Human trafficking is 'slavery that shames world'

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According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has compiled the first such study from open sources, there are 127 countries of origin, mainly developing countries, and 137 destination countries, mainly in the industrialised world.The report also highlights 98 transit countries.

"The fact that slavery - in the form of human trafficking - still exists in the 21st century shames us all," said UNODC's chief, Antonio Maria Costa.

The report, to be presented to the UN crime commission meeting in Vienna, calls for the protection of victims, particularly women and children, and for the systematic prosecution of offenders. "Traffickers are evil brokers of oppressed people whom they deliver in the hands of exploiters," Mr Costa said. "They capitalise on weak law enforcement and poor international co-operation. I am disappointed by the low rates of convictions for the perpetrators of human trafficking."

Germany, Greece and France are among about a dozen countries identified as having a "high" incidence of acting as transit countries. Ten countries are named as the top destinations for trafficking victims: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and the US. Britain is on the "high" index of destination countries.

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is reported more frequently than trafficking for forced labour at the global level, the report says. It calls for governments to publicise the risks to vulnerable people through information campaigns. "A main challenge is to reduce demand, whether for cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops, or for under-priced commodities produced by bonded people in farms and mines, or for services provided by sex slaves. If people are aware of the dangers of human trafficking, the chances of avoiding its consequences should be improved," Mr Costa said.

The absence of data has been a major handicap in tackling the crime of human trafficking, the report says. "Some countries of destination have great difficulty in acknowledging the level of trafficking within and across their borders," Mr Costa said. He urged governments to "try harder" in reporting abuse, saying that efforts to understand the scale of the problem have so far been inefficient and uncoordinated.

The report also acknowledges possible dangers in interpreting the available data. Some countries could appear to have a serious problem because their data are honest and accurate, while others "could appear in an unduly favourable light because of inadequate statistics", Mr Costa said. But he said it was "difficult to name a country that is not affected in some way."