New OSCE/ODIHR and UN Women Report examines Pandemic’s Impacts on Human Trafficking

30 July 2020
Policy Innovation

Alice Eckstein  | Programme Manager - Delta 8.7

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and UN Women have released the report, “Addressing Emerging Human Trafficking Trends and Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic”, examining  the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human trafficking and including a set of 78 policy recommendations on response to the effects of the pandemic on anti-trafficking efforts. The report’s findings draw from two surveys, one which collected responses from survivors of trafficking from 41 countries, and another of frontline stakeholders from 103 countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Victim and Survivor Support

Respondents to the survey of survivors indicated an increased difficulty in access to services, including basic needs such as food, shelter and healthcare as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In non-OSCE countries, respondents were more likely to report difficulty in accessing food and water. While the survivor’s gender was not a dynamic in access to support services, both male and female respondents indicated believing that the pandemic’s effects are more severe for women. More than half believed that the pandemic is increasing the risk of trafficking and re-trafficking for vulnerable populations.

Frontline stakeholders who responded to the survey indicated strained resources as a result of an increased need for their services combined with closures of physical facilities and movement to online provision of service. They noted a shift in government priorities and resources toward pandemic response would limit medium and longer-term action on trafficking. The majority also reported a decline in overall well-being of survivors, both physically and psychologically. Moreover, the survey suggested that the majority of shelters for survivors expect to have their capacity to address longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic diminished, with some closures of shelters.

Impact of COVID-19 on Trafficking and Exploitation

Frontline responders also identified increased risk for trafficking as well as a worsening of conditions for those currently living under exploitation. Traffickers rapidly moved to online recruitment strategies for both trafficking for the purpose of labour and sexual exploitation. The report identifies gender-specific vulnerabilities as well an increased trafficking of children including for online sexual exploitation.

International and National Response

The report identifies an urgent need for states to strengthen anti-trafficking frameworks, starting with the universal ratification of the Palermo Protocol and its incorporation into national legislation. The majority of survey respondents also expressed interest in the development of national protocols on prevention of trafficking and on the human rights of survivors and victims during national emergencies, including pandemics.

States with National Referral Mechanisms (NRM) have been in a better position to support anti-trafficking efforts throughout the pandemic, and the adoption of NRM’s more widely is suggested to increase capacity to combat trafficking. These are recommended to be grounded in a human rights-based, trauma-informed, gender-sensitive and victim- and survivor-centered approach, and implemented to include an independent national rapporteur, national coordinator and interagency council with the participation of both government and civil society actors.

The report also suggests that more efforts are needed on identifying vulnerable populations and on addressing demand and the root causes of trafficking, particularly for women and children. In the case of children, states should be aware of and mitigate the likelihood of the pandemic to block access to healthcare, schools and other critical services.

Alice Eckstein is the Modern Slavery Programme Manager at UNU-CPR. Follow her on Twitter: @AliceEckstein

This article has been prepared by Alice Eckstein as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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