Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking

Photo # 418239 	 UN Photo/Mark Garten
Photo # 418239 UN Photo/Mark Garten

The United Nations hosted a special event at its New York Headquarters yesterday for the victims and survivors of human trafficking, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issuing a broad-based call to action for States to tackle the root causes and ensure swift justice against the perpetrators.

“Our fight against human trafficking is guided by three Ps: prevention, protection and prosecution,” he said in an opening address at the event at which four survivors bore living witness with accounts of their own horrific plight, including a girl who was abducted at age 14 by Ugandan rebels and kept as a sex slave for eight years.

“We must also empower victims. They need support systems, information and education. They need viable ways to earn a living. They also need criminal justice systems to pursue traffickers, and subject them to serious penalties. Conviction rates in most countries are microscopic compared to the scope of the problem. But when States help victims, the victims can help States break up trafficking networks.”

Mr. Ban cited a litany of abhorrent practices, including debt bondage, forced labor, torture, organ removal, sexual exploitation and slavery-like conditions. “Human trafficking injures, traumatizes and kills individuals. It devastates families and threatens global security,” he declared of a worldwide industry that generates billions of dollars in profit at the expense of millions of victims.

“Human trafficking touches on many issues, from health and human rights to development and peace and security. Our response must be equally broad, and must tackle this challenge at its roots,” he added, noting that the global economic crisis is making the problem worse as jobs and food get scarcer and rising social exclusion makes minorities and women especially vulnerable.

Survivors of human trafficking who addressed the event included Charlotte Awino, abducted at age 14 by Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Uganda and kept as a sex slave for eight years; Buddhi Gurung from Nepal, trafficked for labor to Iraq to work on a United States military base; Kika Cerpa from Venezuela, forced into prostitution by a man she thought of as her boyfriend; and Rachel Lloyd, an activist who survived commercial sexual exploitation as a teenager and started a New York organization to aid girls victimized by sex traffickers.

Horrifying Statistics

Today in the world, there are more slaves than when slavery was legal. There are an estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking that live in every major city across the world. Contemplating this, we see a picture of suffering on a magnitude too staggering to comprehend.

  • Human trafficking is a $10 billion+ growth industry with conservative estimates ranging from 700,000 to 2 million people – primarily women and children – trafficked into prostitution and slavery annually.
  • Human trafficking is the third largest criminal business worldwide, after trafficking in drugs and weapons.
  • For traffickers it has been a high profit, low risk enterprise. Laws against trafficking in persons do not exist or are not enforced in many countries.
  • The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls.
  • In 30% of the countries that provide information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.
  • Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose office organized the Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking Special Event, stressed that persisting economic disparities, conflict and discrimination, particularly against women and migrants, continue to push those least able to protect themselves into dangerous situations from which they cannot escape.

Can we End Human Trafficking?

The demand for prostitution is the main driver of the business of human trafficking. The best way to stop the demand for prostitution is to make the act of paying for sex illegal.  See: Stopping the Demand for Trafficking in Women & Children and Norway Makes Paying for Sex Illegal.

There will always be some individuals who will not be stopped from buying sex by such legislation, but the experience of Sweden and Norway has shown that most are deterred by the risk of such penalties as having their name printed in the newspaper, having their car impounded, having to do community service or having to attend educational sessions on human trafficking.

What can you do?

There are many things that you can do to stop the demand for trafficking in women and children.

  • Educate others about the implications of  buying sex, frequenting “gentlemen’s clubs,” patronizing porn sites on the Internet, etc.
  • Promote the passage of anti-trafficking laws that follow the Swedish model of punishing those who buy sex.
  • Participate in awareness-raising groups that make known the situation of human trafficking in your country or region.
  • Pray daily for an end to human trafficking.
  • Speak out against the sexualization and commoditization of women and children in the media and on the Internet.

For more information go to:


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