VIENNA, 24 January (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic led to the first known drop in human trafficking victims in 20 years, as trafficking opportunities and policing were reduced, but the war in Ukraine is now likely to have created a new wave. a UN report said Tuesday.
The number of detected victims of trafficking fell by 11% in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available in most countries, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its seventh Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.
“In 2020, the number of victims detected globally declined for the first time,” the UNODC said in a summary of the report, adding that the largest declines were reported in low- and middle-income countries, particularly South and Central America. but also sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific.
“This change in trend may be due to three different factors that are particularly impacting low- and middle-income countries during the pandemic: lower institutional capacity to locate victims, fewer opportunities for traffickers to operate due to COVID-19 preventive restrictions, and some form of human trafficking forms are moving to more hidden and less likely to be detected locations,” it said.
Initial data for 2021 from just 20 countries points to a further decline in 2021 in parts of Southeast Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation saw the biggest drop at 24%. For the first time since UNODC began collecting data, detected trafficking in this category as a percentage of the whole was about the same as that of human trafficking for forced labor, at about 39% each, the report said.
“Sexual exploitation may have declined due to the (pandemic-related) closure of public spaces and may also have been pushed to less visible and less secure locations, making this form of trafficking more covert and harder to detect,” the UNODC said. .
Conflict tends to increase human trafficking and the war in Ukraine is likely to be no exception, it added.
“Ukraine’s refugee emergency increases the risk of human trafficking for the Ukrainian displaced population. The conflict in Ukraine in 2014 quadrupled the number of Ukrainian victims discovered in Western Europe in 2016,” it said, referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea .
It expects an even higher number of human trafficking victims after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, it added. (Reporting by Francois Murphy. Editing by Sharon Singleton)