Rise in human trafficking amid Covid-19 pandemic

Chains wrapped around the wrists of a man illustrate trafficking and enslavement. Photo: CNS/Reuters
Chains wrapped around the wrists of a man illustrate trafficking and enslavement. Photo: CNS/Reuters

VATICAN (CNS): As governments and world leaders struggle to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, they must also work harder to protect victims of human trafficking, Caritas Internationalis said on July 28 in a joint statement with COATNET, a network of 46 Christian organisations engaged in fighting human trafficking.

The statement was made ahead of the July 30 commemoration of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Insufficient attention “was paid on the collateral damage of the ongoing pandemic, especially on migrants and informal workers, who are now more exposed to trafficking and exploitation the joint statement said.

“Caritas Internationalis and COATNET also call for urgent and targeted measures to support workers in informal sectors such as domestic work, agricultural and construction work, where most vulnerable workers (for example, undocumented migrants) can be found,” it said.

Citing statistics released by the International Labour Organisation, Caritas said there are currently “40 million people in our world today” who are victims of human trafficking.

It added that the current health crisis has only exacerbated the problem “due to lack of housing and job security resulting from government measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

Caritas said, “Lack of freedom of movement caused by lockdown and travel restrictions means that human trafficking victims in many countries have less chance of escaping and finding help when they are held in situations against their will.” 

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It said, “Among them, there are many victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Domestic workers face increased risks economically, and also physically and psychologically, as they are even more cut off from society during the pandemic.” 

The statement also said restrictive measures have made it difficult for associations and local authorities to identify cases of trafficking as well as an increase in violence against children, particularly online exploitation in homes “with little parental supervision.”

Caritas said, “At one point during lockdown in India, for example, 92,000 cases of child abuse were reported to authorities over the course of just 11 days. Children from economically vulnerable families may be also forced on the streets to beg, facing high risk of exploitation.” 

Aloysius John, Caritas Internationalis’ secretary general, said “focused attention must not prevent us from taking care of the people most vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.”

John said, “At this moment of Covid-19, we denounce a preoccupying reality for vulnerable people and increase in risk of trafficking.” 

He said victims of human trafficking and exploitation “need immediate attention” and called on governments “to provide them with access to justice and to basic services, in particular shelters and hotlines, and also to put in place urgent and targeted measures to support workers in informal sectors.”

John said, “We also call institutions and civil society organisations to protect children from abuse and exploitation, also through Internet and new media, and we ask all people to be vigilant and to denounce cases of human trafficking and exploitation.” 

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