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COVID-19 impact exposes millions to the risk of trafficking

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Three girls in Progreso, Yoro, Honduras, ages 13 to 14, who are friends and victims of harassment at their school, for the purpose of sex trafficking. The person behind it is a 15 year-old student that works with a network that co-opts young girls. UNICEF/Adriana Zehbrauskas

Although almost 50,000 victims of human trafficking were detected and reported in 2018 by 148 countries, the “hidden nature” of the crime means that the actual number of victims could be “far higher”, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Tuesday.  

Migrants and people without jobs were among the groups most targeted by human traffickers, UNODC added, warning that the economic fallout and job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic have exposed millions more to the risk. 

“Millions of women, children and men worldwide are out of work, out of school and without social support in the continuing COVID-19 crisis, leaving them at greater risk of human trafficking”, Ghada Waly, UNODC Executive Director, said in news release announcing the findings from the agency’s report on human trafficking. 

“We need targeted action to stop criminal traffickers from taking advantage of the pandemic to exploit the vulnerable”, she urged. 

Abuse of technology 

UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Person report found that traffickers integrated technology into their modus operandi at every stage of the process: from recruiting to exploiting victims.  

Children were especially vulnerable on social media, where many were “easy targets” for criminals.  

UNODC identified two types of tactics employed by traffickers: “hunting” or actively pursuing a victim, typically on social media; and “fishing”, when perpetrators post job advertisements and wait for potential victims to respond. 

The Internet also allowed traffickers to live stream the exploitation of their victims, enabling the simultaneous abuse of one victim by many perpetrators around the globe, said the UN agency. 

Three-fold increase in child victims  

The share of children among trafficking victims tripled over the past 15 years, with girls mainly trafficked for sexual exploitation, while boys were used for forced labour, the report said.  

It added that while female victims continued to be the primary targets for trafficking in persons, the share of adult women among detected victims fell from more than 70 per cent to less than 50 per cent, over the same time period. 

For every 10 victims detected globally in 2018, about five were adult women and two were young girls. Around 20 per cent of human trafficking victims were adult men and 15 per cent, young boys, the report added. 

Almost 2 in 3 offenders male 

The report also found that globally, most persons prosecuted and convicted of trafficking in persons were male, accounting for 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. Offenders ranged from members of organized crime groups (which traffic the great majority of victims), to individuals operating on their own or in small groups on an opportunistic basis. 

Traffickers saw their victims as “commodities” without regard for human dignity and rights, the report said, noting that they would “sell” fellow human beings for a price ranging from tens of dollars to tens of thousands, with large criminal organizations making the highest incomes. 

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Human Rights

Child labour rises to 160 million – first increase in two decades

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Child farmers help to level fields in Balkh Province, Afghanistan., by World Bank/Ghullam Abbas Farzami

The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.

Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward  – released ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June – warns that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labour, who now account for just over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work – defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals – has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.

“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years.

Even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, COVID-19 is endangering that progress.

The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic. A simulation model shows this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.

Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.

“We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices. We urge governments and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”

Other key findings in the report include:

  • The agriculture sector accounts for 70 per cent of children in child labour (112 million) followed by 20 per cent in services (31.4 million) and 10 per cent in industry (16.5 million).
  • Nearly 28 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 years and 35 per cent of children aged 12 to 14 years in child labour are out of school.
  • Child labour is more prevalent among boys than girls at every age. When household chores performed for 21 hours or more each week are taken into account, the gender gap in child labour narrows.
  • The prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14 per cent) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (5 per cent).

Children in child labour are at risk of physical and mental harm. Child labour compromises children’s education, restricting their rights and limiting their future opportunities, and leads to vicious inter-generational cycles of poverty and child labour.

To reverse the upward trend in child labour, the ILO and UNICEF are calling for:

  • Adequate social protection for all, including universal child benefits.
  • Increased spending on free and good-quality schooling and getting all children back into school – including children who were out of school before COVID-19.
  • Promotion of decent work for adults, so families don’t have to resort to children helping to generate family income.
  • An end to harmful gender norms and discrimination that influence child labour.
  • Investment in child protection systems, agricultural development, rural public services, infrastructure and livelihoods.

As part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour , the global partnership Alliance 8.7 , of which UNICEF and ILO are partners, is encouraging member States, business, trade unions, civil society, and regional and international organizations to redouble their efforts in the global fight against child labour by making concrete action pledges.

During a week of action from 10–17 June, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore will join other high-level speakers and youth advocates at a high-level event during the International Labour Conference to discuss the release of the new global estimates and the roadmap ahead.

