WASHINGTON (BP) —Human traffickers took advantage of conditions produced by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but those fighting human trafficking have adapted their efforts to protect vulnerable people and help victims, according to the US State Department.
While focusing on the effects of the pandemic, the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released on July 1 by the State Department, showed a decline in the number of countries in the highest and lowest ranked categories for fight against human trafficking.
The United States joined 27 other countries in Tier 1, a category reserved for governments that fully comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. This is a decrease of six countries from the previous year. The number of Tier 3 countries, which refers to governments that “do not fully meet” minimum standards and “do not make significant efforts to do so”, has increased from 19 to 17.
The 21st Annual Trafficking in Persons Report assessed the efforts of 188 countries or territories to combat sex trafficking and forced labor, which have an estimated 25 million adult and child victims and generate $ 150 billion annually. in the world.
Chelsea Sobolik, policy director of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said she was “grateful for the bipartisan dedication of the United States in the fight against human trafficking around the world.”
The Trafficking in Persons Report “is the world’s most comprehensive resource on government anti-trafficking efforts and is a valuable asset for those seeking to end the exploitation of vulnerable people, such as the Baptists. determined to do so, ”she said.
Reduced protection, reduced prevention
The report, which covered April 2020 to March 2021, said the COVID-19 pandemic “has created conditions that have increased the number of people vulnerable to human trafficking and halted existing anti-trafficking interventions and planned ”.
He also reported that governments around the world “have diverted resources to the pandemic, often to the detriment of anti-trafficking efforts, resulting in a decrease in protection measures and the provision of services to victims, a reduction in efforts. prevention and obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of traffickers “.
Meanwhile, human traffickers have capitalized on groups whose vulnerabilities have been exposed by the pandemic. According to the report, traffickers have targeted people unable to adapt to the negative economic effect, took advantage of the increased difficulty in identifying victims, recruited children with false promises from families suffering financial losses and took advantage of the increased difficulty in identifying victims. attempted to resume exploitation of survivors of trafficking who were vulnerable.
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Family trafficking is often overlooked, according to the report. The International Organization for Migration estimated in 2017 that 41% of child trafficking incidents result from a family member or guardian who treats the minor or sells him to a trafficker.
Internet sexual exploitation has increased, according to the report. The traffickers have exploited the largest number of e-learning children by carrying out more recruitment and preparation online. The U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saw a 98.7% growth in online dating reports between January and September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The anti-trafficking movement within governments and non-governmental organizations has adapted to the challenges of the pandemic by moving to online and virtual platforms to “identify victims, support victims and survivors and increase collaboration”, according to the report. Additionally, prosecutors and courts have used technology “to safely pursue prosecution efforts while employing a victim-centered approach,” the report said.
“Traffic does not stop during a pandemic”
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that human trafficking doesn’t stop during a pandemic,” said Kari Johnstone, Acting Director of the Bureau of State Department monitoring and anti-trafficking, in the report.
“The conjunction of the increased number of individuals at risk, the ability of traffickers to take advantage of competing crises and the diversion of resources to pandemic response efforts have created an ideal environment for human trafficking to thrive and evolve. .
“Yet despite the additional challenges and risks that the pandemic has presented, we have also witnessed the adaptability of those who continue to fight human trafficking and their dedication” to ensuring the continuation of the work to combat human trafficking. against trafficking, she said.
The report also cited links between systemic racism and human trafficking.
“Years of study, data and first-hand knowledge of those who have experienced human trafficking show that systemic racism undermines the goals of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims and preventing human trafficking. significantly, ”according to the report.
He highlighted findings which showed that “entrenched racial prejudices and stereotypes … hamper progress in anti-trafficking efforts because they lead to racially disparate assumptions about who is a trafficker and who should have access to protection and to victims’ services ”.
Notes and rankings published
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, South Korea joined the United States at Level 1 of the Trafficking in Persons Report. , Lithuania, Luxembourg, Namibia, Netherlands, Philippines, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and United Kingdom.
The State Department upgraded Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland from Level 1 to Level 2 in its latest ranking.
Level 3 included Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, China, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Malaysia, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela. Belarus, Burundi and Lesotho moved from level 3 to level 2 on this year’s watch list.
President Biden has the power to impose sanctions on Level 3 countries, including refusing to provide non-humanitarian, non-commercial foreign aid.
Level 2, which included 95 countries, concerns countries that do not fully meet the minimum requirements but “are making significant efforts”. The Level 2 Watchlist, which included 45 countries, is reserved for countries that fail to meet minimum standards and experience increasing numbers of victims and fail to demonstrate efforts to combat trafficking.
For the second year, the Trafficking in Persons Report named countries that have a government-backed “policy or model” for trafficking. This year’s list included Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan. He specifically reported on the Chinese government’s program of forced labor and imprisonment of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslims living in the western Xinjiang region.
The report “highlights the fact that in Xinjiang the government is the trafficker,” Sobolik said. “ERLC has been a cohesive voice on behalf of the Uyghur people in advocating for the swift passage of the Uyghur Law on the Prevention of Forced Labor. The genocide of the Uyghurs and the persecution of religious minorities by the Chinese government should shock the conscience of every Christian.
In its report on its own country, the State Department said the United States had increased the number of investigations for the second year in a row and the number of victims served by recipients of federal grants. However, he has yet to make headway in the fight against labor trafficking and has seen his number of prosecutions decline for the third year in a row, according to the report.