Conflict, terrorism, economic turmoil, natural calamities, disease: we are living in an era of unprecedented crises and troubles, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned.
Record numbers of people are fleeing war and persecution, and the international community is grappling with acute migration challenges in the Mediterranean, the Balkans, in the Andaman Sea, Latin America and Africa.
For human traffickers, these hardships represent business opportunities.
Many millions of vulnerable women, men and children are being cruelly exploited – coerced into working in factories, fields and brothels or begging on the street; pushed into armed combat or forced marriages; trafficked so their organs can be harvested and sold.
More and more detected victims of trafficking are children, especially girls under the age of 18. No place in the world is safe: the latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that the trafficking victims identified in 124 states were citizens of 152 different countries.
And the traffickers are getting away with it. Over the past decade there has been no significant improvement in the overall criminal justice response to this crime. In the period covered by the Global Report, some 40 per cent of countries reported less than ten convictions per year. Some 15 per cent did not record a single conviction.
The world is facing many grave challenges, and our resources are strained. But we cannot allow criminals to exploit these crises and take advantage of desperation and suffering.
You might wonder what one person can do about an entrenched and pervasive crime like human trafficking. But we can all do our part.
As a first step, you can educate yourself about human trafficking and help others become aware of the problem. You can find out more on our website for World Day against Trafficking in Persons, www.unodc.org/endht.
You can urge lawmakers and businesses to take this crime seriously, and to take action.
For governments, that means joining the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on trafficking, and putting these frameworks into action in national legislation.
Effective implementation of the Convention and Protocol – backed with the necessary resources – can help to protect trafficking victims, promote cooperation between countries and ensure that criminal traffickers, wherever they are, are brought to justice.
As a consumer, employee or business owner, you can advocate for measures to prevent the use of forced labour in operations and supply chains, and eliminate abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices that may lead to trafficking.
Finally, you can encourage governments, companies and individuals to support the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.
Financed solely through voluntary contributions, the Trust Fund works with NGO partners across the globe to identify women, children and men who have been exploited by traffickers, and give them the assistance, protection and support they need.
Since 2011, the Trust Fund has helped some 2,000 victims annually, providing shelter, basic health services, vocational training and schooling, as well as psychosocial, legal and economic support.
The Trust Fund has been able to assist girls like Skye, who was trafficked to India when she was just thirteen. After escaping back home to Nepal, she sought help from NGO Shakti Samuha. She went after her trafficker in court and went back to school.
Skye won her case and graduated, and now works as a staff member at Shakti Samuha, helping other trafficking victims become survivors.
There are many more young girls and trafficking victims like Skye who need and deserve our support.
July 30 is United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons, established to raise awareness of the plight of human trafficking victims, and promote and protect their rights. This Thursday, let’s take this opportunity to give hope to trafficking victims, pledge to do our part and help end this terrible crime.
The author is the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.