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Human Rights

2021 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

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Each year, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy assembles hundreds of courageous dissidents and human rights activists, diplomats, journalists and student leaders to shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues.

The Geneva Summit is sponsored by 25 human rights NGOs from around the world. The Geneva Summit has been featured in media around the globe, including CNN, Agence France Presse, AP, The Australian, Radio Free Europe and ANSA.

This year, the 13th  Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy was held on June 7 and 8. The event was free to all the people who made online registration. This year the summit hosted different voices from different parts of the world.

In this year’s summit, the leading Turkish journalist Can Dündar who was arrested, jailed and forced into exile for his reporting on Erdogan’s government was one of the speakers addressing Human Rights and Democracy on the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel.

For the full text of the Fragility of Freedom and Democracy panel, click here.

The list of the other speakers is as follows:

Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian refugee and award-winning documentary filmmaker on the conflict in Syria

Rayhan Asat, Uyghur activist, sister of Ekpar Asat who was abducted by Chinese authorities

Nathan Law, Former member of Hong Kong Legislative Council who fled arrest & sudden leader of 2014 Umbrella Movement

András Simonyi, Academic & former Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S.

Prof. Irwin Cotler, Chair of Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada.

Gulalai Ismail, Pakistani women’s rights activist, former political prisoner who escaped the country

Tania Bruguera, Cuban political performance artist repeatedly arrested for her work

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate forced to flee after rigged elections

Jihyun Park, Escapee and survivor of a North Korean forced labor camp

Daria Navalnaya, Daughter of poisoned and jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Australian-British academic just freed after two years in Iranian prison as a victim of hostage diplomacy

Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwean protest leader, arrested six times and tortured for his human rights work

Yang Jianli, Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, survivor of Tiananmen Square and President of Initiatives for China

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Leading dissident against Putin regime, Chairman of Boris Nemtsov Foundation, survivor of two poisoning attempts

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

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Human Rights

We can’t wait 267 years to achieve equal economic participation for men and women

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen numerous industries stumble as the crisis has hit many sectors’ productivity and employment rates. And in this scenario, women have been the hardest hit. According to the International Labour Organization, 5% of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9% of working men. The crisis has exacerbated the existing gender inequality in the labour market, widening gaps even further across several sectors

A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), released in March 2021, shows that at the current rate of progress it will take around 267 years to close the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. It’s a striking number that is the result of two conflicting trends. First, even though at a slow pace, the proportion of skilled women professionals is increasing. On the other hand, there is still an overall income disparity and women in leadership positions are a minority – women represent only 27% of all managerial positions, according to the same report from the WEF.

Advocating for economic equality means also advocating for a more sustainable and greener economy, and the post-COVID recovery is an opportunity to build back greener and more inclusive societies and economies. Sustainability cannot exist when inequality runs rampant. According to ILO, women have the tools and networks to create tangible sustainable solutions and influence how we produce, consume and market sustainable products.

Supporting the European Union Green Deal can be the driver for the global transition to a green economy, and this will only be possible if women are also among the protagonists of such transformation. Ensuring that women have equal access to skills development programmes for green jobs can be the pathway for a more inclusive and sustainable future. Women are globally poorly represented in crucial sectors to the greening of the economy, such as construction (9% of female participation), engineering (12%), and manufacturing (24%). The lack of targeted training and supportive policies may exacerbate already existing gender inequalities when progressing towards the green economy.

Women are important actors to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and promoting women’s access to high-quality green skills training programmes in high-demand sectors leads to a better future for all.

Thandiwe Banda, a beneficiary of one of UNIDO’s programmes in Zambia, graduated from the course in heavy equipment repair and set the example on how women can successfully partake in male-dominated fields. “Some of my colleagues would think that because I am a female, I wouldn’t deliver according to my supervisors’ expectations. But, when I was told that I was the first female to ever work in the mechanical department, I became more confident and aware that if I worked very hard I would open more doors for other females,” says Banda.

Engaging in the discussion on how we can make Thandiwe Banda’s professional journey a reality for other females is an important step towards boosting progress in equal economic participation and potentially establishing a more encouraging timeline for such.

To participate and contribute to the cause, join UNIDO’s Lab Debate at the 14th edition of the European Development Days (EDD21), which will take place virtually on 15 June 2021 at 16:20 (CEST). The session will explore the effects of private-public partnerships in engaging champions in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), who represent and advocate for stronger female participation in male-dominated sectors. Our panel of experts will explore the question: can the TVET system be the change-maker in providing industrial skills equally for a more sustainable future?

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