives.
In the words of Marcela Loaiza, a trafficking survivor advocating through her foundation for victim-centred responses to the crime: “We have lived through it. We are the best people to help everyone understand how it really is. The reality is terrible.”
The United Nations Network on Migration was established to ensure effective, timely and coordinated system-wide support to Member States in their implementation, follow-up and review of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. While the Network’s mandate is focused on migration, States are called to also implement these recommendations to refugees and asylum-seekers and to protect the human rights of everyone equally, regardless of migration status.
UN Network on Migration (Secretariat)