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Trafficking in Persons – a global crisis

One of the world’s despicable crimes, Human Trafficking, is a global issue affecting the lives of millions of people around the world, forcing them into exploitative situations every day.

The major form of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, and child begging, even removal of their organs in illegal activities with the main goal to gain profit.

 “The estimate we often cite is that nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. Many are compelled into commercial sex work. Many are forced to work in factories or fields or join armed groups. Millions of trafficking victims are children.”

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This was highlighted by Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken during the launching of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2021 recently in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, State Department Photo by Freddie Everett.

Based on this year’s report, he concerned about the impact the of COVID-19 pandemic, where human traffickers seized the opportunity to grow their operations while governments diverted their resources to control the pandemic.

“People who were pushed into dire economic circumstances by the pandemic became more vulnerable to exploitation. And as more people spent hours online for school and work, traffickers used the internet to groom and recruit potential victims,” he said.

For the full TIP Report 2021, read here.

Special Briefing via Telephone – The Asia Pacific Media Hub

In a media briefing via Telephone with the Acting Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Dr Kari Johnstone explained the report examines the U.S government’s efforts to combat human trafficking using a three-P framework of prosecuting perpetrators, protecting victims, and preventing this crime.  

Acting Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Dr Kari Johnstone. (Photo by U.S. State Department)

“It reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights, law enforcement, and national security issue.  It remains our principal diplomatic and diagnostic tool to guide our relations with foreign governments on human trafficking,” she said.

This year’s report covers 188 countries and territories, including the United States. The introduction focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trafficking trends and anti-trafficking efforts worldwide. 

The introduction outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated trafficking situations and significantly increased the number of people worldwide at risk of exploitation and how traffickers adapted their methods to take advantage of these circumstances. 

Read here for further information on TIP Report.

During the briefing, Dr Johnstone also shared noteworthy results and tier movement within the report.  Six countries received downgrades from Tier 1 to Tier 2, as the department assessed that the governments of Cyprus, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and in this East Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand, did not meet all four of the minimum standards and were not making appreciable progress compared to the previous year.  

Twelve countries were downgraded from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watch List. The East Asia region include Palau, Thailand, and Tonga. Other countries downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List include Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia, Sint Maarten, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, and Zimbabwe. And finally, two countries were downgraded to Tier 3, Guinea-Bissau and Malaysia.

Brunei Darussalam remained under the Tier 2 Watch list for the third consecutive year. Read here for further details.

Efforts to curb Human Trafficking in Asia

Concerning human trafficking, particularly in Asia, Shefali Rekhi of Straits Times in Singapore raised questions on further impacts of the pandemic and assessment on how things will play out in the coming years as major segments of the world are still to be vaccinated.

In response, Dr Johnstone explained the governments around the world, including East Asia, diverted resources to address the pandemic, often unfortunately at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts, resulting in decreased protection measures and service provision for victims, reduction of preventive efforts, and hindrances to investigations and the prosecutions of traffickers.  

SUNAULI, NEPAL – A woman holds a passport photo of lost daughter. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Victims and survivors also faced a heightened risk of revictimization and obstacles accessing assistance and support as lockdowns, social distancing protocols, and a lack of resources caused service providers to close shelters and reduce other services.

“Human traffickers quickly adapted to capitalize on the vulnerabilities and risks exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.  Despite the added challenges and risks that the pandemic has presented, we have also witnessed the adaptability among those continuing to fight human trafficking and their dedication to ensuring a continuation of anti-trafficking efforts and to minimize the effects of the pandemic on victims in the broader anti-trafficking community,” she said.

Regarding the future, she said, “We are always reluctant to predict – and I certainly think that it’s hard to predict in these circumstances – but what we have observed over time, including in this unexpected pandemic, is that traffickers adapt.  They adapt their tactics, they take advantage of new risks and new vulnerabilities that emerge, and that it is incumbent upon governments and all of us who care about human trafficking to similarly adapt and respond to prevent trafficking, prosecute the traffickers, and protect victims”.

As the world against the human trafficking, refugees becomes the main target of the traffickers. The Brunei Post raised an issue on Rohingya refugees where thousands of them are exploited by traffickers from Bangladesh and Malaysia, and what action has been taken to protect the refugees.

Responding to the question, Dr Johnstone agreed that Rohingya refugees are disproportionately targeted by human traffickers as well as the Government of Burma itself that was also placed on Tier 3 due to a government policy or pattern of forced labour, including of Rohingya and other citizens and other people who live in Burma.  

POKHARA, NEPAL – A grandmother holds up pictures of her lost granddaughter who she believed was forced into prostitution as a sex slave. Ten years ago similar photos were given to Maiti Nepal and by a miracle, her grandchild is now on the way back to her home village. She will first receive support and training at Maiti Nepal before she is sent home. Maiti Nepal is an organization fighting the sex trade in Nepal and the trafficking of girls and women into India. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, outside of Burma, Rohingya, due to their vulnerability and limited access to other jobs and education opportunities, are disproportionately targeted by traffickers within neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh or Malaysia and subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking in countries farther away from countries Burma or the region.

“We are very concerned about the vulnerability and the known cases of human trafficking of Rohingya both in the region and more broadly. We engage actively with governments that host Rohingya, including Bangladesh and Malaysia, and urge them to take proactive steps to identify trafficking victims among the people who are living in their country, particularly among Rohingya,” 

“And to take active steps to investigate traffickers to try to keep them safe and – not the traffickers but the Rohingya themselves – and to combat crime as fully as they can to keep Rohingya as safe as possible from human trafficking.  And if they are already victims of human trafficking, to identify them proactively and get them in care that they need due to the trauma that they have experienced,” she said.

Dr Johnstone conveyed her appreciation concerning on human trafficking issue that occurs around the world.

“The role that you as journalists play in helping raise awareness and pushing all of us governments to do better – we all can do more and can and should improve our efforts to fight human trafficking and protect the victims and survivors – and you all have an incredibly important role to play to hold us accountable, all of our governments, and to raise awareness and hopefully help us prevent the crime in the first place,” she said concluding her remarks.

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