Global leaders convened at a United Nations summit in September, 2015 and adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs focus on people, the planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. With these new goals, member states that were present at the summit are expected to establish a national framework to end poverty and fight inequality. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will help combat human trafficking through goals 5, 8, and 16.

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Between 2012-2014, over 70% of detected human trafficking victims were women and girls, making up the majority of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) cases. In India, almost 20,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in 2016. The highest number of victims was recorded in West Bengal, following by Rajasthan and Maharashtra where women and children are trafficked into domestic labor, sex work, and even as child brides. Target 5.2 specifically calls for countries to “Eliminate forms of violence against all women and children in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” Other targets under this goal are connected to women’s empowerment, including eliminating child marriage and unpaid domestic work. Policies and funding are expected to be diverted to promote gender equality across all levels and help populations that are affected by CSE.

SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Many cases of human trafficking begin with an individual searching for better economic prosperity. The desire for greater economic opportunity can place migrants and refugees at high risk. In fact, poverty and inequality puts large numbers of children (particularly in India and Cambodia) at risk for CSE. Target 8.7 calls for nations to, “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.” This is perhaps the most direct target to combat human trafficking. If all countries truly invest in economic opportunities over the next 13 years, poverty and inequality would be reduced and we would address one of the most pressing social determinants that place individuals in trafficking situations.

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Human trafficking is a prominent concern in countries where the rule of law is weak. It has been nearly two decades since the enactment of the Palermo Protocol and various anti-trafficking legislations, but the crime still remains. Target 16.3 calls to “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.” Hopefully more traffickers and organized crime groups will be prosecuted as countries work to meet this target. These goals specifically address human trafficking and call for countries to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, forced labor, and modern slavery. However, in order to achieve the anti-trafficking goals, all stakeholders need to collaborate and examine the current preventative initiatives and protections available to victims of trafficking.

Winnie Wei-en Chu is the HTS East Asia Summer Fellow.

PC: United Nations