Impacts of COVID-19 on Trafficking

Marking July 30 2020, World Day Against Trafficking, the NGO Committee on Trafficking in Persons deplores the increased vulnerabilities caused by the worldwide disruptions of COVID-19.

With the primary attentions of countries and communities everywhere focused on containing the health and economic crises of the COVID pandemic, the peril of 3.8 million adults and 1 million children annually trafficked for sexual or labor exploitation has increased alarmingly.

This dire situation also, once again, highlights the social and economic which are root causes of human trafficking and disproportionately impact marginalized populations, including women. Some of many examples-

  • Increased poverty exacerbated by loss of employment or loss of family income through death has resulted in large numbers of adults and children forced into survival work or servitude. 
  • Displaced persons, refugees, undocumented migrants, informal and domestic workers, whose legal status in often precarious, are particularly vulnerable to increased exploitation.
  • Child marriage, which often results in violence, poverty and the end of a girl’s education, has increased drastically to mitigate the economic burden of desperate families.

At the same time, criminals engaging in the lucrative business of trafficking have greatly extended their outreach. Women and girls who had previously been lured into prostitution with promises of better futures have been forced out of their housing, deported and left homeless and in poverty because customers have evaporated in the COVID scare. Children, who may be less supervised with school closures (with their predators having more time at home) have been the center of extensive targeting through communications technology.

By contrast, COVID restrictions to control the pandemic have resulted in reducing the capacity of both governments and NGOs to identify, support, counsel and seek justice for victims of trafficking. To address this calamity, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime urgently recommends “developing rapid assessment tools for countries to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on essential services for victims as well as on law enforcement and justice capacities” as a first step.

If the United Nations is to continue its 75 year reputation as the “moral compass” for the world, it must meet the challenge of ensuring all victims of trafficking all the basic human rights which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.