The United Nations and people around the world commemorate World Day against Trafficking in Persons annually on 30 July to raise awareness of the situation of human trafficking around the world, and to call on governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, and all societies to redouble their efforts to prevent people from being exploited, protect those who have been trafficked, and seek justice and prosecution of perpetrators.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Protocol was the first international agreement on trafficking in persons. It provides a broad definition of trafficking, recognizes multiple facets of trafficking, and promotes the full respect of the victims’ human rights. Despite the adoption of the Protocol, and despite progress over the last 20 years, impunity persists. Human trafficking remains a widespread human rights violation, involving more than 20 million people worldwide, of which only a few hundred are recognised as victims and supported in their process of social inclusion. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted, making up 72% of all trafficked persons, and 98% of people trafficked for sexual exploitation.
COVID-19 has amplified the inequalities within our societies, and exacerbated the risks of exploitation for people in vulnerable situations. Loss of employment, increased poverty and socioeconomic stress, lockdowns and travel restrictions, school closures, a lack of access to social protection, and a rise in online interactions are increasing vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation and forced labour, creating opportunities for traffickers, and making it increasingly difficult to identify victims. The crisis has also overwhelmed social and public services and impacted the work of criminal justice systems, hindering access to assistance and protection and delaying access to justice for victims and survivors.
And yet despite the challenges, we see the best of humanity: frontline workers overcoming the barriers posed by restrictions, risking their lives, and going above and beyond to provide essential support for people who have been trafficked. The 2020 theme for the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons shines a light on the first responders to human trafficking – those who identify, support, counsel and seek justice for victims of trafficking, and challenge the impunity of traffickers.