Covid restrictions; Trafficking Found New Ways

Covid restrictions; Trafficking Found New Ways

Capitalising on loss of livelihoods and increasing amount of time both adults and children were spending on the Internet during Covid 19 pandemic, the traffickers utilised social media and other online platforms to recruit new victims. A new study “The effects of Covid 19 pandemic on trafficking in persons and response to the challenges” by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has come out with this devastating impact of the pandemic on victims and survivors of human trafficking.

In the report released this week, the UNODC explores the effects of pandemic on (1) the scale and characteristics of trafficking in persons; (2) victims of trafficking; and (3) frontline organizations (law enforcement, prosecution services, the judiciary and the protection and reintegration services provided by non-government organizations (NGOs)).

 UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly pointed out that Covid 19 pandemic increased vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons. She also stated that the pandemic made it harder  to detect trafficking and also tracing the victims struggling to obtain help and access to justice.

“This study is an important new resource for policy-makers and criminal justice practitioners, as it examines successful strategies to investigate and prosecute human trafficking in times of crisis. It also provides recommendations on supporting frontline responders and victims and building resilience to future crises,” she said.

The report notes that that measures to curb the spread of the pandemic only increased the risk of trafficking for people in vulnerable situations. It also exposed victims to further exploitation and limited access to essential services for survivors.

UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section Chief Ilias Chatzis noted that  traffickers prey on vulnerabilities and often lure their victims with fake promises of employment.


Though difficult to trace trafficking at the time of Covid 19, the report states that domestic trafficking reportedly increased in some regions and countries. It states that local recruitment and exploitation increased during the time. The UNODC says that the traffickers took advantage of the worsened economic situation and recruited people for labour or sexual exploitation in their local area.

The report mentioned that women, children and migrants were particularly vulnerable to recruitment and exploitation during the pandemic. It said that women and girls were mostly recruited locally or online for sexual exploitation, especially in private apartments.


The report mentions that 37 per cent of respondents to a survey said that the recruitment of victims has moved online at the time of Covid 19 pandemic. At the time of Covid, the closure of clubs, bars and massage parlors did not deter them from trafficking adults and children, During the period, private homes and apartments were widely used. The report mentions that traffickers in some countries also capitalized on social distancing measures to transport victims across national borders, despite strict checks at the borders.


The report finds that traffickers abandoned the victims at the start of the pandemic because of reduced demand for their labour during the time. It said that the traffickers who lost profit because of the closing of brothels, factories and farms abandoned the victims on the streets. Some victims also faced confinement in destination countries and cities in private homes, factories, construction sites and other locations and increased control and violence at the hands of their traffickers, the report said. .


The UNODC said in the report that several of the victims were forced to remain in shelters in destination countries because of the closing of national borders. Many of the victims also lost their income or livelihood. Moreover, the pandemic lockdown curtailed the opportunity of the victims to search for new jobs. Apart from this, many of the victims faced increased challenges in accessing key services, such as shelter, health services, legal aid and basic needs.


The Frontline Organisation faced several hardships such as;

  • Funding shortages
  • planning and coordination challenges
  • Reduced staff capacity to prevent and combat trafficking and protect victims
  • Staff exhaustion and burn-out


The Covid 19 lockdown and restrictions brought in changes in court procedures and delays and postponements in administrative, criminal and civil cases. This led to the delay in backlogs in trafficking in persons cases and negatively affected trafficking victims’ access to protection services, justice and redress.


. The report provides a series of recommendations based on the lessons learned shared by experts for strengthening the anti-trafficking response during crises, including:

  • Regularly monitor the effect of wide-range public measures to mitigate emergencies
  • Conduct research to inform measures to address trafficking in persons during the pandemic.
  • Develop clear messages to the public
  • Coordinate efforts at all levels
  • Develop plans and strategies
  • Strengthen national legal frameworks
  • Develop effective prevention activities
  • Strengthen protection measures for trafficking victims
  • Strengthen e-justice mechanisms



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