Why Modern Slavery is Not to Be Ignored

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently released the annual Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, a report first launched in February 2009 as part of the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT). The report provides an overview of the status of human trafficking, including the different forms, statistics concerning both perpetrators and victims, support offered to victims, and legal steps to be taken to reduce this crime. Additionally, the Global Report presents an overview of human trafficking trends in individual nations. This addresses the number of persons indicted, prosecuted, or convicted for trafficking, by gender and citizenship, and the legal standing of each country in relation to human trafficking.

The 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons reports globally observed trends based on data obtained from 2010 to 2012 by local official figures (some underreporting is highly probable due to the inability of these officials to track all crimes of this kind):

  • Although most human trafficking is contained in intraregional flows, in which the origin and destination countries are within the same region or subregion, some transregional trafficking is also observed. These transregional trafficking flows are more prevalent in the wealthier countries of the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America, where victims of trafficking are most often from the “global south”. (p. 7)
  • Only one in three cases of trafficking occur domestically, but convicted traffickers are usually citizens of the country in which they have been convicted, unlike victims, who are often transported across borders. (p. 8)
  • There has been a global increase in human trafficking for purposes other than sexual exploitation. These include trafficking for forced labor as well as child trafficking for armed combat, petty crime, or forced begging. Europe and Central Asia has seen a majority of trafficking for sexual exploitation while trafficking for forced labor is the most common form in East Asia and the Pacific. The Americas have seen an equal proportion of both forms. (p. 9)
  • Women are significantly involved in the crime of human trafficking, both as offenders and as victims. They comprise 30% of the offenders, compared to the 10-15% they occupy in other crime areas, and represent approximately half of the total victims. (p.10)
  • Child trafficking is also on the rise, with children counting for 1/3 of all detected victims (p.11)
  • Many countries are not under the protection of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, first introduced in 2003. 90% of all countries covered by the UNODC have implemented criminalizing legislations regarding human trafficking after the Protocol, but the number of convicted traffickers has not seen a significant increase, implying difficulties in implementation (p.13)
  • Human trafficking can be highly organized, as the traffic of victims across national borders to more affluent countries represents a high risk of law enforcement detection and increased costs. For this reason, organized crime in human trafficking is more prevalent and broader in scope in large trans-regional operations. (p.14)

 Case Analysis: Human Trafficking in Brazil

Human trafficking was a critical concern this past summer with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil expected 8321844602_5d1ea63f93_oto bring about significant increases in trafficking rates, particularly in the form of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation. This concern emerged in part due to past estimations of increased trafficking in South Africa and Germany, despite the lack of concrete evidence to show any such increase after the World Cup of 2010 and 2006, respectively. Brazil’s existing history of sexual exploitation incidences, however, makes these estimations somewhat more plausible, and making the possibility of increased trafficking during the 2014 World Cup a reasonable cause of worry.

The 2014 report presents data collected from 2010-2012. There is a decrease in convicted traffickers over this period, with the number of men indicted for trafficking and related offences dropping to 25 in 2012 from 116 in 2010 (the number for women remains somewhat constant). The number of persons prosecuted also decreases from a total of 74 in 2010 to only 11 in 2012. Of the persons convicted, about two-thirds are of Brazilian origin, with the remaining third of varying origins. Among the victims, about 3,000 per year that had been trafficked for purposes of forced labor, while the number of those trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation was between 59 in 2010 and 145 in 2012, showing an increase that may or may not be statistically significant.

The Brazilian legislation with regards to human trafficking shows a clear attempt to better the current situation: national and international trafficking for sexual exploitation is criminalized in Article 231 of the criminal code. Trafficking for forced labor is also addressed in the code (Article 149), but is not criminalized, perhaps explaining the higher numbers observed of this particular form of trafficking. Brazil stands out in particular in its attempts to combat human trafficking in the implementation of the Brazilian National Action Plan. The plan, meant to run from 2012 to 2015, reflects the Brazilian government’s hopes to prevent human trafficking as well as implement efficient prosecution and support services for the many victims of trafficking.

When examining the statistics, it is important to keep in mind the many factors that may affect the numbers, possibly giving a distorted view of reality. Firstly, the numbers reported address the number of persons indicted, convicted, or prosecuted, thus automatically excluding those traffickers that were never stopped by the law. This, of course, is inevitable, as legal institutions are the primary resources for data in crime analysis. Secondly, increased awareness of the crime has ambiguous effects on the data. By making the general public more aware, it can lead to an increased in the reporting of human trafficking throughout the country, causing an increase in numbers. However, increased awareness has also led to an increase in legal steps to prevent and prosecute traffickers. This is likely to have made those traffickers involved in organized crime significantly more careful in their operations, making it more difficult for the government to indict them.

Human trafficking today deserves increased attention, as many incidents are going unnoticed. This lack of awareness has made national governments worldwide unable to effectively gather criminal data or implement criminalizing policies in an efficient way. Unless more global attention is directed towards this issue, the human trafficking phenomenon will claim an increasing number of victims, and the perpetrators will go unpunished.