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World Day Against Trafficking In Persons: Women and Girls Must Not Be Left Behind

A woman chained in a basement for years in China, an internet celebrity arrested on rape and trafficking charges in Romania, a US politician sentenced to prison for sex trafficking of a minor, record high reports of sex trafficking in Scotland, women smuggled from Cuba to Texas and forced to work in strip clubs – July 30th may be World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, but it seems that nearly every week a new headline comes out reporting yet another incident of sexual exploitation and abuse. 

If you think that the problem is getting worse, you might be right. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes that  “[g]lobal crises, conflicts, and the climate emergency are escalating trafficking risks. Displacement and socio-economic inequalities are impacting millions of people worldwide, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.” The UNODC goes on to point out that “[t]hose who lack legal status, live in poverty, have limited access to education, healthcare, or decent work, face discrimination, violence, or abuse, or come from marginalized communities are often the primary targets of traffickers.” 

Equality Now and our partners are most certainly seeing this too, and are particularly concerned about already-vulnerable women and girls being put in even greater jeopardy by natural disasters and other crises, such as in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy in Malawi. Caleb Ng’ombo, Director of EN partner organization People Serving Girls at Risk (PSGR), said “Cyclone Freddy was a terrible experience, and now many women who lost their homes and their livelihoods are at increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

In addition to these big external factors and crises, Equality Now has reported on rising online sexual exploitation and abuse, and how tech advances are increasing the risks, and the channels and platforms through which sex trafficking and sexual exploitation can happen, making it easier for exploiters to access vulnerable women and girls. 

So, what needs to happen?

In short, governments around the world need to step up. The UNODC reports that “[g]lobally, national responses, particularly in developing States, appear to be deteriorating. Detection rates fell by 11% in 2020, and convictions plummeted by 27%, illustrating a worldwide slowdown in the criminal justice response to trafficking,” and stresses that we must “reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.” 

Many factors are making women and girls more vulnerable than ever to sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and systemic inequality makes them more likely to be left behind and without access to support or justice. States and tech companies must do more to prevent and combat it. The UNODC recommends that States:

  • Strengthen resilience against exploitation and the underlying socio-economic and cultural issues that are conducive to trafficking
  • Improve identification of victims
  • Increase support for survivors
  • End impunity 
  • Strengthen national frameworks for the identification and protection of victims of trafficking, especially during times of crises

Equality Now recommends that states go a step further and ensure that these measures address the specific challenges and needs relating to trafficking for sexual exploitation, ensuring using gender equality and intersectional approaches. Equality Now also recommends that states strengthen cooperation amongst each other to deal with the global and multi-jurisdictional nature of sex trafficking, particularly where organised cross-border criminal gangs and digital technology is used. 

Caleb Ng’ombo of PSGR stressed the importance of everyone playing their part: “As frontline responders, we are playing a crucial role not only in ending human trafficking but also in ensuring that we bring the survivors to the discussion tables so their voices lead in developing strategic interventions to combat trafficking in persons. It’s a noble cause. But we all must play this role collectively because our actions matter to ensure we reach every victim and leave no one behind!”

Paul Adhoch, Executive Director of Equality Now’s partner Trace Kenya, admitted “It has been a long journey working with victims and survivors of human trafficking in Kenya,” but went on to note that “At the national level, progress has been made in policy and legal framework and at our organizational level experience acquired and lessons learned. At Trace Kenya, we still keep our promise and commitment to restore dignity to victims and survivors of human trafficking. In commemorating 2023 World Day against Trafficking in Persons; we dedicate ourselves to further support victims and survivors of human trafficking. The theme ‘reach every victim, leave no one behind’ only serves to validate this.”

What is Equality Now doing to change things? 

From leading a coalition in 2001 to pass the Palermo Protocol to engaging with the CEDAW Committee in the development of its General Recommendation (38) on trafficking in women and girls, Equality Now has long worked to combat sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Our work today includes:

Learn more about our work on Ending Sexual Exploitation here, and mark this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons by spreading the word and sharing this article with your networks.