Human trafficking - statistics and facts

Despite increased international attention and resources from states and other non-governmental institutions, the number of people falling victim to human trafficking around the world continues to grow. Between 2008 and 2016 the number of human trafficking victims identified worldwide more than doubled from 30,961 to 66,520. Though such statistics also lead to a degree of optimism among investigators and human rights advocates as it suggests that additional focus has lead to greater exposure of the issue. After all, trafficking in persons is an illegal practice shaded in secrecy and is therefore near impossible to measure it in its entirety.

The two primary forms of exploitation people are trafficked for are forced labor and sexual exploitation, with regional variances on the proportion of each. Although sexual exploitation remains the primary from, the prevalence of forced labor as the criminal’s motivation has grown in the last decade. This in part explains the rising share of males victims in human trafficking according to the United Nations. Their analysis suggests that the vast majority of male trafficking victims are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor, some 85.7 percent in 2014.

For women, traditional understandings of human trafficking remain the norm with 72 percent of female victims being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Whilst forced labor and exploitation of other forms are certainly an issue, the disturbing images of women falling victim to the global sex trade conveyed in films such as The Whistleblower remain as omnipresent as ever. In the United States this is reflected in the dominant share of female victims in calls to the national hotline in conjunction with a prevalence of calls related to sex trafficking over those related to forced labor.

On the international level, Africa was the region with the most victims in 2016. Given that 10 percent of victims trafficked internationally were citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East in 2014, much of the exploitation is occurring within the continent. As a result, calls are being made for further international focus on combating trafficking in the region rather than dealing with the victims when they are on Europe’s doorstep.

Perhaps lessons can be learnt from the increasing presence of legal action on human traffickers in Asia. Despite the diminished capacities and resources of South and Central Asian countries to combat trafficking when compared with their North American or European counterparts, the region conducted most prosecutions in 2016 with 6,297. Accordingly, these prosecutions resulted in the highest number of convictions. With the number of convictions worldwide doubling over the last decade, there is some reason to believe that improvements are being made in removing the terror of human trafficking and exploitation from many of the world’s most vulnerable people. Unfortunately, the true extent of this heinous trade remains unknown.

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Human trafficking - Important statistics

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