Seizing the gains of human traffickers to compensate victims should be treated a priority by governments to crack down on the estimated $150 billion a year crime, an international anti-trafficking conference was told on Monday.
Campaigners told the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conference that governments did not focus enough on compensation, with victims rarely awarded payments and little action to ensure promised funds were paid.
Klara Skrivankova, Europe coordinator of British-based Anti-Slavery International, said compensation remained a ‘bit of an unwanted child’ in attempts to address human trafficking but it was key to punish the criminals involved and to support victims.
‘If you get your hands on the money of traffickers that will hurt them, often more than giving them a prison sentence,’ Skrivankova told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the 57-member OSCE's 18th Alliance Against Trafficking in Persons conference.
‘But no country is very good at seizing assets and then distributing them.’
The conference was held amid growing global awareness about the activities of human traffickers, with more than 40 million people estimated by the United Nations to be trapped globally in forced labour, forced marriages and sexual exploitation.
The OSCE's Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Madina Jarbussynova, described human trafficking as ‘one of the most lucrative criminal activities in the world today’ that knows no borders.
About 7 in 10 trafficking victims are women and girls, according to a landmark joint estimate by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and rights group Walk Free Foundation.
Herman Bolhaar, the Dutch government's national rapporteur on human trafficking, said governments should target the earnings of traffickers and use them for the benefit of victims - and not just those who were part of criminal convictions.
The conference heard victims often struggled to apply for compensation without being part of criminal proceedings but governments should set aside funds to recompense them for lost earnings and emotional distress whilst pursuing illegal assets.
‘Exploitation should not be as rewarded as it is now,’ said Bolhaar. ‘If there is a possible or potential asset, seize it.’
The conference heard there was no data to show how much compensation had been awarded to victims and how much paid out.
Skrivankova said such statistics would be useful.
‘We need to know how much has been awarded and to how many people which could give easy wins to push the agenda,’ she said.
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