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The topic of human trafficking is one that is increasing yet is given limited attention and action. Human trafficking is an issue that affects around 20 to 40 million people globally, with the number consistently fluctuating (Safehorizon). 79% of trafficking involves the sexual exploitation of women and girls and forced labor makes up around 18%. Trafficking has risen even more during the spread of COVID-19, limiting the ability to identify traffickers and the capacity at which states and NGOs are able to assist survivors. The pandemic has only made more visible the impacts of institutional weaknesses on the survivors who are given little to no support.
The United Nations initiative towards ending trafficking took precedence in the year 2000 where the Palermo protocol was designed to help decrease trafficking rates. Unfortunately, the weak wording and implementation of this protocol and led to non-compliance by member states who agreed to this protocol. My research concluded that a human rights approach and proper enforcement can efficiently help this crisis as done so in legislation by ASEAN and their action plan against trafficking. Their emphasis on regional collaboration and communication has proved successful in helping combat this crisis and serves as a tool for other countries to utilize. Multiple sectors regionally and sub-regionally come together to ensure people can get the support they need and for the proper prosecution of traffickers by spreading out responsibilities giving people time to dedicate themselves to one aspect of trafficking. Thus, instead of bunching up responsibilities and not being able to address things sufficiently, ASEAN is able to spend more time and effort on helping survivors and trying to stop trafficking at its core.
Global, regional, and local institutions, along with activists and NGOs must safeguard available resources as to not be taken away from anyone, and push to expand the services available. It is crucial to support survivors because the fight to end human trafficking should not be focusing on simply prosecution. It is a multi-dimensional issue in which survivors should be attended to as much as governments are working to prosecute traffickers.
I’d like to thank Professor Chow for supporting my research and having thoughtful conversations surrounding this topic. In conducting this research, Professor Chow and I acknowledged that while it is exciting to see an institution heading in the right direction, but this is not meant to put ASEAN on a pedestal. Rather, I hope to demonstrate better avenues that people could develop even further in the future. While it is a long journey ahead, we cannot sit here and do nothing while countless people are suffering in unjust and inhumane conditions. We need to push our leaders to act now and leave no person behind.