The Global Report on Human Trafficking was released on 7 January and paints a disturbing picture of the flourishing trade.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on January 10, 2019

The new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) collates information on human trafficking from 142 countries.

It details the “horrific dimensions” of trafficking and says the primary reason victims are trafficked is sexual exploitation, with other main drivers being forced labour and the recruitment of child soldiers. The report also found that 30% of those being trafficked are children and girls are being trafficked at a much higher rate than boys.

Among those trafficked for sexual exploitation, 94% of victims were women or girls, the report concluded.

Number of people subjected to human trafficking has increased in recent years

The numbers of people trafficked have continued to trend upwards since 2010. The Americas and Asia have seen the largest increases in reported victims, though the report notes this trend could be at least partly the result of improved reporting.

The overall number of reported trafficking victims increased around 40% between 2011-2016 but the number of countries collecting this data also expanded during this time, going from only 26 countries in 2009 to 65 in 2018.

East Asia is the most common region of origin for trafficking victims, with sub-Saharan Africa the next most common. While there have been some increases in convictions for human trafficking across these areas, the report also notes that traffickers operate with impunity elsewhere in the regions.

Refugees targeted by human traffickers

Angela Me, Chief of the UNODC’s research and trend analysis branch, said populations displaced by conflict, including refugees originating from Syria, Iraq and Rohingya (Myanmar) were particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. “In migration flows, you have a dispersion of families and then you have many children who travel alone, who definitely become more vulnerable to be trapped into exploitative situations,” Me said.

The report also outlines what an effective anti-trafficking framework looks like. Generally, countries which have created or updated legislation specifically targeting trafficking, have adopted national action plans on the issue and built up capacity to investigate and prosecute traffickers have performed better in terms of protecting people from trafficking.

The UN also suggested that classifying trafficking as one of the most severe criminal offences had flow-on effects in terms of deterring the crime.

Institutional responses to human trafficking

The response to human trafficking is an important component of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, which requires member states to monitor trafficking and provide details on the number of victims as well as their age, sex and the type of exploitation involved.

Many nations across sub-Saharan Africa and East and South Asia still do not have the capacity to collect such data. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UNODC, said the report shows “that we need to step up technical assistance and strengthen cooperation, to support all countries to protect victims and bring criminals to justice, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Information gaps on the human trafficking trade

At the launch of the report, Karin Kneissl, the Foreign Minister of Austria, agreed that more comprehensive information on human trafficking would assist in combating the problem. “Sound information and a solid base of evidence for our policies are two of the most important things to fight this disgusting crime in the most efficient way possible,” she said. “We simply need to know what it actually is we are dealing with,”.

The number of people living in slavery worldwide, including forced labour and forced marriages, has been estimated at 40 million in a report from the UN International Labor Organization and human rights group Walk Free Foundation.

Header image credit: Sanjitbankshi