There have been changes in the criminal methods used by offenders, with the use of new technologies becoming increasingly common.
July 30 marks World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Twenty-one years after the signing of the Palermo Protocol, which helped to establish an internationally accepted definition and put the issue of trafficking on the international agenda, progress in the fight against this human trafficking is globally evident. Today, many countries have enacted strict laws against this crime, which have led to increased efforts to investigate, arrest and prosecute offenders, and give the right of victims to assistance and care based on their human rights and vulnerabilities. There is also an international approach to responding to trafficking, which often crosses national borders.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts to curb its spread, human trafficking remains a very lucrative crime and, in some cases, difficult to investigate, with high rates of impunity and a large number of undetected cases. Because of these barriers, it is attractive to perpetrators and a significant challenge for states and societies. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that in 2018, around a third of the total number of trafficking victims in the world were minors, with Central America and the Caribbean being two of the three regions with the highest number of detected cases of trafficking for sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused systemic inequalities and the vulnerability of children and adolescents to increase. Poverty, loss of employment, and school closures, among other factors, have exacerbated the risks of exploitation and abuse. At the same time, there have been changes in the criminal methods used by offenders, with the use of new technologies becoming increasingly common.
Through social media, encrypted instant messaging platforms, the deep web, the use of cryptocurrencies, and the development of computer systems to facilitate the commission of the crime, perpetrators remain anonymous while carrying out their misdeeds. They can engage in real-time but encrypted communications, reach a wider audience of victims and perpetrators, and monitor victims remotely. Technology has permeated all phases of child sexual exploitation, from the recruitment and exploitation of the victim to blackmailing with information, photos, and videos.
While virtual spaces offer criminals a shield behind which they feel safe to operate with near impunity, technology also presents an opportunity for authorities to combat child trafficking. It can provide evidence for investigations and prosecutions, generate information on identities, roles, structures; locations and activities of suspects, as well as track electronic financial transactions carried out by criminals.
Continuous training of authorities in advancing areas of technology, investment in technological equipment and human resources, and the updating of regulatory frameworks to allow the use of digital evidence as a means of proof to facilitate law enforcement are imperative. Moreover, technology service providers need to improve their capacity to collaborate with authorities by providing information on potential cases and criminals operating on their platforms.
Since the perpetrators of the different actions that make up the crime are often spread across international borders, it is also urgent to cooperate to assist and protect victims of human trafficking and develop international and multilateral investigations. This creates additional challenges in terms of victim protection, assistance, and the application of the principle of non-criminalization of victims.
We face significant challenges in the fight against human trafficking, especially in children and adolescents. All parts of society are called upon to play a leading role in protecting and guaranteeing children's rights, particularly vulnerable amid a global pandemic.
By Michel Klein Solomon, Regional Director for Central, North America, and the Caribbean