A new United Nations report has painted a grim picture of the millions of people being trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour. They represent at least 136 different nationalities, have been detected in 118 countries and the majority of victims are women though the number of children is increasing.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime, which launched the report at UN headquarters in New York, said the victims could be found in the world's restaurants, fisheries, brothels, farms and homes, among many other activities.
The report says trafficking for sexual exploitation accounts for 58% of all trafficking cases detected globally while the share of detected cases for forced labour has doubled over the past four years to 36%.
In general, it said traffickers were adult men and nationals of the country in which they operated, but more women and foreigners are involved than in most other crimes. "This global crime generates billions of dollars in profits for the traffickers," Yury Fedotov, executive director of the Vienna-based agency known as the UNODC, said in the preface.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour globally, a figure that includes victims of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation, he said. "While it is not known how many of these victims were trafficked, the estimate implies that currently, there are millions of trafficking in persons victims in the world," Mr Fedotov said.
According to the report, trafficking for sexual exploitation is more common in Europe, Central Asia and the Americas while trafficking for forced labour is more frequently found in Africa, the Middle East, south and east Asia and the Pacific.
Women account for 55-60% of all trafficking victims detected globally, and women and girls together account for about 75%, it said.
One worrying trend is the apparent increase in the trafficking of children, with the percentage of detected victims increasing from 20% between 2003-2006 to some 27% between 2007-2010, the report said. Among the child victims detected, it said, two of every three trafficked children were girls.
The report said detection of other forms of trafficking remained relatively rare. Trafficking for the removal of organs, though comprising just 0.2% of detected cases in 2010, was reported by 16 countries in all regions surveyed, it said. Trafficking for other purposes including begging, forced marriage, illegal adoption, participating in armed combat and committing crimes, accounted for 6 % of detected cases in 2010, including 1.5% of victims exploited for begging, the report said.
The report said progress has been made in fighting trafficking, with 134 countries and territories passing laws making it a crime. But the UNODC said progress in getting convictions is limited. Of the 132 countries covered in the report, it said 16% did not record a single conviction for human trafficking between 2007 and 2010.