Virtually no country in the world is unaffected by the crime of human trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labour, a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows.
The report on "Trafficking In Persons: Global Patterns," published on Monday, identifies 127 countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries. It shows that global efforts to combat trafficking are being hampered by a lack of accurate data, reflecting the unwillingness of some countries to acknowledge that the problem affects them.
"It is extremely difficult to establish how many victims there are world-wide as the level of reporting varies considerably, but the number certainly runs into millions," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. "It is difficult to name a country that is not affected in some way."
The absence of reliable global data, such as UNODC compiles every year on the illegal drugs trade, makes it more difficult for governments and international organizations to fight trafficking effectively.
"Our experience in compiling this report has been that some countries of destination have great difficulty in acknowledging the level of trafficking within and across their borders," Mr Costa said.
"Efforts to counter trafficking have so far been uncoordinated and inefficient. The lack of systematic reporting by authorities is a real problem. Governments need to try harder."
The UNODC Executive Director outlined three main challenges for governments:
* to reduce demand, whether for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops, under-priced commodities produced by bonded people in farms and mines, or services provided by sex slaves;
* to target the criminals who profit from the vulnerability of people trying to escape from poverty, unemployment, hunger and oppression;
* to protect trafficking victims, especially women and children.
"Traffickers capitalize on weak law enforcement and poor international cooperation. The low rate of convictions for the perpetrators of human trafficking is a matter of serious concern which needs to be addressed," Mr Costa said.
"Protecting the victims may sound obvious, but in practice they are all too often treated as criminals who may face charges for violating immigration or anti-prostitution laws. Humane and sensitive treatment is not just a moral imperative - it also increases the likelihood that victims will overcome their understandable fear and testify against their abusers."
The Report lists states on a scale from "very low" to "very high" as countries of origin, transit and destination. It shows that people are usually trafficked from poor countries to more affluent ones. The main form of exploitation is reported to be sexual and the main victims are women and children.
The organised criminal gangs behind human trafficking are often multi-national in their membership and operations.
Mr Costa acknowledged that this first attempt to provide an authoritative global report on trafficking has its limitations. Some countries could appear to have a serious problem simply because their data are honest and accurate, while others could appear in an unduly favourable light because of inadequate statistics.
"Governments need to get serious about identifying the full extent of the problem so they can get serious about eliminating it," he added. "The fact that this form of slavery still exists in the 21 st century shames us all."
The full text of the Report is available at /unodc/en/trafficking_persons_report_2006-04.html