CSW Side Event: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery: Effective Responses for Women and Girls


Modern slavery and human trafficking are tragically common in today’s world and affect virtually every country. An estimated 40 million people were living in modern slavery in 2016, and women and girls are disproportionately affected by these crimes. 

According to the 2018 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, 71% of the victims are female. The UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2018 documents that out of the detected trafficking victims 49% are women and 23% are girls. Women and girls make up the majority of victims of commercial sexual exploitation, are exploited for forced labour and forced marriage, or are trafficked for the purpose of organ removal, among other crimes. 

Forced labour, slavery and human trafficking are outlawed universally. International norms and obligations range from the Slavery Convention (1926) and its Complementary Convention (1956) to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), and the ILO Convention against Forced Labour (1930) and Forced Labour Protocol (2014). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in 2015 includes Target 8.7 on ending forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking in the next 15 years, Target 5.2 on trafficking and sexual exploitation and Target 16.2 on ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.  

More recently, innovative international initiatives have been developed, with the potential to be game changers in the fight against modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. Among them is the UK Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, launched at the UNGA in September 2017; and the “Liechtenstein Initiative” for a Financial Sector Commission against Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, launched at the UNGA in September 2018, and responding to calls from the G7, G20, the UN Security Council (Resolution 2331) and the General Assembly to partner with the private sector in tackling modern slavery and human trafficking. 

Transcript: Remarks for CSW Side-Event: "Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: Effective Responses for Women and Girls," Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Thank you to the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Kenya, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands for convening this important meeting and the opportunity to participate. As Ambassador Rybakov mentioned, I am the President of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization dedicated to advancing gender equality through the rule of law. We combine legal analysis with strategic advocacy to ensure equal protection of the law for women and girls.

Trafficking and modern slavery, as has been extensively discussed by my co-panelists, disproportionately affects women and girls. This disproportionate impact is rooted in deeply entrenched and pervasive gender inequality which confers on women lower legal, economic and social status than men.

Limitations on women’s autonomy, access to resources, discrimination in pay and the disproportionate burden shouldered by women of unpaid labor, are all examples of factors which render women and girls more unequal, and as a result, more vulnerable to trafficking, including through promises of ways to escape poverty and repressive circumstances. In addition, intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination, including based on race, ethnicity, age, disability, nationality, sexual orientation and gender identity and migration status, can all increase the risk of being trafficked. Such inequalities are only exacerbated during periods of instability, including conflict.

This is why is it essential that anti-trafficking measures are centered on a gender-perspective and seek not only to address the consequences of trafficking, but its root causes. In today’s world, where we are seeing unprecedented backlashes against women’s rights globally, such an approach is more vital than ever.

First, as the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has highlighted, in the context of trafficking, there is a real need to ensure that a strong gender and human rights perspective is integrated into the neutral framework of criminal justice. Significantly, this includes due diligence obligations that are imposed on states under the human rights framework, which requires states to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private actors.

Accordingly, States should take progressive measures to review all laws and policies to remove discriminatory provisions, including in migration policies and laws that criminalizing trafficking survivors. States should also ensure that victim and witness protection measures are put in place which will enable survivors to report trafficking and protect them from repercussions. This should also include gender-sensitization and training of those involved in the criminal justice system, including police, where women are often at risk for further exploitation and violation.

In addition, since certain forms of exploitation can result in further gendered harms, including unwanted pregnancy, forced abortion and sexually transmitted infections, increased efforts should be made to understand the full range of violations that women suffer in the trafficking cycle. One new initiative that seeks to contribute to these efforts is the “Call it What it Is Campaign” which this year will produce an inclusive, victim-centric declaration which will seek to provide guidance to justice practitioners on what makes violence sexual, including through a list of non-exhaustive acts that are considered to be sexual in nature.

Second, comprehensively addressing trafficking requires that the harmful gender stereotypes and norms that underlie women’s unequal status are dismantled, as they are often at the core of the gendered-demand for the services of trafficking victims. This includes, for example, marital practices which accept or normalize child marriage or limitations on women’s autonomy and participation in marital decisions. In addition, as the CEDAW Committee has recently noted, this also includes the gendered norms, assumptions and stereotypes around male domination, sexual entitlement, coercion and control. It is essential the dismantling of these norms and stereotypes is prioritized in anti-trafficking efforts.

Third, increased resources need to be devoted to providing survivors of trafficking with redress and reparations for the violations they have suffered. Such reparations should be holistic and survivor-centered, and should seek to address and transform the root causes of trafficking. Therefore, criminal action against perpetrators and compensation structures, while essential, cannot alone address it; to comprehensively address trafficking takes much more, including guarantees of non-repetition, and access to comprehensive medical and psychosocial care for survivors, including access to SRHR, such as safe abortion services. Such efforts could be supported by utilizing and redistributing confiscated illicit funds from traffickers.

The Sustainable Development Goals provide an important roadmap for addressing trafficking and its root causes in a comprehensive manner. This means for example not only meeting the explicit targets set for trafficking such as target 5.2 to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other forms of exploitation and target 8.7 to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking, but also those in Goal 1 to end poverty and ensure equal access to economic resources, land ownership and inheritance, Goal 4 to ensure equal access to education and Goal 8 to ensure full, productive and decent employment and equal pay for equal work.

We have discussed today a range of measures to address trafficking. I will conclude by noting that in addition to the measures I have highlighted, all such approaches should be rooted in a gender-responsive manner with women involved in the design and implementation.

Sexual and gender-based violence, including trafficking are, at its core, an expression of discrimination, patriarchy and inequality. Efforts to address the issue must be centered in a gender-perspective and seek not only to address its consequences, but its root causes.

Thank you again for the opportunity to participate. I look forward to the rest of the discussion.


Tags: Sexual Violence & Rape, United Nations