Fighting Human Trafficking: Partnership and Innovation to End Violence against Women and Children

Date: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the UN General Assembly Interactive Dialogue, “Fighting Human Trafficking: Partnership and Innovation to End Violence against Women and Children, on Tuesday 3 April 2012.

[Check against delivery.]

Distinguished Delegates,
Colleagues and friends,

It is difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking than human trafficking. Yet it is one of the fastest growing and lucrative crimes. And an estimated 80 percent of those trafficked are used and abused as sexual slaves.

This human rights violation is driven by the demand for sexual services and the profit they generate; the commodification of human beings as sexual objects, and the poverty, gender inequalities and subordinate position of women and girls that provide fertile ground for human trafficking.

We have all heard stories of parents selling their daughters. What we haven't heard so much are the stories of illegal recruiters and traffickers that cash in on gender-based vulnerabilities. Studies from South Asia point to traffickers scouring villages looking for widowed, divorced women, women or girls who had been sexually abused or censured by communities who were seeking refuge from alienation and wanting economic security, or economically excluded women wanting to migrate for better work. “Fly now, pay later schemes, were deployed, trapping women and girls in debt bondage from the outset.

We also see a growing demand for labour within or across national borders in the unprotected informal manufacturing and service sectors with slave-like conditions of work that fall within the definition of trafficking. Domestic work, ‘hospitality', and sweat shop work are all the staples for women. And restrictive immigration and migration policies and legislation, or restrictive conditions of stay and work, especially for women, render women and girls vulnerable to traffickers, if they must move for survival.

So what needs to be done and what innovative illustrations of good practice can we showcase to combat trafficking? At UN Women we work in partnership to fight trafficking by focusing on gender, human rights, justice and development. I'd like to highlight four elements of this strategy:

First, put human rights and justice for victims at the centre of efforts. Today much focus is placed on national sovereignty, national security, morality, and law and order paradigms that penalize victims and survivors of trafficking, rather than penalizing the traffickers and clients. It is time to crack down on the larger trafficking syndicates and networks and provide real protection, justice and services to survivors.

Trafficking victims are often traumatized and depressed and they need counseling and social support, healthcare including sexual and reproductive health services, and legal aid and shelter. Innovations include one-stop shops to improve access to justice; special courts, including mobile courts and inter-disciplinary teams; and raising gender awareness and increasing women's representation in police and justice systems.

Second, place more focus on prevention, gender equality and women's empowerment, and zero tolerance for violence against women, including trafficking. Preventive factors include increasing education for women and girls, creating more and decent jobs for women, providing social services and social protection, and generating a pervasive culture of respect for human rights and gender equality. UN Women has contributed to significant policy and legal reforms in 25 countries to advance equal opportunities, address trafficking and promote the rights of women.

Third, make the links between migration and trafficking. Today much trafficking occurs within the context of migration. Gender- sensitive labour and migration policies and programs can protect and support migrant workers at all stages of migration and also reduce trafficking.

Good practices in migration legislation have been introduced in Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia and Jordan with support from UN Women and others. In Nepal and Indonesia efforts are underway to track women who have lost contact with families, collect unpaid wages and provide emotional support and rehabilitation, and blacklist unscrupulous recruiting agents.

And my fourth and final point is that we need to support trafficking survivors to be at the policy table so they can testify and claim their rights and entitlements, and policymakers can listen and learn what needs to be done. Let's face it. It is only by listening to the women and men and girls and boys who have been trafficked that we can mount a response that is effective.

In moving forward, UN Women will use this dialogue and outcome to inform our work in countries and to prepare for the Secretary-General's report and resolution in the General Assembly this year on trafficking in women in girls, and also for next year's session of the Commission on the Status of Women that is devoted to ending violence against women.

I assure you that UN Women is strongly committed to working with you in preventing trafficking, prosecuting traffickers and protecting and providing services to survivors.

I thank you and look forward to our discussions.