Tackling the root causes of human trafficking

Tackling the root causes of human trafficking

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In the weeks leading up to World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which falls on July 30 each year, the news from around the globe has been gloomy. On June 27, at least 53 migrants were found dead in an abandoned truck outside San Antonio, Texas, near the border with Mexico. The dead included 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans. Another 16 migrants, suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, were rescued by police. Just days earlier, on June 24, at least 23 African men were killed when more than 2,000 migrants tried to force their way into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, bordering Morocco.
According to reports, at least 40 migrants have been killed on the same border and 938 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Spain since the beginning of the year. It is not just in the Mediterranean or on the border between US and Mexico where migrants have perished. The UN estimates that last year at least 4,470 migrants died along global migration routes, up from 4,236 deaths the previous year. The International Organization for Migration says that more than 45,400 migrants have died across the world in the seven years since 2014.
Although migration fell briefly in early 2020, at the onset of the global pandemic, human trafficking rose sharply. One of the main factors driving the rise has been the severe increase in poverty, with lockdowns pushing hundreds of millions out of work without the cushion of any payments, which most workers in wealthier countries enjoyed during the furlough.
The rate of extreme poverty registered its most dramatic rise in years, and most studies say that gains made during the past two or even three decades of progress have been lost due to the pandemic. And even when the world began to reopen, tens of millions of jobs never came back, leaving many workers destitute and forced to look for opportunities outside their countries — not for cushy jobs or fat pay packets, but merely to survive.
Another factor driving the rise in poverty was the large number of people forced to seek medical care during the pandemic. Already, before the outbreak, almost half a billion people had been pushed into economic hardship due to unplanned hospitalization and a lack of medical insurance, according to the World Health Organization, which says this number has risen dramatically since the pandemic.
It did not help that numerous natural disasters due to climate change and global warming have ruined millions of farmers across the world, pushing poverty rates higher and forcing many to consider migrating due to prolonged drought or other natural causes.

Governments and other stakeholders need to realize that curbing human trafficking will take much more than better policing.

Ranvir S. Nayar

Forced displacement is also often a result of conflict and civil wars, which have risen sharply in number in many parts of the world, most notably Africa, which has emerged as the largest source of forced migration, alongside South Asia, which is struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19 and climate change, as well as conflicts, especially in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
Among the pool of potential victims of human trafficking are the three most vulnerable sections of society — women, children and youth. Trafficking of women for forced prostitution has gone unchecked despite several measures to end this and other forms of exploitation.
According to various reports, women (49 percent) and girls (23 percent) make up the majority of all reported human trafficking cases. They also constitute 99 percent of victims of sex trafficking. The other vulnerable category is children, especially orphans, whose numbers have also gone up significantly over the past two years due to the pandemic.
The UN estimates that globally, one in every three victims detected is a child and the share of children among trafficking victims has tripled, while the share of boys has increased five times over the past 15 years. The youth are also highly vulnerable to traffickers, who lure them on promises of jobs and a better life in the West.
Human trafficking is a flourishing criminal activity and UN estimates put the total “value” of this business at more than $150 billion a year, with people smugglers charging thousands for each victim. However, one of the main reasons various measures — unilateral, bilateral or multilateral — have failed to halt trafficking is that governments, as well as civil society groups and multilateral agencies, have treated it as a purely criminal activity, and responded with stricter border controls and policing.
However, governments and other stakeholders need to realize that curbing human trafficking will take much more than better policing. With rising misery and economic deprivation, mainly in poorer parts of the world, millions have no option other than migrating to another country in a desperate attempt to improve their lives and help family members left behind.
Ending human trafficking by 2030 is included in at least three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN — and the clues for global leaders to fight the problem can also be found there. Sustainable Development Goal 5 — gender equality — calls for the empowerment of all women and girls. Indeed, if the world makes progress toward this, human, and especially sex, trafficking can be curbed.
Goal No. 8 relates to promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Goal 16 calls for promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, sustainable development, access to justice for all, and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
The past few decades have seen a rise in inequality between and within countries, with the rich getting richer and the poor forced deeper into poverty. This is partly due to the fact that wealthier countries have failed to honor their commitments — be it under World Trade Organization initiatives or the Paris Agreement — to provide economic and technical assistance to developing countries. It may be too late to hope for many of these goals to be met, at least in terms of ending human trafficking.
But it is time for all stakeholders to get together and address the root causes of migration and human trafficking in a sincere and well-coordinated manner. With this, they can at least hope to start reversing the trend of the past few years and save thousands of innocent lives every year.

Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group.

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