Human Trafficking a Global Problem, U.N. Report Says

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations - Human trafficking is a global problem and no country, developed or developing, is immune, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"Governments need to get serious about identifying the full extent of the problem so they can get serious about eliminating it.  The fact that slavery - in the form of human trafficking - still exists in the 21st Century shames us all," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in introducing the 123-page report April 24.

"The traffickers' web spans the whole planet:  people are moved from poor communities in the southern hemisphere to richer countries in the North.  There is also a lot of South-South trafficking and a sprinkling of South-bound trade," Costa said.

Each year, millions of women and children along with a smaller percentage of men are abducted or recruited from 127 countries, transported though transit regions and end up in one of 137 countries for either sexual exploitation or forced labor, according to UNODC.

"A global problem like this requires a global response," Costa said.

Costa said that it is extremely difficult to establish how many victims there are worldwide since the level of reporting varies considerably from country to country.  But the number of victims "certainly runs into millions," he added.

The report, entitled Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns, is the United Nations’ first attempt to provide a global overview of the depth and scope of the problem, chart trafficking patterns and lay out a challenge to the international community to intensify efforts to fight the problem.

It presents case studies highlighting the plight of victims and lists countries on a scale from "very low" to "very high" as points of origin, transit, and destination.  Data were provided by selected institutions dealing with trafficking between 1996 and 2003.

The report, Costa said, "having placed a few flags on the map - lets readers, and [U.N.] member states, journey from one painful spot on the globe to the next."

The UNODC said adult women are the most frequent victims followed by girls, boys and men.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation was reported more frequently than for forced labor, the report said.  In situations in which sources expressly reported exploitation of boys, that exploitation tended to be in the labor market; sexual exploitation was reported more frequently among girls.

Countries high on the list of  "origin countries" are Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Lithuania, Nigeria, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Thailand and Ukraine, according to the report.  High on the list of destinations are Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and the United States.

Some regions are predominantly destinations for trafficked victims - Western Europe, North America, Western Asia and Turkey, while the Commonwealth of Independent States is largely an origin region.  Africa, Asia, Central and South Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean are significant regions for both origin and destination, according to the report.


Methods to tackle the problem include demolishing the markets generating profits for the traffickers, addressing the demand for cheap labor and exploitative services, dealing with underlying poverty and lack of opportunities that create a willing pool of potential victims and targeting the intermediaries who have built a criminal industry as go-betweens dealing in human beings, the UNODC said.

Traffickers capitalize on weak law enforcement and poor international cooperation, the report said.  The organized criminal gangs behind human trafficking are often multinational in membership and operations.

UNODC said that relatively few trafficking cases are prosecuted successfully. Countries that have been prosecuting traffickers include:  the Netherlands (in 2003) where 117 people were prosecuted with 106 convictions; the United States (2004), with 59 prosecutions and 43 convictions; and Ukraine (2003), with 59 cases and 11 convictions.

In the United States, convictions of human traffickers have jumped 109 percent in five years, according to the Department of Justice report released March 15. (See related article.)

Costa cited three main challenges for governments:

• Reducing demand, whether for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops or for underpriced commodities produced by bonded people in farms and mines or for services provided by sex workers;

• Targeting criminals who profit from the vulnerability of people trying to escape from poverty, unemployment, hunger and oppression;

• Protecting trafficking victims, taking particular care to address the special needs of women and children.

Efforts to counter trafficking so far have been uncoordinated and inefficient, Costa said.  "The lack of systematic reporting by authorities is a real problem.  Governments need to try harder."

The United States became an official party to the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children - also known as the Palermo Protocol on December 3, 2005. (See related article.)

In addition, the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking provides a basis for diplomatic engagement with countries on the issue, and it helps promote action and national commitment to fight trafficking in persons.  (See related article.)

The full text of the U.N. report is available on the United Nations Web site, as is the UNODC press release.

For information on U.S. efforts to combat trafficking in persons, see Human Trafficking.