Skip to main content

A decade of action needed to end human trafficking

By Yury Fedotov, Special to CNN
June 19, 2013 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Millions of people fall victim to human trafficking, says Yury Fedotov
  • The world has made progress in reducing this profitable crime, he says
  • Fedotov: Many countries have passed legislation against trafficking
  • He says improvements coming too slowly; a decade of action is needed

Editor's note: Yury Fedotov is the executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

(CNN) -- Thirteen-year-old Anjali didn't just pack her bags and run away to the circus, she signed a 10-year contract with a circus master after fleeing from long hours of domestic servitude in Nepal. Taken to India, she then endured years of appalling and dangerous working conditions for no pay. A British charity helped Anjali finally say goodbye to the circus.

Anjali's story is not the same as other victims, but there are disturbing similarities: threats, sexual and labor exploitation, often cruelty, sometimes brutality. (To read Anjali's story, please go to UNODC's 2013 publication, Hear Their Story. Her name was changed to protect her identity.)

Despite her terrible experiences, Anjali is one of the fortunate ones. There are millions of women, children and men across the world who face similar experiences. Human trafficking is now worth around $32 billion annually to the criminals and their networks. It is one of the world's most profitable crimes.

Yury Fedotov
Yury Fedotov

I recently attended a debate on human trafficking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Other speakers included Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino, UNODC's good will ambassador against human trafficking. She spoke with dignity and with passion, which found echoes in the words of many of the other speakers, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The debate ensured that this crime remains on the radar screens of U.N. member states, one decade after the Trafficking in Persons Protocol entered into force.

There is also some good news. Today, 83% of countries have proper legislation to combat human trafficking. In 2009, this figure was only 60%. So far, 175 states are parties to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and 154 are party to the Trafficking in Persons Protocol that is the foundation for our work against this heinous crime. Fifteen countries have also ratified the protocol since 2010.

This, however, leaves 39 member states who still have to ratify the protocol and unite the entire world against human trafficking. Impunity is another festering issue. Sixteen percent of countries have never recorded a single conviction for human trafficking. Conviction rates remain low.

CNN Freedom Project: Rescued Nepalese find new life in circus

Based on UNODC's Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012, between 2006 and 2009, the number of detectable cases of human trafficking for forced labor doubled from 18% to 36%. It shows that more action against this crime is being undertaken by law enforcement bodies, but there is room for improvement.

There are also problems with data collection and analysis. Our human trafficking report contained information from 132 Member States. Almost a third of countries failed to provide information to the report.

Fortunately, there is an international road map: the 3-year-old Global Plan of Action. The plan created the Victims Trust Fund managed by UNODC. So far, the fund has enabled 11 grass-roots organizations to aid victims in situations similar to that of Anjali.

But the improvements, while encouraging, are coming too slowly to help the millions of victims. What is needed is a catalyst. My suggestion is an inspirational, but realistic goal: a decade of concrete action to end human trafficking. Action founded on international cooperation and coordination.

Arrests made in modern slavery case

If we are truly serious about confronting this issue, I would suggest four steps to immediately improve the situation:

First, increased victim protection and support, second, universal ratification and full implementation of the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, as well as its protocol; third, fresh contributions to the Trust Fund from governments, the private sector and the public to assist field organizations; and fourth, the provision of comprehensive data to understand the nature of this global crime.

Legislation, however, is only the springboard for action. Every country needs a national action plan closely linked to regional and international efforts to counter human trafficking. We also need to hunt down the proceeds flowing from this ugly crime.

Preventing money laundering means working closely with banks and the financial sector to report suspicious financial movements and creating a virtuous circle among financial intelligence units, law enforcement bodies and prosecution authorities. But, it is not good enough to simply imprison the guilty traffickers, we must take their money and close down the networks and trafficking routes for good.

I am aware of the dangers of making unrealistic promises, but I believe we can achieve this goal. After all, our reach should always exceed our grasp. Let's turn the hourglass over and begin a decade of action to try to rid the world of the misery and suffering caused by human trafficking.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Yury Fedotov

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT