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
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT