More people seen at risk of modern-day slavery as COVID-19 pumps the global economy
By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON – Human traffickers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to target people ranging from unemployed migrants to out-of-school children, two UN specialists said, warning that the aftermath of COVID-19 had led to further crime. below.
The global economic slowdown has left countless people jobless, desperate and at risk of exploitation, while victims of trafficking are less likely to be found or receive help with diverted attention and resources elsewhere, experts said.
An estimated 25 million people worldwide are victims of labor and sex trafficking, according to the United Nations, with growing concerns that more will fall prey as support services are disrupted and efforts to ensure justice are hampered.
“The difficulty is that trafficking is now even more covert and less visible,” said Siobhan Mullally, the recently appointed UN special rapporteur on human trafficking.
“More people are at risk… especially in the informal economy… there is a potential for traffickers to recruit, exploit, plunder people’s despair,” Mullally told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of Anti-Slavery Day on October 18.
An estimated 2.5 billion people – more than 60% of the world’s workforce – are informal workers, leaving them particularly at risk of being paid and abused, have said labor lawyers.
From India to Cambodia, workers in sectors such as textiles and tourism have lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19 and sought to borrow that could lead to debt bondage or accept jobs on worse terms and conditions exploitation.
Many of the estimated migrant workers in the world are 164 million stranded abroad and unable to go homeor willing to seek help because of closed borders and restrictive immigration policies, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers, according to Mullally.
Two decades after the adoption of a landmark UN anti-trafficking protocol, Mullally said the issue was still seen primarily as a criminal justice issue and called for a much broader focus involving labor rights and social protection.
“An economic crisis… and recession or even depression. Can be used as an excuse to restrict workers’ rights, with the striking effect of a greater threat of trafficking,” she added.
Extreme poverty will rise for the first time in this century The World Bank said last week, predicting that the consequences of COVID-19 could spawn 115 million “poor young people” this year alone.
Ilias Chatzis, head of the trafficking unit at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said his department was still gathering information about the impact of the coronavirus on crime, but warned that early evidence showed “worsening horrors” “.
He cited the example of children who spend more time online and are vulnerable to sexual exploitation – at a distance – by global predators. Europol said in May that child sexual abuse online in the European Union spiked at the beginning of the pandemic.
While acknowledging the “complexity” of dealing with trafficking during COVID-19, Chatzis gave a note of hope for the future.
“It’s not all darkness ahead, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We have abolished slavery (chattel), we can abolish trafficking.”
(Report by Kieran Guilbert; Edited by Helen Popper. Please Credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation)
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