Stop human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls

Today, July 30th, marks the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which was established in 2013 by the United Nations to shed light on a global problem—modern slavery. Trafficking undermines human rights and exploits those most vulnerable. Crises and conflicts increase the risk of trafficking for people with existing vulnerabilities, who are then sold, bought, and traded like objects. Most of them women and girls.

Most commonly, women and girls are trafficked and forced into sexual slavery, but many are also exploited for purposes such as forced marriage or forced labour. Women and girls are subjected to violence, abuse, and violations of their basic human rights. They are forced to live under the threat and control of criminal networks that exploit their vulnerability and lack of opportunities.

There are numerous factors that contribute to women becoming victims of trafficking. Issues such as poverty, social inequality, conflicts, limited access to education and employment opportunities, and discrimination all play a role. Vulnerable individuals are often lured with enticing promises of improved lives and opportunities abroad, only to find themselves trapped in a harsh reality where they are treated as commodities. Among the most vulnerable are women and girls from marginalised communities, such as migrants, refugees, and indigenous peoples, who are at particularly high risk of being trafficked.

The consequences of trafficking are devastating and extend far beyond physical and sexual exploitation. Those who are exposed to it often suffer grave psychological, physical, and emotional damage. They are forced to live in constant fear and under the threat of violence, both against themselves and against their families. Many suffer from chronic diseases, sexually transmitted infections, and other health problems due to the inhumane conditions they are forced to live in. Their self-esteem and self-confidence are destroyed and their trust in other people is broken.

International cooperation is essential to track and dismantle the criminal networks behind trafficking—but there is more that needs to be done. We must work to strengthen criminal justice systems and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Laws addressing trafficking in persons must be clear, fair, and applied consistently.

Trafficking can also be prevented by fighting poverty, increasing access to education and employment, and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. This is essential to reduce the risk of trafficking for women and girls. For instance, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisation Roma Women’s Initiative in North Macedonia works to ensure that Roma women—who belong to a marginalised group—do not end up in human trafficking.

Moreover, women and girls affected by trafficking must receive extensive support and protection. This includes safe accommodation, medical care, psychological support, and support in their reintegration into society. It is crucial that those who have been exposed have access to rights-based services and that their integrity and dignity are respected throughout the rehabilitation process.

But above all, we need to raise awareness of the problem and actively work against the underlying demand. For as long as there are men who exploit women by engaging in the buying and selling of their bodies, trafficking will continue. Acknowledging and combatting the vulnerabilities that women face in relation to trafficking is a joint endeavour that requires the commitment of governments, non-governmental organisations, civil society, and individual citizens alike.

Trafficking is one of the most serious violations of human rights and a global tragedy that demands resolute and collaborative measures. Through united efforts, we can make a difference and contribute to a world where no woman or girl lives in fear of being trafficked.

—Petra Tötterman Andorff, Secretary-General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation