Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this special event of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, to launch UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2022.
This edition of the GLOTIP report comes at a time when our planet is grappling with multiple crises and their consequences.
From conflicts, instability and economic strife to climate change to the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergencies we face have dominated headlines and demanded priority.
We face a very real danger that the trafficking and exploitation of human beings will thrive while the world is distracted, even as these same crises aggravate risks of trafficking and affect trends and responses.
The GLOTIP report is published every two years, in accordance with the mandate given by the UN General Assembly to UNODC in 2010.
The 2022 report, which is the seventh of its kind, covers trafficking cases in 141 countries between 2017 and 2021, and reveals a shifting landscape and an urgent need for collective action.
For the first time in the 20 years that UNODC has collected data on trafficking in persons, we have found a decrease in the number of victims detected globally.
The number of victims detected in 2020 declined by eleven per cent compared to 2019, including a twenty per cent decrease in cross-border victims.
The number of convicted human traffickers has also declined, with a twenty-seven per cent reduction in convictions globally in 2020. In some regions, the drop-off was above fifty per cent.
These numbers tell a complex story.
It is likely true that movement restrictions connected to the pandemic impeded traffickers in some ways, closing down certain avenues for exploitation.
But the bigger picture of a world in turmoil suggests that trafficking risks went up rather than down.
People have been left poorer, less protected and more desperate, and therefore more likely to be targeted by traffickers.
Meanwhile, both human and financial resources have been severely strained, undermining the capacities of Member States to detect trafficking, assist victims, and prosecute traffickers.
In fact, the drop in victims detected was most prominent in low and middle-income countries.
Member States in some of these countries attributed the lower victim detection to the fact that law enforcement resources were absorbed by the pandemic response, leaving less resources available to address trafficking in persons.
Some forms of trafficking may have also been pushed deeper underground, or online where they can be more challenging to detect.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation, for example, has seen a twenty-four per cent reduction in cases detected.
Sexual exploitation takes place in both public and hidden locations, and as result of COVID restrictions could have shifted to more private settings such as apartments and hotels as well as online platforms, leaving it more difficult to detect.
The numbers in the report tell a story of victims suffering in the dark and in plain sight.
They tell a story of human traffickers likely going unpunished, capitalizing on catastrophe to prey on people.
And as we continue to live through global crises, many people are left more exposed than ever.
Ongoing, long-standing, and emerging conflicts and political strife are amplifying risks, most notably in Africa and the Middle East, where most conflicts are happening today.
Data in the report indicates that the majority of victims from conflict-affected countries originate in, and are trafficked to, those regions.
The conflict in Ukraine has created a refugee emergency and left millions displaced.
Recent history suggests that they are at extremely high risk: when conflict broke out in Ukraine in 2014, the share of Ukrainian victims of trafficking detected in Western and Central Europe increased fourfold by 2016.
And as climate change continues to ravage our planet, it also continues to amplify trafficking risks.
In 2021, an estimated 23.7 million people were internally displaced by weather-induced natural disasters.
In 2022, Pakistan alone saw close to 8 million people displaced after unprecedented flooding, while in Bangladesh 7.1 million people were estimated to have been displaced by climate change.
Whether escaping natural disasters or climate-induced poverty, many of those displaced are left at the mercy of human traffickers
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the most vulnerable bear the worst of the suffering.
Female victims of trafficking, who continued to account for the larger number of victims in 2020, are three times more likely to suffer violent forms of trafficking, while children are almost twice as likely as adults.
At the same time, the report reveals that more and more men and boys are being detected as victims, increasingly for forced criminality and mixed forms of exploitation.
The report also reveals a tragic fact about victims of trafficking: most of the victims identified escape exploitation and come forward on their own.
They are not found by law enforcement.
We need to do better.
Detection is crucial. We cannot help victims if we cannot see them.
Countries need to develop stronger national frameworks for the identification and protection of victims of trafficking, especially during states of emergency when detection is more difficult, and especially in low and middle-income countries where resources may be lacking.
This includes stronger vigilance against exploitation in out of sight locations as well as online, working closely with the private sector.
And a more proactive approach is sorely needed in identifying and helping victims and investigating cases.
We need to improve awareness and raise visibility of growing risks and shifting trends, and to engage communities, civil society, the private sector, and all relevant stakeholders in finding and helping those in need, and in catching those responsible.
Every victim deserves support, regardless of who they are, what they may have been forced to do, and whether they choose to participate in criminal proceedings.
Protection and assistance must be tailored to the victim’s profile and form of exploitation.
In parallel, it is necessary to ensure that the most vulnerable segments of society have access to income and basic services, and that those fleeing conflict and strife are afforded humanitarian assistance and protection.
We also need to strengthen the capacity of Member States to prosecute cases of trafficking both online and offline, and to ensure that enough resources are available for this purpose, to end impunity for traffickers.
Organized criminal groups require particular attention, as they exploit more victims, with more violence, for longer periods of time.
The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons remain crucial, and should be implemented more widely and effectively.
UNODC is supporting countries in implementing these instruments and combatting human trafficking, including through technical and legislative assistance.
Building on the findings of the GLOTIP report, our Office will strive to assist countries to restore pre-COVID capacities and improve upon them.
And we will work with relevant partners across the UN on stronger common approaches to emerging priorities, including through the Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Trafficking in Persons.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Around the globe, we face momentous challenges.
But we cannot let the cacophony of crisis drown out the voices of those who are being exploited for profit.
The GLOTIP 2022 report sheds light on the plight of victims of trafficking, and it will help Member States understand the complexity of the issue, improve responses, and strengthen prevention.
UNODC stands ready to support you, to help those who need us and to end human trafficking.