By Ellen Wulfhorst
UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The face of human trafficking is changing with more children and men falling prey and more victims trapped in forced labor than a decade ago, the United Nations reported on Wednesday.
International trafficking that exploits vulnerable refugees and migrants is reaching "appalling dimensions" and more trafficking is occurring within countries, said Yury Fedotov, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The UNODC found trafficking in 106 countries and territories, Fedotov told the U.N. Security Council, with trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and begging most common and children making up a third of all victims.
"Human trafficking is pervasive," Fedotov said in prepared remarks ahead of the release of the 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.
"It is transnational, and its victims are everywhere."
The UNODC studied trends among some 63,000 trafficking victims between 2012 and 2014, just a sliver of the 21 million people estimated to be trafficked worldwide by the U.N.'s International Labour Organization (ILO).
Its research, carried out every two years and based largely on information from national authorities, found the number of children ensnared in trafficking was rising, more than doubling to 28 percent of victims in 2014 from 13 percent in 2004.
More boys than girls were found to be victims in Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is more trafficking for forced labor, child soldiers and begging.
SEX ABUSE, PORNOGRAPHY, ORGANS
Girls were more often victims in Central America, the Caribbean and South America, where trafficking for sexual exploitation is more common.
UNODC said while most trafficking victims are female, the proportion of men had risen to 21 percent from 13 percent a decade earlier while the number of victims trafficked for forced labor had also increased.
About four in 10 victims were trafficked for forced labor, most of them men, compared with three in 10 victims in 2007.
Forced labor victims were found most often in domestic work, agriculture, fishing, restaurants, construction and mining.
Domestic trafficking, that happens within a country's borders, rose to 43 percent of cases in 2012 to 2014 from 34 percent the previous two years.
UNODC said migrants from conflict zones and countries ravaged by organized crime were particularly vulnerable to international trafficking.
"The rapid increase in the number of Syrian victims of trafficking in persons following the start of the conflict there, for instance, seems to be one example of how these vulnerabilities play out," Fedotov said.
Children and people with disabilities were targeted for trafficking for begging while other trafficking victims were found forced into sham marriages, forced to make pornography, or made to participate in fraud schemes to steal benefits.
About 10 countries reported trafficking for organ removal.
UNODC said the number of countries that passed laws criminalizing trafficking grew to 158 this year from 33 in 2003 but there was still too few convictions with 15 percent of countries reporting no convictions at all.
"The rate of convictions remains far too low, and victims are not always receiving the protection and services countries are obliged to provide," Fedotov said.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Alisa Tang and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)