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Global Report on Trafficking in Persons - 2020

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Victims are targeted when they are vulnerable and the COVID-19 economic recession will result in more people at risk of trafficking

Female victims continue to be particularly affected by trafficking in persons. In 2018, for every 10 victims detected globally, about five were adult women and two were girls. About one third of the overall detected victims were children, both girls (19 per cent) and boys (15 per cent), while 20 per cent were adult men.
Traffickers target victims who are marginalized or in difficult circumstances. Undocumented migrants and people who are in desperate need of employment are also vulnerable, particularly to trafficking for forced labour.
Criminals trafficking children target victims from extremely poor households, dysfunctional families or those who are abandoned with no parental care. In low-income countries, children make up half of the victims detected and are mainly trafficked for forced labour (46 per cent).
In higher income countries, children are trafficked mainly for sexual exploitation, forced criminality or begging.
As with previous economic crises, the sharp increase in unemployment rates brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase trafficking in persons, particularly from countries experiencing the fastest and most persistent drops in employment. Job seekers from these countries are likely to be more willing to take high risks in the hope of improving their opportunities.
The most vulnerable groups, even in wealthy nations, are those suffering the most during the Pandemic Recession.
Evidence suggests low earners have been hit the hardest by spiking unemployment. As unemployment rates rise, increasing numbers are likely to be trafficked from the poorest communities to those parts of the world recovering faster.

Child trafficking emerges from communities in extreme poverty

Children account for about one third of the detected victims of trafficking. Trafficking of children, however, disproportionally affects low-income countries, where it is linked to the broader phenomenon of child labour.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, children have been trafficked to work on plantations, in mines and quarries, on farms, as vendors in markets and on the streets. In South Asia, children as young as 12 have been trafficked to work in brick kilns, hotels, the garment industry and in agriculture. Child trafficking for forced labour has also been reported on South American plantations.
Broad cultural acceptance of child labour can serve as a fertile ground for traffickers. It is easier to exploit youngsters when people are accustomed to sending their children to work away from home. In such settings, child trafficking victims may be hidden in plain sight.
The detection of child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation is largely concentrated in Central America and the Caribbean, and East Asia.
In higher income countries, child trafficking is generally less detected and typically takes the characteristics of sexual exploitation. In high-income countries in Europe or North America, children trafficked for forced labour constitutes roughly 1 per cent of total victims detected.
Most child victims globally are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

In addition to sexual exploitation (72 per cent of girl victims) and forced labour (66 per cent of boys), children are exploited for begging and forced criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, among other crimes. Traffickers in these cases often leverage difficult family backgrounds, trying to create a sense of belonging for the victim. Case summaries and literature show that parents and siblings may also be directly involved in child trafficking.

Migration status can be used against victims

Trafficking victims who do not have permission to work or stay in the country of exploitation face an extra layer of vulnerability. The fear of being exposed as an irregular migrant can be a powerful tool for traffickers, who typically threaten to file reports with the authorities and can more easily keep victims under exploitative conditions.
Migrants make up a significant share of the detected victims in most global regions: 65 per cent in Western and Southern Europe, 60 per cent in the Middle East, 55 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific, 50 per cent in Central and South-Eastern Europe, and 25 per cent in North America.
Even labour migrants who have the right to work can be vulnerable to exploitation. For instance, because they are unaware of their labour rights.

Traffickers exploit victims in a variety of forms and infiltrate the globalized legal economy by exploiting victims in many economic sectors

Overall, 50 per cent of detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation and 38 per cent for forced labour, while 6 per cent were subjected to forced criminal activity and more than one per cent to begging. Smaller numbers were trafficked for forced marriages, organ removals and other purposes. Victims of trafficking for forced labour are exploited across a range of economic sectors, including agriculture, construction, fishing industry, mining, street trading and domestic servitude.
Although patterns of trafficking for forced labour vary across economic sectors, one aspect is true for all sectors: it is generally the result of a deterioration of labour rights, such as lower salaries, longer working hours, reduced protections and informal employment. Also, it is mainly a cross-border phenomenon, especially in high-income countries – dozens of court cases involving hundreds of victims of trafficking for forced labour analysed by UNODC overwhelmingly involved a cross-border element.
Victims were taken from their countries in much larger proportion than for any other form of trafficking.

The gender and age of forced labour trafficking victims, along with the geographical distribution, can be explained by the sector involved. More adult men are detected on large construction sites or in the fishing industry. Conversely, where forced labour revolves around domestic servitude, women and girls predominate.

