Trafficking in Persons and Exploitation of Migrants

Trafficking in persons is an appalling phenomenon that is growing at alarming rates throughout the world. The exact numbers of this modern-day slave trade are difficult to quantify, which complicates efforts to create effective counter strategies. The United Nations estimates that there are 2.7 million victims of trafficking around the world; of these, 80% are women and children. According to some estimates, about 10% of the migrant women working in prostitution are actually victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Managed by transnational criminal networks, this phenomenon generates a massive turnover of about US $32 billion a year, a number similar to the revenues accrued through trafficking of weapons or narcotics. Trafficking victims are stripped of their most basic human rights, of self-determination and in some cases life itself. Trafficking in minors for sexual purposes is a hidden phenomenon, often covered by the wall of silence raised by their exploiters and abusers.

The research carried out by UNICRI in the framework of a project to counter human trafficking from Nigeria to Italy highlighted the fact that, in the lower bracket of the sex market, a Nigerian woman in the hands of the trafficking network can make traffickers as much as 5,000 Euros a month. Moreover, to free herself from the debt contracted with her exploiters, the girl has to pay an average of 50-60,000 Euros.

Trafficking victims are stripped of their most basic human rights: self-determination and, in some, cases life itself. Trafficking in minors for sexual purposes is a hidden phenomenon, often covered by the wall of silence raised by the exploiters and the children abusers. Figures are difficult to ascertain, but according to the interviews and research conducted in Costa Rica, Thailand and Ukraine within the framework of a UNICRI's programme, the phenomenon has seriously expanded and involves a wide range of actors. In Costa Rica, reports show that the commercialization of sexual tourism, disseminated through the Internet, attract a lot of tourists. In this country, the tourists seeking sexual contact with minors come mainly from USA, Italy, Canada and Germany. The age range of these foreign adults is broad: varying from 20 to 60 years.

In Thailand, along with the traditional ways to approach children, the Internet is becoming a threat: children are now exposed to sexual harms on cyberspace. The country is sadly recognized as a popular venue for production and distribution of child pornographic materials.

In 2004, Ukrainian police discovered a pornographic studio disguised as a child model agency. Pornographic pictures and movies of more than 500 girls aged between 8 to 16 were found. The criminals used to trick the girls' parents by saying that their children were simply working in the modelling business. Criminals paid between USD 10 and 40 per hours. The agency's monthly average profit amounted to USD 100,000.

Ukraine is a country of origin and destination for the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. An alarming 7000 to 8000 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation are officially reported annually. Research has shown that more than 30% of the prostitutes in Ukraine are aged 11 to 18 years old. One in 10 girls was victim of rape before the age of 18. Surveys show that of those engaged in prostitution, 11% are girls between 12 and 15 and 20% are aged 16 to 17. Street children are offered USD $5 per sex service. In 2001, according to the Interior Affairs Ministry, 36.000 children were detained as street children. The number of street children has grown continuously each year.

UNICRI approach to counter human trafficking

It has been widely acknowledged that the main causes of trafficking in persons are poverty, illiteracy and lack of economic prospects. Though these causes can only be eliminated through a long-term strategy in the field of economic and human development at the national level, a focused small-scale intervention targeting priority areas and integrating institutional capacity building, social prevention and victim rehabilitation components can still result in a significant reduction in magnitude of the issue. Additionally, while significant advances on the economic and social fronts must be achieved, decisive action is to be simultaneously taken from the legislative, law enforcement, and criminal justice areas to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, especially in women and children.

Over the past decade, UNICRI has been strongly involved in the implementation of various applied-research and technical assistance projects in the field of counter-trafficking in persons and child exploitation in various areas of the world. The activities have been carried out in the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand, the Philipines, and Ukraine. In addition, UNICRI has been working on the issue of trafficking in persons in peace support operation areas since 2002.

UNICRI programmes seek on the one hand to strengthen the institutional capacity to curb trafficking flows and on the other to rehabilitate trafficked victims and decrease the vulnerability of potential trafficking victims, especially women and children. Activities are carried out in close cooperation with governments as well as with international organizations and civil society members involved in preventing and combating trafficking in persons, especially in women and children. The proactive participation of local communities is sought and encouraged by UNICRI.

Current activities

From January to July 2015 more than 150.000 people have reached the European costs via sea. African migration routes converge in the Maghreb, and in recent years mostly in Libya, for the sea crossing. ICMPD has estimated that more than half of the irregular migrants who travel from Africa to European Union annually have received some help from smugglers. Organized criminal groups take advantage of migrants’ vulnerabilities and exploit the migration flows from different perspectives and through different means.

Within this framework, UNICRI is currently launching a project intended to pave the way for the establishment of a strategic approach for regional and national rapid response mechanisms to tackle the challenges posed by irregular migration, trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of migrants within North Africa.

The project represents the inception component of a broader programme, “Promoting a comprehensive coordination mechanism to deal with migratory flows within North Africa and counter organized crime in human trafficking/smuggling of migrants”, aimed at enhancing regional and national rapid response mechanisms to tackle the challenges posed by irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling of migrants within North Africa.

The project is aimed at strengthening coordination of existing initiatives and cooperation among key stakeholders at national and regional level within North African countries. In particular, a comprehensive report to map existing and prospective initiatives in the region will be produced and a network of relevant international stakeholders to facilitate the development of a broader programme countering irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling of migrants within North Africa will be created.

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