Contemporary Enslavement and Trafficking of Women and Girls – UNODC Vienna

Around 800 Government representatives, crime experts and civil society partners met in Vienna, 15 – 19 October,  2018, for the Ninth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC). Approaching its 20th anniversary in 2020, this instrument is now being implemented by 189 states. The Session opened on Monday 15 October, addressed by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Vienna (UNOV), Yury Fedotov.

Mr. Yury Fedotov, spoke of UNODC Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and took the opportunity to say how proud the UNODC is to be working with such a great champion for justice adding: “We need such champions more than ever”.

Mr. Fedotov wished the States parties success in negotiations of the review mechanism saying: “Disparities in capacities and coordination enable transnational organized crime networks to evade justice. We need to close gaps and address vulnerabilities, between countries and regions as well as online if we are to effectively address these challenges”.

During the conference, nearly 40 side events were held covering various forms of transnational crime including terrorism, trafficking in persons, anti-corruption, cybercrime, and environmental and wildlife crime. The Side Event: Contemporary Enslavement and Trafficking of Women and Girls, bought together nine diverse speakers from civil society, academia, and agency, with Soroptimist International President-Elect Sharon Fisher a panellist. Raising awareness of contemporary enslavement and trafficking in persons, the event was expertly chaired by Ambassador Nazhat Shameem-Khan of Fiji. Demonstrating the extent of contemporary forms of slavery, the speakers shared stories, prevention methods, effective criminal justice responses, and theory, whilst encouraging the exchange of information and lessons learned.

Photo: L-R Front Professor Jackie Jones, Sharon Fisher, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem-Khan L-R Back Dr. John Winterdyk, Jacqueline Larson, Jeanne Sarson, Linda MacDonald, Michael Platzer, Silke Albert, Katie Klaffenböck


Silke Albert

Expert in Trafficking in Persons UNODC

Victimisation of women can be linked to inequality and lack of education. Albert suggested that sexual exploitation is the most common and gruesome form of trafficking in persons and is frequently difficult to identify. She explained that when we view the sexual exploitation of women in this context, we are merely seeing detected cases – and this is very much the tip of the iceberg.

Albert said that since the treaty was adopted in 2000 it has seen rapid succession and ratification – almost universal, however, what is clear is that although countries have introduced laws in line with the protocol, conviction rates of traffickers are remain low and this deserves a closer look. Albert informed us that there is, of course, the hope that the longer laws are in place, the more time countries will have to raise awareness of the issue and from a criminal justice perspective, effectively address any gaps which will lead to an increase in convictions. Albert underlined the importance of the provision of services – victims have rights and this must be remembered. Speaking of evidential issues in cases of trafficking in persons, and additionally of the challenges surrounding exploitation, Albert described cases where exploitation does not take place at gunpoint, perhaps a victim is free to come and go or even say no – however, she stressed that there are many subtle means and ways to control, and that this complexity can often present challenges for criminal justice. Albert also described how victims may be viewed as violators of laws, or criminals, and how the modus operandi of migration can be seen to play into the hands of traffickers.

Photo: L-R Jacqueline Larson and Silke Albert


Jacqueline Larson

Senior Researcher with the Walk Free Foundation (Global Slavery Index)

The Walk Free Foundation believes that a strong multifaceted approach is needed to end modern slavery. The Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index has developed world-leading research to measure the
size and scale of modern slavery, as well as assess country-level vulnerability and governmental responses. Together with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Walk Free Foundation developed the joint Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. Jacqueline Larson explained that contemporary slavery affects men women and children – and can be defined when one person’s freedom is denied by another. Speaking of the research findings, she maintained that women and girls are disproportionately represented and overrepresented in three of the four forms – and it is only trafficking for labour where this is not the case. Questioning the high proportion of women, she asked what makes them vulnerable? Distinguishing a link with broader patterns of discrimination and human rights abuses in the susceptibility of women, she highlighted discrimination in education, employment, culture – each perpetuating the gendered nature of poverty – calling this a vicious cycle. Jacqueline spoke of the importance of tackling social norms and discrimination against women and migrant workers being critical, and the difficulty in this even when laws are in place. Slavery does not occur in isolation and cannot, therefore, be addressed in isolation, and she stressed an important link between patriarchy and contemporary forms of slavery, and the importance of having a special rapporteur.