Female victims trafficked for domestic servitude suffer extreme harm. ’Invisibility’ of some sectors helps to hide trafficking for forced labour

Among the different forms of trafficking for forced labour, trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude is a global phenomenon as it is detected in all regions of the world. Victims of trafficking for domestic servitude are exposed to multiple forms of exploitation and violence, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse that is rarely seen in other forms of trafficking, analysis of court case summaries and literature suggests. Victims of this type of trafficking are usually women. The nature main at sea for long periods, meaning crewmembers can be isolated for years. According to court cases summaries, hundreds of victims can be exploited in a single instance of trafficking in the fishing industry.

Organized criminal groups traffic more victims and tend to use more violence than small scale traffickers

Actors engaged in trafficking range from organized criminal groups – well-structured groups operating as business enterprises, seeking territorial control – to individuals operating on their own or in small groups on an opportunistic basis.
When organized criminal groups are involved, many more victims are trafficked, often for longer periods, across wider distances and with more violence. However, a higher number of court cases analysed by UNODC reported of single traffickers than those involving organized crime groups.
One group specialized in trafficking for sexual exploitation across Central America and North America, for example, operated for more than a decade before being dismantled.
These well-organized groups are typically involved in other crimes. West African groups trafficking victims to Europe, for example, systematically engage in drug trafficking, money laundering, financial fraud and other transnational crimes, as reported by national authorities. of the work often segregates them from wider society and they often work and live with the perpetrators of exploitation, making them particularly vulnerable.
Besides domestic servitude, sea fishing, agriculture and mining are among the sectors of the economy where exploitation and trafficking have been well documented, and they are also occupations where workers can be isolated. Abuses are less easy to detect and punish in situations with no labour inspections or law enforcement control.
For example, workers on fishing boats operating in distant waters are particularly at risk. Fishing vessels can remain at sea for long periods, meaning crewmembers can be isolated for years. According to court cases summaries, hundreds of victims can be exploited in a single instance of trafficking in the fishing industry.

Organized criminal groups traffic more victims and tend to use more violence than small scale traffickers

Actors engaged in trafficking range from organized criminal groups – well-structured groups operating as business enterprises, seeking territorial control – to individuals operating on their own or in small groups on an opportunistic basis.
When organized criminal groups are involved, many more victims are trafficked, often for longer periods, across wider distances and with more violence. However, a higher number of court cases analysed by UNODC reported of single traffickers than those involving organized crime groups.
One group specialized in trafficking for sexual exploitation across Central America and North America, for example, operated for more than a decade before being dismantled.
These well-organized groups are typically involved in other crimes. West African groups trafficking victims to Europe, for example, systematically engage in drug trafficking, money laundering, financial fraud and other transnational crimes, as reported by national authorities.
While many traffickers have criminal backgrounds and use trafficking as a direct source of income, there are also business owners, intimate partners and other family members involved in human trafficking. Court cases reveal instances of parents facilitating the sexual exploitation of their children or forcing them into street begging.
Other cases involve business owners exploiting victims into forced labour.
More broadly, almost two-thirds of people convicted of trafficking in persons offences in 2018 were male, although participation of women is higher compared with other crimes. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more women than men are convicted for trafficking in persons.
Most convicted traffickers were citizens of the country where they were sentenced, while roughly one quarter were foreigners. Countries of origin convict their own citizens (95 per cent), while countries of destination tend to convict more foreigners (52 per cent). These trends were consistent with previous years.

Some traffickers use recruitment agencies as a cover

Court cases and literature suggest that some trafficking operations are organized as recruiting agencies typically used by potential migrants seeking work abroad. In these instances, workers are often deceived over the fees taken from their wages to allegedly cover the job search, official documents, transport, housing, and other services. Some agencies are reported to have charged up to 11 months’ salary.
These agencies are found in a range of economic sectors, including construction, fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, or cleaning. In some cases, agencies threaten the workers and they often have the power to intercept salaries paid by the company.
Small scale recruiters apply the same methods in poor rural communities. These traffickers approach families in extreme poverty, convince them to send their children to work, advance funds to buy the tools for labour, and put the families in perpetual debt bondage with their children trapped in exploitation.
Some agencies engaged in the recruitment of domestic workers in Asia for rich households in the Middle East and other parts of the world often charge fees to the employers. The employers often make the workers repay the fees – sometimes by withholding documents and refusing to allow the worker to leave until the fee is paid.

