The United Nations has released a new report which declares that human trafficking is still the fastest-growing international criminal industry in the world. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons and author of the report, blames the continued thriving of the industry in part on a myopic focus on criminalizing traffickers. Instead, she suggests a human rights-based, victim-focused approach.
In her report, Ezeilo claims that regional approaches to combating human trafficking hold the key to effective change, especially in pressuring countries within that region who have not been working against trafficking to step up their efforts. But these regional approaches have thus far focused almost exclusively on criminalizing human trafficking, and have done much less to prevent victimization and assist victims. That, according to Ezeilo, needs to change. She calls for a human-rights based approach and an increased focus on preventing victimization and assisting victims.
I agree with Special Rappoteur’s assessment overall, but I think she leaves out a couple important things. Yes, national and regional efforts to fight human trafficking over the past several years have focused more on criminalizing human trafficking than anything else. But that was an incredibly necessary step. The rule of law is the basis for all human rights around the world, so making human trafficking illegal had to happen in order for victims’ rights to be protected. Yes, it’s time for us to move on, but let’s not discount the importance of criminalizing trafficking around the world.
I also agree that we need a more human rights-based, victim-centered focus to how we combat human trafficking. But even more than that, we need a strategy for how to address the demand for human trafficking that drives the marketplace of victims and traffickers. The demand is the people who are buying or taking the results of human trafficking — the johns who buy children from brothels, the soccer moms who buy slave-made t-shirts in the U.S., and the husbands who traffic women as their wives. All of the awareness and prevention in the world targeted at victims, all the laws criminalizing traffickers in the world, won’t make a difference if demand goes unchecked.
Yes, we need to focus on victims of human trafficking. But we can’t forget who is driving the market for their victimization: us.
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