12 February 2009 Academy Award-winning American actress Mira Sorvino was named as Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today, coinciding with the release of a new report showing that nearly half of all nations have yet to bring a single perpetrator of the scourge to justice.
On the 200th anniversary of the birth of former United States President Abraham Lincoln who led the emancipation of slaves in his country, Ms. Sorvino stressed the need for human trafficking to be relabelled as slavery so that “people can’t tune out the human suffering.”
It was a case of life imitating art for the actress, who portrayed an American government agent seeking to curb sexual exploitation worldwide in a 2005 television miniseries.
Not being called slavery “helps to keep us in denial” about the true nature of human trafficking, she said after her induction at UN Headquarters in New York.
According to the new UNODC study, which is based on information provided by 155 Member States, two out of every five countries covered by the report have yet to convict anyone on trafficking charges.
No UNODC figures are available for the number of trafficking victims worldwide, but according to the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), two million people become enslaved annually.
According to the report, only one victim out of every 100 trafficking cases is rescued, and at present there are 22,500 cases of people being recovered worldwide.
“Are we making progress?” said Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC Executive Director. “My answer is: I wish we were.”
Nearly 80 per cent of trafficking comprises sexual exploitation, but he warned that that is illusory, since it is the most commonly reported since it is more visible compared to other forms of the scourge, such as sweatshops and child exploitation.
Further, modern-day slavery is characterized by a very large presence of women as predators. In some countries in Africa, a majority of traffickers are women.
Despite the term “trafficking,” which implies the movement of persons across borders, the crime also occurs within countries and communities.
“Not even animals prey on their kin,” Mr. Costa said, noting that statistics show there is a large amount of exploitation within both large and smaller nations.
He said that he projects that trafficking may be facilitated by globalization and the fact that movement of people and commodities around the world is becoming easier.
Additionally, given the current financial crisis, the Executive Director surmised that “with economic hardship in the Third World, it is more likely that a greater number of people are going to be more vulnerable than they were.”
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