Share of children among trafficking victims increases: UN report

The share of children among detected trafficking victims has tripled while the share of boys has increased five times in the past 15 years, according to a report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on Tuesday.

In 2018, about 50,000 human trafficking victims were detected and reported by 148 countries covered by the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2020. However, given the hidden nature of this crime, the actual number of victims trafficked is far higher, said the UNODC.

The report shows that traffickers particularly target the most vulnerable, such as migrants and people without jobs. The recession induced by COVID-19 is likely to expose more people to the risk of trafficking.

“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. We need targeted action to stop criminal traffickers from taking advantage of the pandemic to exploit the vulnerable,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly in a press release.

Female victims continue to be the primary targets for human trafficking. For every 10 victims detected globally in 2018, about five were adult women and two were young girls. Around 20 percent of human trafficking victims were adult men and 15 percent were young boys, the report shows.

Over the last 15 years, the number of detected victims has increased, while their profile has changed. The share of adult women among the detected victims fell from more than 70 percent to less than 50 percent in 2018, while the share of children detected has increased, from around 10 percent to over 30 percent. In the same period, the share of adult men has nearly doubled, from around 10 percent to 20 percent in 2018.

Overall, half of detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation, 38 percent were exploited for forced labor, 6 percent were subjected to forced criminal activity, while 1 percent were coerced into begging and smaller numbers into forced marriages, organ removal, and other purposes, according to the report.

Victims’ profiles differ according to the form of exploitation. In 2018, most women and girls detected were trafficked for sexual exploitation, whereas men and boys were mainly trafficked for forced labor.

The share of detected victims trafficked for forced labor has steadily increased for more than a decade. Victims are exploited across a wide range of economic sectors, particularly in those where work is undertaken in isolated circumstances including agriculture, construction, fishing, mining, and domestic work.

Globally, most persons prosecuted and convicted of trafficking in persons continue to be male. Offenders can be 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.

The UNODC has identified two types of strategies: “hunting,” involving a trafficker actively pursuing a victim, typically on social media; and “fishing,” when perpetrators post job advertisements and wait for potential victims to respond.

Based on the data collected from 148 countries, the UNODC was able to record 534 different trafficking flows around the globe although victims are typically trafficked within geographically close areas. A typical example involves girls recruited in a suburban area and exploited in nearby motels or bars. Globally, most victims are rescued in their own country of origin, according to the report.