Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour to be with you today to launch the latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, one of the most important publications produced by UNODC.
At the outset I would like to thank Ambassador Cortese, Chair of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, for hosting this event.
Italy has long been a champion of UNODC and we are proud to support your Chairmanship of the Commission. We also look forward to cooperating with you during Italy’s G20 presidency, including on the Riyadh initiative to establish a network of anti-corruption authorities with UNODC as its Secretariat.
Trafficking in persons is a vicious crime that inflicts unimaginable suffering on its victims. In every country and every region, women, children, and men continue to be trafficked, abused and exploited.
The great majority of these victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour. Others are forced to marry, beg or commit crimes, while still more victims are trafficked for organ removal, to serve as child soldiers, or are sold for illegal adoption.
The Global Report paints a picture of urgency, leaving it clearer than ever that we require concerted, collective action to stop those who exploit our most difficult circumstances for profit.
The report reveals to us that poverty and inequality leave people dangerously at risk of trafficking. More than half of the cases analyzed were characterized by victims who were in economic need or whose families lived in extreme poverty, and 10 percent involved people marginalized as a result of their migration status.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to widen disparities in our societies and deepen economic woes, it leaves conditions ripe for traffickers to further exploit and abuse.
Up to 124 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, a number that could rise to as many as 163 million this year, according to World Bank projections. Unemployment levels continue to climb and disproportionately affect women.
We must redouble our efforts to seriously and effectively address poverty and systemic inequalities with sustainable, inclusive responses. Those we leave behind are those we surrender to traffickers.
Most alarmingly, traffickers are preying upon children more than ever before, particularly in low-income countries where the need to cope with poverty places children at elevated risk.
One in every three detected victims of trafficking around the world is a child. This share has tripled in the past 15 years, with children accounting for half of all detected victims in low-income countries.
The greater percentage of those children who fall victim to trafficking in low-income countries are coerced into forced labour.
Education has often served as a shelter from crime and exploitation for children and youth, but even that shelter is being eaten away by the pandemic, with millions of young people having experienced school closures, among them 11 million girls who may never return to education.
As hope in their futures erodes, these youth are more likely to find their circumstances placing them at the mercy of traffickers.
Sexual exploitation persists as the most prevalent motive for trafficking, with fifty percent of all detected victims being trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Women and girls are the ones most likely to be subjected to this horror, accounting for over ninety percent of those victims.
At the same time, the Global Report reveals that more than one-third of all detected victims are now being trafficked for forced labour, a trend worthy of our attention. This development is connected to poor and deteriorating labour rights and conditions, factors that will only be compounded by the harsh realities of the pandemic.
More must be done to ensure the integrity of supply chains, to eliminate conditions conducive to trafficking and hold perpetrators accountable, particularly in those sectors and industries that are most afflicted by trafficking and exploitation such as domestic work, fishery and agriculture.
The Report also highlights how traffickers are making greater use of technology to enable and facilitate the abuse they inflict on their victims, and to maximize their revenues in the process.
The number of cases involving the use of the internet is on the rise, as traffickers increasingly resort to social media and classified online advertisements for recruitment.
Technology has also facilitated the abuse of victims in greater numbers and by more people via the use of webcams and online platforms, and child sexual abuse material is being circulated online.
The misuse of these technologies by traffickers has to end. We must develop the capacities to uncover illicit markets and gather digital forensic evidence in an effective, legal, and human rights-compliant manner, leveraging strong public-private partnerships to ensure that the internet does not offer means or safe havens for those who victimize the vulnerable and abuse children.
The Global Report and its findings represent a powerful tool to combat an abhorrent crime. They also represent a cry for help from those who need it most in these difficult times, and a call to action to do everything in our power to end their exploitation.
Our responses to trafficking in persons must be adapted to new developments and realities. They must also be fully integrated into coherent and comprehensive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Office is committed to working with all of you to develop effective action, building on people-centred and human-rights based approaches in line with the new UNODC strategy.
Through our global programmes and network of field offices, we continue to support countries in combating human trafficking and related crimes.
In 2020, and despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, UNODC successfully delivered relevant technical assistance in 83 countries, training more than 2,500 people in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking and the protection of victims, with the aim of achieving swift, tangible impact on the ground.
A successful example was Bosnia-Herzegovina, where officials who participated in UNODC training succeeded in uncovering a child-trafficking network, leading to conviction of the perpetrators.
UNODC also supported INTERPOL’s global operation Turquesa Two, which led to more than 200 arrests and the rescue of more than 100 human trafficking victims.
This year, we have already worked with more than 10 countries in revising legal and operational frameworks. Results of these efforts include a new anti-trafficking law in Ethiopia and a new anti-trafficking action plan in Pakistan.
In these challenging times, we remain your committed partners in standing up to those who seek to profit from suffering and misfortune.
Together, we must be unwavering in delivering a unified message to traffickers: human beings are not for sale, exploitation is not a business model, and our children are not commodities.