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August 03, 2017

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

By Rachel Risoleo

On July 30, the United Nations recognized the fourth annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Initially designated in 2013 by the United Nations General Assembly, this day is a chance to raise awareness of this growing crime, now the third largest criminal enterprise globally.

In a continuing effort to address the severity and constant growth in scope of human trafficking, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has recently focused on raising awareness and increasing prevention efforts in the international community. In addition to the World Day Against Trafficking, the UNODC created the Blue Heart Campaign, an awareness-raising initiative that encourages involvement in the fight against modern slavery.

This year, World Day Against Trafficking comes at a particularly perilous time. There are currently 22.5 million refugees worldwide, who are at a disproportionately high risk of being trafficked. Given the correlation between refugees and susceptibility to human trafficking, this year’s World Day theme encouraged people to protect the vulnerable and to assist existing victims of trafficking. One key take-away: the international community must together to develop methods for addressing human trafficking.

World Day is an opportunity to raise awareness to the continued prevalence and constant growth in scope of this crime. In July, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a new report pointing out that Italy has witnessed a nearly 600 percent increase in potential sex trafficking victims arriving from the Mediterranean over the past three years—and those numbers continue to rise. Following the IOM report, Libya’s U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj requested Italy’s help to prevent trafficking in Libyan waters.

As evidenced by Libya and Italy’s collaborative work, countries could combat trafficking by working with others in their regions, or with whom they already have strong diplomatic relationships. This type of collaboration is essential to combating trafficking. Only international efforts can truly address this international scourge.

Collaborative efforts hold the potential for unprecedented progress against trafficking. Diplomatic relationships offer a space for countries to share best practices and develop plans to defeat trafficking that can be regularly improved and readily enforced.

For example, by prioritizing human trafficking in diplomatic engagements, the United States could encourage other countries to work together to fight trafficking. To be effective, the White House should appoint a senior advisor on human trafficking who is present at diplomatic strategy meetings. Using U.S. economic influence and diplomatic relationships as leverage, this advisor would push collaborative anti-trafficking efforts.

We must never forget that the fight against modern slavery is far from over. An estimated 20.9 million people still live in bondage. To reach these people living worldwide, governments must work with the larger global community in the fight to eradicate modern slavery.

In honor of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2017, each one of us must heed the call to action. But more importantly, we must band together as we work to protect the vulnerable and assist the victims of this scourge.