Lakshmi Puri underlines urgent need to take more courageous and decisive action against human trafficking

Date: 14 May 2013

Speech by Lakshmi Puri, UN Women Acting Executive Director, during an interactive panel discussion on “Sharing Best Practices and Lessons Learned for Prevention and Prosecution in the Implementation of the Global Plan of Action” at the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the United Nations Appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons on 13 May 2013 at the General Assembly in New York.

Thank you Ambassador Monteiro Lima,
Your Royal Highness Princess Mahidol,
Ambassador Lundborg,
Ms. Baderschneider,
Delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I have heard previous panelists emphasize the gender equality and women’s empowerment dimension of trafficking. I will focus on what has happened in the recent past and what should be done to address, prevent and effectively respond to trafficking of women and girls.

It is important to emphasize that today we are seeing a trafficking scenario in which more than half of all traffic victims are women and girls; victims of forced labour are women and girls; 98 per cent of all victims of sexual exploitation are women; and now between 15 and 20 per cent are girls.

Having said that, I would like to focus on four key areas.

First, we must address the structural underlying causes of trafficking, which we see as one of the most severe and complex forms of violence against women, of inequality and of discrimination. Whether these causes lie in the rule of law ruling women out, injustice, or the marginalization of women, such as indigenous women, migrant women or women who have been sexually abused, widowed, abandoned, or divorced, this intersectional discrimination also prepares the ground for being victims of trafficking.

Second, as the Princess pointed out, there is a development dimension to the prevention of trafficking. We know that the “supply” side of trafficking steams from impoverishment, lack of income, lack of opportunity and lack of decent work. Victims are often lured first into migration, and then into trafficking.

Other push factors, such as environmental degradation, climate change, humanitarian emergencies and disasters must be addressed, both as development problems and development interventions. Laws, norms and standards must also be established to discourage and penalize traffickers and to raise awareness among potential target groups, women and girls and their families.

It is critical that we address trafficking in the larger context of gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly with regards to violence against women. Last year a landmark comprehensive resolution was passed on trafficking in women and girls. The resolution sets out the key aspects of prevention, protecting the human rights of women and girls, investigating and prosecuting offenders, and providing multisectoral response services.

This brings me to my third point. The response to trafficking must be holistic, coordinated and multisectoral. And it has to address issues of labour, migration, education, and development. One of the most important lessons we have learned is that we have to put human rights and justice for the victims and survivors at the center of our efforts. Today too many women victims are blamed, shamed, arrested, and put in jail. They are treated like criminals when they are victims of crimes whose rights have been violated and who deserve justice.

We had a historic outcome at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women in March. The outcome document calls on Governments to take measures to ensure that identified victims of trafficking are not penalized for having been trafficked and that they are provided appropriate protection and care, such as rehabilitation and reintegration in society, witness protection, job training, legal assistance, confidential health care, and repatriation with their informed consent.

The agreement also calls on Governments to criminalize all forms of trafficking in persons, to strengthen laws to better protect the rights of women and girls and to bring justice to offenders and intermediaries involved. This applies to the whole chain, including public officials.

The agreement emphasizes the importance of providing open spaces for victims and survivors to be heard, so that their perspective and experience will inform policymaking.

At UN Women we are working on all of these fronts and have contributed to significant policy and legal reforms in 25 countries to address trafficking. For example:

  • Brazil and Viet Nam have developed national plans to fight trafficking.
  • India has undertaken a mapping study that identified districts with a high risk of trafficking to take responsive action.
  • And in Cambodia and Nigeria, women’s groups trained police and community leaders to combat trafficking.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is also triggering progress. In Malaysia, an NGO called CARAM Asia has developed a comprehensive pre-departure orientation for the region, whereby women are informed about the realities of migration, the risk of violence and ways to protect themselves in destination countries. And women’s rights organizations in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco have developed the Arab region’s first model law on female trafficking.
I hope this forum will help to bridge the gap between commitment and implementation.

Finally, we must make the investment in coordinated prevention and multisectoral and holistic response. This is an investment of financial and human resources and of capacity-building. This is the real need of the hour to deal with one of the worst forms of violence, of depravity, and crime that humanity faces.

I thank you.