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UN chief calls for action against human trafficking

UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

By Cecilia Ologunagba

New York, July 29, 2021

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, on Thursday urged States to take action against human trafficking, where a third of all victims are children.

Highlighting how the COVID pandemic has pushed as many as 124 million people into extreme poverty, the UN chief insisted that “many millions” had been left vulnerable to the scourge.

Half of victims in low-income countries are children, Guterres noted, just ahead of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, adding that most are trafficked for forced labour.

“Criminals everywhere are using technology to identify, control and exploit vulnerable people,” the UN chief said.

He added that children were increasingly targeted through online platforms for sexual exploitation, forced marriage and other forms of abuse.

The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is observed annually on July 30 to raise awareness about human trafficking and to promote and protect the rights of victims.

Coinciding with this year’s World Day, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has launched a campaign titled “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way.”

The global body hopes to put a spotlight on victims’ untold stories, and on their roles in the fight against trafficking through the campaign.

Guterres urged governments to take urgent steps to strengthen prevention, support victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

The steps, according to him, include implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, said “victims’ voices are key to preventing trafficking, supporting survivors, and bringing perpetrators to justice.”

She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had deepened vulnerabilities to trafficking, adding that victims’ contributions are more critical than ever.

UNODC assists countries and all stakeholders in implementing the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, and in developing victim-centred approaches.

Through the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, the agency also provides essential support to victims, and empowers them as part of the response.

Waly called on all Member States to support the fund and help amplify victims’ stories.

“Rather than being protected and assisted without discrimination as children at risk, child victims of trafficking are treated as irregular migrants.

“Or subjected to criminal prosecutions, and have their age and credibility questioned,” said UN-appointed expert on human trafficking, Siobhán Mullally.

Mullally called for action against trafficking, stating that racism, xenophobia and gender-based discrimination put the human rights of victims at risk and enabling those who carry out the illegal trade to continue with impunity.

“Instead of being identified as victims of a serious human rights violation, victims are being arrested, detained, denied assistance and protection,” he said.

He explained that such victims were even forcibly returned to countries of origin because of racial profiling and discrimination at border crossings and in criminal justice systems.

The Special Rapporteur urged all actors involved, including the private sector, to combat racism and xenophobia in law enforcement, at borders, education systems, in work places, in child protection systems, and in humanitarian and peace operations.

According to him, when gender discrimination is added to racism and xenophobia, victims suffer even more.

“Actions to combat trafficking must move beyond harmful stereotypes of ‘ideal victims’ that leave many victims and survivors without the protection and assistance they are entitled to.

“Prevention measures are also limited by racist stereotyping and xenophobia and lead to failures of identification.

“Too often the testimonies of victims are questioned and the harms and trauma they have endured are denied,” said Mullally.

He explained that failure to identify victims of trafficking leads to forced returns, arrest, detention and prosecution, family separation, and refusals of consular assistance, rather than protection and assistance.

Mullally also reminded countries that they had obligations in international human rights law to eliminate direct, indirect and structural discrimination,

He said the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation No. 38 of 2020 reiterated the obligation of States to ensure its application.

“Unless states take effective action to combat discrimination, racism and xenophobia, traffickers will continue to target minority communities, indigenous peoples, stateless persons, migrants and refugees, with impunity.

“The voices of all survivors and victims of trafficking should be brought to the fore without discrimination or exception.

“Empowerment of all survivors of trafficking in persons is critical to ensuring that the human rights of all victims of human trafficking are fulfilled without discrimination and as a matter of urgency,” Mullally said. 

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