Approximately a quarter of the world’s population, two billion people, are currently living in conflict areas, in highly unsettled conditions that create vulnerabilities and risks of trafficking for women and girls. Recent research has revealed that human trafficking was present in 90 per cent of the 171 wars and conflicts that took place between 1989 and 2016. Additional crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change further exacerbate these risks, together with poverty and economic insecurity, displacement and lack of access to safe migration pathways, and exposure to multiple forms of gender-based violence.
The estimated number of people in situations of trafficking rose by 12 percent between 2016 and 2021, the latest international consensus study found. Today, some 27.6 million people around the globe are living without the freedom to choose how they live and work, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Walk Free.
Though the sheer volume of exploitation may seem shocking, it should not surprise anyone. The growth in trafficking is possible because simply — and sadly — the underlying conditions that make people vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in additiion to child marriage, have not been addressed. Poverty, environmental destruction, structural racism and discrimination, and gender and economic inequity persist as underlying drivers of human trafficking around the globe.
Women and girls represent 65 percent of all trafficking victims globally. More than 90 percent of detected female victims are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Within months of the invasion of the Ukraine by the Russian Federation, global searches for Ukrainian women escort services had increased by 300 per cent. This demand incentivizes traffickers to recruit and exploit victims, increasingly using online platforms and tools. The shift in women’s and girls’ lives from the start of COVID-19 to go online for work, education, and social activities, has opened fresh opportunities for recruitment, control, and exploitation. But the increased use of technology has also created opportunities to investigate practices like deceptive job offers, to enhance prosecution with digital evidence, and to provide support services to survivors.
These new estimates and trends are significant because they are a call to action. The solutions to trafficking are as wide ranging as the underlying problems — and require society-wide change. For example, the new report estimates that 86 percent of labor trafficking cases are found in the private sector. Therefore, it is impossible to think about addressing the causes of human trafficking without engaging businesses and corporations in improving their practices to prevent trafficking.
Crises around the world are more than likely to increase in frequency and intensity in the years to come. Only with a concerted effort by governments, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and above all local communities, can we hope to end the horror of human trafficking. We must work together with survivors on prevention, detection, and response efforts to stop trafficking of women and girls around the world for good.
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