The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk for the people at the edges of society to be pushed into slavery, trafficking and/or sexual exploitation, say UN human rights experts, adding that governments must do more to protect them.
They issued a statement in Geneva on Monday on the occasion of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which marks the day in 1949 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first Convention to fight human trafficking.“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the direct connection between increased socio-economic vulnerability, discrimination and the risk of exploitation in forced labour, including the worst forms of child labour, or of being subjected to sale, trafficking in persons and sexual exploitation,” the statement said.
The statement noted that workers in low income and emerging economies have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. With the loss of employment, income or land, the most affected groups often subjected to discrimination should be at the centre of States’ and businesses’ policy responses.
These groups include women, children, young people, migrants and their families, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, LGBT persons, older workers, members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, persons deprived of liberty, workers in informal economies as well as refugees, internally displaced persons and stateless persons fleeing from conflict and post-conflict zones.
Limited access to adequate housing, drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, health care, and education further increases vulnerability, so the improvement of basic services should be part of any comprehensive response.
If workers don’t receive adequate economic, social and other support from governments, without discrimination on grounds of migration and other status, they face a serious risk of exploitation, including being subjected to slavery, servitude, forced or bonded labour, or trafficking in persons, according to the statement.
In this regard, “we are concerned that these practices have increased in the past months. In some cases, victims are further subjected to ill-treatment, torture, or even disappearance when they are prevented from informing as to their fate and whereabouts, and put outside the protection of the law,” said the rights experts.To ensure that no one is left behind as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, States must increase their efforts to identify and protect victims of slavery and trafficking, including by ensuring their access to essential health services, including reproductive health services, psycho-social counselling, legal assistance, vocational training, income-generating support and remedies without discrimination.
“We urge States to strengthen social and labour protection frameworks by combatting existing inequalities based on a number of grounds including sex, gender, age, race and other factors that increase the vulnerability of certain populations to slavery and exploitation.”
“At a time of heightened risk for children, greater investment of resources for child protection is urgently needed. International solidarity will be critical to address this global challenge together and to accelerate action in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), towards a sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the statement.
The human rights experts called upon the Member States and other entities to address the structural causes that contribute to slavery and exploitation and continue providing support to those offering comprehensive assistance to victims, including through contributions to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.”
“The Fund will convene a webinar with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and other international experts to showcase the work of civil society organizations to aid racially discriminated groups subjected to slavery during the global pandemic.”