UN says reported cases of human trafficking hide a much bigger problem

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By Johannes Pleschberger
The UN says the problem of human trafficking is much bigger than official figures suggest
The UN says the problem of human trafficking is much bigger than official figures suggest   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francisco Seco/Arquivo

The UN is concerned that the pandemic may have helped to mask the extent of human trafficking.

Registered cases dropped significantly during the health crisis but experts in the field think it could be that such crimes as trafficking, prostitution and forced labour are moving deeper underground to avoid prosecution.

"There was an explosion of online sexual exploitation and a number of countries basically their justice and police systems simply stopped working during the pandemic," explained Ilias Chatzis, Chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, "they had to divert resources to other purposes to maintain public health."

Eleven per cent fewer worldwide cases of human trafficking were detected in 2020 compared to the previous year, and there were also differences between rich and poor regions.

While the numbers were halved in East Asia and North Africa, they rose in Europe and North America where, according to the UN, more investigators and resources were available.

The UN is concerned that the decline in the number of detected cases for the first time in 20 years may become the norm. They say it doesn't mean it's not happening, it's just getting more difficult to uncover.

During the pandemic, traffickers took advantage of the crisis to expand their criminal structures undetected.

"The numbers have decreased so significantly that if we ever want to have real chances in eradicating this crime we have to think differently," said Ilias Chatzis.

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