United Nations, Sept. 28 (Antara/Xinhua-OANA) - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday deplored the lack of world attention to human trafficking, a menace that he said is omnipresent.
"Too often, human traffickers operate with impunity, and receive much less attention than, for instance, drug traffickers. This must change," Guterres told a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on progress of a UN action plan against human trafficking.
"I have seen many drug lords in jail -- and rightly so. I have never seen a human trafficking lord in jail."
He said tens of millions of people are victims of forced labor, sexual servitude, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation and abuse. "Human trafficking is all around us, in all regions of the world."
"It grips the weakest and most vulnerable: women and girls, but also boys cruelly exploited for sex and vital organs, children forced into endless begging and men into brutal labor."
Because traffickers prey upon vulnerable and marginalized people, the problem can seem remote from those members of society who are more fortunate, including political decision-makers. By contrast, the threat of illicit drugs typically feels very close -- and therefore receives attention and resources from all governments, he said.
And often, human trafficking is intertwined with racial, gender and other forms of discrimination, noted Guterres.
In recent years, rising conflict, insecurity and economic uncertainty have brought new tests in the regard, he said. "As millions of children, women and men spill out of their countries toward safety, they find themselves at the mercy of merciless people. Thousands of people have died at sea, in deserts and detention centres, and at the hands of wretched traffickers."
Criminal networks have used the disorder and despair to expand their brutality and reach. Terrorist groups continue to seek the capture and enslavement of women, girls and boys. Others use their victims for forced labor.
"These gangs and groups are global. They are well-organized. They are technologically savvy, and highly proficient in taking advantage of gaps in governance and weaknesses in institutions," he said. "We must be equally determined in countering this menace."
Fighting human trafficking requires greater use of relevant UN conventions, as well as much stronger cooperation among UN member states, he said. "It is clear to me that it is our responsibility as leaders to make human trafficking a real priority for international cooperation."
Refugees and migrants are especially vulnerable, and their plight is only compounded when they are treated as criminals by their host governments and communities, he said. "The international community must create legal and safe migration channels."
He called for a survivor-centered approach, including the need to uphold the right of refugees to asylum.
He stressed the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which addresses some of the root causes that make people vulnerable to trafficking. "Often, trafficking is abetted by poverty and inequality. Fighting trafficking and advancing sustainable, inclusive development go hand in hand."