Lakshmi Puri underlines urgent need to take more courageous and decisive action against human trafficking

Date: Monday, May 13, 2013

Speech by Lakshmi Puri, UN Women Acting Executive Director, during an interactive panel discussion on “Sharing Best Practices and Lessons Learned for Prevention and Prosecution in the Implementation of the Global Plan of Action” at the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the United Nations Appraisal of the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons on 13 May 2013 at the General Assembly in New York.

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Ambassador Monteiro Lima,
Your Royal Highness Princess Mahidol,
Ambassador Lundborg,
Ms. Baderschneider,
Delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here today and I thank the organizers for bringing us together for this important meeting.

Human trafficking is one of the most vicious and shocking forms of violence and exploitation—a web of slavery that overwhelmingly ensnares females. Today women and girls comprise more than half of all trafficked victims of forced labour and 98 per cent of all victims of sexual exploitation.

The fact that human trafficking is one of the world’s fastest-growing crimes points to the urgent need to take more courageous and decisive action.

I would like to stress that human trafficking does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place in a world that is already plagued with widespread discrimination and violence against women and girls, a world where the rule of law still all too often rules women out. And these conditions of gender inequality and injustice provide fertile ground for trafficking, and for traffickers themselves and their clientele, to flourish and enrich themselves at the brutal expense of others.

For these reasons, the new General Assembly resolution on trafficking and the historic agreement reached by Governments this past March at the UN Commission on the Status of Women are of major relevance. They contain the latest thinking and lessons learned to prevent and end all forms of violence against women and girls, including human trafficking.

One of the main lessons we have learned is that we have to put human rights and justice for victims at the very centre of our efforts. Today too many women victims are blamed, shamed, arrested and put in jail. They are treated like criminals when they are victims of crimes whose rights have been violated and who deserve justice.

We have to focus on the four P’s: Protection of human rights, Prosecution of offenders, Prevention of Trafficking, and Provision of Services to survivors.

The agreement from the Commission on the Status of Women moves us forward in these four directions. It calls on Governments to take measures to ensure that identified victims of trafficking are not penalized for having been trafficked. They are to be provided with appropriate protection and care, such as rehabilitation and reintegration in society, witness protection, job training, legal assistance, confidential health care, and repatriation with their informed consent.

The agreement calls on Governments to criminalize all forms of trafficking in persons, to strengthen laws to better protect the rights of women and girls and to bring justice to offenders and intermediaries involved, including public officials.

It also calls for stronger action to prevent trafficking and address its underlying causes. And here, the agreement urges Governments to take appropriate measures to address the root factors of trafficking. This requires wider efforts to increase education, economic empowerment and to create decent jobs for women, to provide social services and social protection and to ensure women’s participation and leadership. It means working together to generate a pervasive culture of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The achievement of equality between men and women in families, societies, economies and politics is central to the elimination of violence against women and trafficking. We need gender responsive institutions and we need more women serving in office and on the front lines of justice, as judges, investigators and police officers.

We also know that we must reform labour, immigration and migration policies, and conditions of stay and work, so that women and girls are less vulnerable to traffickers and to unscrupulous employers.

And we need to open spaces for trafficking survivors to be heard so that their real life experiences can inform policymaking. It is only by listening to the women and men, girls and boys who have been trafficked that we can mount a response that is truly effective.

At UN Women we are working on all of these fronts and have contributed to significant policy and legal reforms in 25 countries to address trafficking. For example:

  • Brazil and Viet Nam have developed national plans to fight trafficking.
  • India has undertaken a mapping study that identified districts with a high risk of trafficking to take responsive action.
  • And in Cambodia and Nigeria, women’s groups trained police and community leaders to combat trafficking.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is also triggering progress. In Malaysia, an NGO called CARAM Asia has developed a comprehensive pre-departure orientation for the region, whereby women are informed about the realities of migration, the risk of violence and ways to protect themselves in destination countries. And women’s rights organizations in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco have developed the Arab region’s first model law on female trafficking.

In closing, I pledge the full commitment of UN Women to provide strong support to end human trafficking and all forms of violence against women and girls.

I look forward to our discussions and I thank you.