Illicit profits from trafficking can vary: large criminal organizations make the highest incomes, while small scale traffickers can earn little more than average wage

There are cases where the illicit income made by traffickers is substantial. These cases relate to large criminal organizations exploiting dozens of victims over years. In the highest value case analysed by UNODC, a criminal group trafficked hundreds of women from South-East Asia to North America for sexual exploitation. Investigators estimated that the criminal group made tens of millions of US dollars during five years of activity.
But the size of income from trafficking can vary considerably depending on the typologies and organizational structures of the activity. Dozens of court case summaries analysed by UNODC dealt with relatively low-profit scams, with women and girls sold to their future exploiter for less than 5,000 USD and intermediaries receiving less than 2,000 USD. Victims of trafficking within national borders were sold for as little as 250 USD.
Recruiting victims may be no more profitable than an annual average salary in a legitimate business, according to these figures. The market value attached to victims is higher when it reaches the exploitation phase. There are examples where victims were sold for up to 25,000 USD each in countries where they were going to be exploited.
The case summaries are illustrative of the wide range of profits made by traffickers. Estimating the global size of the trafficking in persons market in terms of illegal profits remains challenging, given the lack of a reliable estimate of the number of victims globally.
The analysis shows how little the victims are valued in the illicit market of trafficking. Traffickers trade their victims as commodities. Cases reveal victims are “priced” when bought and sold between traffickers. The monetary value traffickers give to victims may be as little as a couple hundred dollars, equivalent to a few grams of methamphetamine.

Traffickers use subtle means to recruit victims and get more violent during exploitation

Traffickers structured in governance-type organized criminal groups tend to use violence more frequently than individual or opportunistic traffickers. The more common pattern followed by traffickers, however, is to employ deceptive or manipulative means – at least during the recruitment phase.
Only a handful of cases analysed by UNODC featured physical violence as a mean to recruit victims. More often during the recruitment phase, traffickers employ deception through fake job advertisements or direct contact with victims pretending they want friendship. Victims are typically exposed to more coercive and often violent situations as they are exploited.

Most cases of trafficking within high-income countries involve sexual exploitation of girls or young women. To recruit them, traffickers may exploit the victims’ vulnerable circumstances, such as socio-economic deprivation, substance abuse or precarious family situations. Traffickers often use manipulative methods such as feigning romantic interest for the victims and may not necessarily resort to violence.

Traffickers adapt to technology shifts and exploit through the internet to operate in multiple locations at the same time

Traffickers have kept pace with technology, becoming adept at using the internet for their trafficking operations. In the early days of the web, they used stand-alone sites, before exploiting the potential of classified ad sites and then moving into social media. The internet helps traffickers to operate in multiple locations simultaneously while physically exploiting the victims in just one location.
The first case of online trafficking recorded by UNODC took place in the early 2000s, when a free-standing webpage was used to connect buyers with local agents.
Now, internet-based trafficking spans from the basic advertisement of victims online, to advanced combinations of smartphone apps in integrated business models to recruit victims and transfer profits.
Technology is used not only for sexual exploitation but also to coerce victims into crime and forced labour, and to advertise the selling of kidneys harvested from victims they have trafficked.

Internet tools have been integrated into the business models of traffickers at every stage of the process. In the recruitment phase, two types of strategy can be identified from court case summaries reviewed by UNODC – “hunting” and “fishing”.
Hunting involves a trafficker actively pursuing a victim, typically on social media, initially as a friendly introduction that becomes more aggressive as the relationship develops.
Fishing strategies involve posting an advertisement and waiting for potential victims to respond, often using advertisements for high-paying or prestigious jobs. In one case, roughly 100 women were snared by an ad for modelling jobs overseas. The women were required to submit explicit images, before being told they were being recruited for sexual exploitation and blackmailed with the pictures. Fishing strategies can also be used to lure potential clients through advertisements for exploitative services.
One court case showed how a single trafficker managed to connect one victim with more than 100 sex buyers over two months using an online ad.
While high proportions of child-trafficking cases involve platforms with higher levels of anonymity such as social media, cases where the victim is an adult are more likely to involve the use of free-standing webpages and other platforms involving open advertisements.

Long-term trends

Forced labour on the rise, proportion of adult women victims declining

Over the last 15 years, the number of detected victims has increased for both females and males, but the number of detected men, boys, and girls has increased more than women so the profile of the victims detected has changed – the share of adult women falling from more than 70 per cent to less than 50 per cent in 2018. During the same period, a steady increase in the detection of girl and male victims has been recorded.
Sexual exploitation remains the most common motive for trafficking, but the share of those trafficked for forced labour has grown from 18 per cent to 38 per cent among detected cases. More recently, more victims have been detected for the purpose of forced criminality.
Towards universal criminalization of trafficking in persons but criminal justice responses still differ More traffickers are being convicted every year since 2003 when the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol) entered into force, possibly reflecting a better criminal justice response and/or an increase of the trafficking scale. Currently, more than 90 per cent of the countries, for which this information is available, criminalize trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol. Globally, the number of people convicted per 100,000 population has almost tripled since 2003. Countries that introduced anti-trafficking legislation before 2003 still record the highest rates of conviction, but rates are also rising in countries that adopted legal measures later.
European countries record much higher conviction rates than in other parts of the world. However, this number has been stagnating or decreasing over the last few years.
Countries in America, Asia and Middle East have recorded increasing numbers since the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol entered into force.