It has been five years since the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children came into effect, and the time is ripe for an assessment of progress. In March 2007, UNODC conducted, in the framework of the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), a study on the state of the world’s response to the crime of human trafficking. The research looked beyond the ratification of the Protocol to ask how many countries had formulated national legislation and created supporting institutions and how many investigations, prosecutions and convictions these efforts had produced. This report presents the information gathered by 10 UNODC researchers from 155 countries and territories from September 2007 until July 2008. The information itself pertains to the period 2003 to 2007.
These data show that the efforts of the international community to promote action on human trafficking resulted in a tremendous amount of national activity, much of it very recent, to combat the trade in human beings and to ameliorate its effects. At the same time, the research also revealed two related problems. The first is that some countries are not collecting even basic data, and many are not collecting data in a way that facilitates insight into the national situation, let alone meeting standards of international comparability. The second problem is that the information gathered does not shed light on the most fundamental question: Have all these efforts been successful in reducing human trafficking worldwide?
This report is about the collective global response to human trafficking. Due to the nature of the information collected, it can say much less about the activity itself. Criminal justice data do not accurately represent the nature or the extent of the underlying activity any more than a fisherman’s catch represents the state of the fish in the sea. Some countries do not have specific legislation on human trafficking or do not criminalize some elements of the definition agreed in the Protocol. Even countries with the appropriate legislative framework vary tremendously in the resources available for enforcement and the way these resources are targeted. Also, countries with the largest amounts of State activity may be atypical, their data far from being representative of the global scene. Governments may legitimately note that the higher visibility of trafficking in a national criminal justice system may be, in large part, due to the significant importance and priority a State places on responding to trafficking in persons.
Nonetheless, it is of the utmost importance to our collective efforts to combat human trafficking that data be shared over time in an internationally standardized way. A poor indicator is better than no indicator as long as it is not represented as more than it is. Over time, the collection of information from so many different perspectives can, in aggregate, make up for many of the deficiencies of the data itself. Our global data set, reviewed time and again, can indeed tell us something more about the trends and patterns of the problem. This information is vital so that, in a world of limited resources, efforts can be focused for maximum effect.
This research project has shown that many countries are willing to share data and that many have data to share. In addition to documenting the substantial commitment a wide range of countries have made to stop the trade in persons, some modest insights can be gained into the hidden world of human trafficking. Institutionalizing this information-gathering in an ongoing cooperative programme, similar to that undertaken for drugs or to that used to monitor the implementation of the Trafficking Protocol within the framework of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Transnational Organized Crime Convention, is clearly a possibility and potentially an invaluable one.
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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is a United Nations agency focussed on trafficking in and abuse of illicit drugs, crime prevention and criminal justice, international terrorism, and political corruption.