The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on trafficking in persons and the responses to the challenges

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected countries and people globally; it has also exacerbated existing disadvantages, poverty and vulnerabilities. The initial measures to contain the health crisis have not always considered those most vulnerable and affected by violence and exploitation. This report seeks to bring to the forefront the challenges for anti-trafficking during the pandemic and share promising practices and lessons learned in order to prepare for a more inclusive crisis-response in the future, leaving no one behind.

In particular, the report explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on (1) the scale and characteristics of trafficking in persons; (2) victims of trafficking; and (3) frontline organizations (law enforcement, prosecution services, the judiciary and the protection and reintegration services provided by non-government organizations (NGOs)). The report also examines the different initiatives developed in response to the challenges created by COVID-19 and identifies promising practices.

Effects of the covid-19 pandemic on trafficking in persons

The report identifies that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, trafficking in persons went even further underground, making any reliable estimates of the scale of trafficking in persons more difficult. However, in some regions and countries domestic trafficking has reportedly increased, especially local recruitment and exploitation. Loss of livelihoods and restrictions on movement have led to traffickers recruiting victims in their local areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created larger pools of vulnerable persons who, due to their worsened economic situation, were recruited for labor or sexual exploitation in their local area. Women, children and migrants have been identified by survey and interview participants as particularly vulnerable to recruitment and exploitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls have been recruited, often locally or online, for sexual exploitation, especially in private apartments. Children have been particularly affected -- out of school and needing to support parents who have lost their livelihoods, children have been increasingly targeted by traffickers at the local level and online. They have been trafficked for sexual purposes, forced marriage, forced begging and for forced criminality. There is clear evidence of increased demand for child sexual exploitation materials (CSEM), which has exacerbated the exploitation of children around the world. Migrants have been affected by the pandemic in a number of ways -- many have lost their employment in the destination country and have been unable to return to their home. Some of them ended up in an irregular status in destination countries after being unable to renew their residence and/or work permits. Others have been forced to stay in inadequate accommodation with limited COVID-19 safety measures in place. The families of migrants have also suffered through the loss of much needed remittances. Survey and interview respondents highlighted the plight, in particular, of migrant domestic workers who have been confined to private homes and exploited by abusive employers.