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International Day for the Abolition of Slavery – 2 December 2020

What is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery?

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, marks the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949).

The focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

On this date every year, organisations come together to hold events and activities that focus on raising awareness of the main forms of modern slavery.

Is slavery abolished across the world?

Whilst slavery has been abolished for over 200 years , according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 40 million people worldwide today are still victims of modern slavery. Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term covering practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

In addition, more than 150 million children are subject to child labour, accounting for almost one in ten children around the world.

Across the world, different titles are used to explain the plight of this heinous crime such as modern slavery, trafficking in persons , human trafficking. All these titles, wherever we live and work, mean the exploitation of a human being by another human being.

Fast forward to November 2020, which marked the 20th anniversary of the United National Palermo Protocol.

The Protocol was adopted in Palermo, Italy in November 2000 and it is one of three protocols supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. However, many organisations and citizens within our communities still do not know of it or believe that slavery still exists.

The Palermo Protocol is important because it provides a shared legal basis for laws criminalising trafficking in different countries – helping different nations to cooperate with each other in addressing crimes that often transcend national borders. This has been hugely helpful not only in bringing offenders to justice but also in defining and identifying exploitation and its victims. From a child rights perspective, this has enabled us to push for better identification and protection of children who are exploited as well as specialised support.

Siobhán Mullally, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, stressed recently that human trafficking is a “serious human rights violation”.

“There are now 178 State Parties to the Protocol, so the goal of universal ratification is close. But significant work remains to be done to ensure effective implementation of the Protocol and its human rights commitments on the ground.”

In addition, the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) has been in place for 20 years and serves as a roadmap for diplomatic engagement with governments around the world on human trafficking, highlighting that human trafficking is a global threat necessitating a global response. Traffickers are denying nearly 25 million people their fundamental right to freedom, forcing them to live enslaved and toil for their exploiter’s profit. It is evident across the world that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, traffickers have continued as well. They continue to harm people, finding ways to be innovative and capitalise on the devastating impact the virus has created. Many of the vulnerable have become more vulnerable, but we must continue to work to secure the freedom for every victim of human trafficking. The report recommendations highlight how Non Government Organisations (NGO)s and other local actors can create opportunities for partnerships between governments and civil society. Whilst the TIP report 2020 and the Palermo Protocol celebrate their 20 year anniversary, as Soroptimists the work that we have achieved as we approach our centenary year is one to be celebrated for the ongoing work to help eradicate human trafficking locally, nationally and globally.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons highlights that human trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls, with sexual exploitation being the most prevalent form  of this crime. At the same time, women continue to be underrepresented in institutions responding to both trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that before the Covid–19 Pandemic 4 billion passengers travelled safely by air. However, whilst air travel creates a freedom to travel the speed, efficiency and affordability of air travel has also made it attractive to traffickers to transport victims across the globe.

As we come together to mark The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and we move towards international travel resuming in the future, it is important for us to remember that human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world. With that in mind, please join me in watching and sharing with others the IATA video which highlights how human trafficking is an international issue for travel, and reading the children’s book of Brave the Bear who’s character Bela was trafficked overseas.

Kim Ann Williamson
APD Peace