You can view the Global Slavery Index HERE.


Dr. John Winterdyk

Professor of Criminology Department of Mount Royal University Canada

Bringing gender balance to the panel, Dr. Winterdyk expressed an understanding that as with all legislation, the United Nations Convention on Transnational Crime and protocols was man-made and as such, well intended but with flaws, namely the 10-year negotiation process for the adoption of a review process. He reacted to the wonderful presence in the room, noting, however, there was no support from a Member State. Dr. Winterdyk said the problem of trafficking is not going away, it is getting worse, naming it the fastest growing crime and arguably the second most profitable, depending on which sources you look at.

Photo: L-R Ambassador Nazhat Shameem-Khan of Fiji, Dr. John Winterdyk, Jacqueline Larson,  Silke Albert,

He spoke of the many variations of human trafficking and how they are expanding over time, saying where there were four or five categories a decade ago, now there are twenty-six. He said marginal successes are successes but urged us not to be complacent. Discussing relevant social science and criminology theories including conflict theory, human rights perspective and feminist approaches, he said that there was a need for a quasi – ‘paradigm shift’ in combating human trafficking and that its complexity demanded an integrated theory to help provide a complete and accurate explanation for the crime. He spoke of the 3, now 4 Ps: Prevention, Prosecution, Protection, and Partnerships, adding a further P to the mix with Participation, stressing we all must participate and mobilise. Discussing funding, he noted funding for human trafficking lags behind that of organised crime, and that 15 million doesn’t go far, questioning the millions spent on prosecution and suggesting a new model – one that offered a social return on investment.


SI President-Elect Sharon Fisher


Sharon Fisher

President-Elect of Soroptimist International

“Can you imagine being born in a small rural village with little or no education, and living your life without learning to read or write your own name?” Fisher depicted the life of a young girl, with her future laid out in front of her – early marriage, unpaid care work, and then an opportunity presents itself that promises travel, money and a future for herself and her family. This girl becomes a ‘commodity’ her human rights removed, she is simply a means of feeding supply for the traffickers, a means of keeping their heinous and highly profitable ventures alive. Fisher introduced Soroptimist International (SI) and spoke of the ‘Educate to Lead’ 2015-2017, SI President’s Appeal (an appeal that reaches globally, engaging 75,000 Soroptimists around the world), and its work in Nepal. Here is a country where 50% of the population in rural locations earn less than $1.25 a day, as such it is a ripe hunting ground for traffickers, assisted by the ‘open border’ between Nepal and India.  Fisher spoke of the 20 projects established in Nepal under ‘Educate to Lead’ –  projects that focused on menstrual hygiene; awareness raising; literacy and vocational training; teacher training; survivor support programmes – effectively removing the barriers for thousands of women and girls and addressing a root cause of trafficking – poverty.

Read the SI Oral Statement HERE


Photo: Dr. Karin Bruckmüller

Dr. Karin Bruckmüller

Project Manager of the Johannes Kepler University Linz (Austria) & Ludwig Maximilian

University, Munich (Germany)

Dr. Bruckmüller discussed the limitations of the usual approach to awareness raising around trafficking when it comes to war areas, and the difficulty in reaching possible victims of THB – especially women and girls. Looking at shifts in the recruiting patterns of traffickers – from home countries, to on route and in destination countries, she spoke of recruitment taking place for the purpose especially of sexual or labour exploitation, and the risk faced by those awaiting decisions on asylum, and others in refugee camps. Underlining the blurred line between the smuggling of people and trafficking, she emphasised a need for migrants and refugees to be sensitised to the dangers and signs of trafficking in human beings (THB), and the importance of awareness raising in destination countries and along migration routes. Dr. Bruckmüller suggested that education could be delivered by teachers, heads of refugee accommodations, aid agencies, NGOs and others involved in refugee support work.

Thereby the programmes should take care to ensure a balance between a feeling of safety for the refugees in the destination countries and the awareness of human trafficking risks.


Photo: Professor Jackie Jones


Professor Jackie Jones

Professor of Feminist Legal Studies Bristol Law School, Soroptimist

Professor Jones spoke on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, as a weapon of Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG), stating that these are crimes target women and girls, because they are women and girls. Connecting this to a gender-unequal society, she said that patriarchy was very much alive and flourishing and underlined the direct link between non-discrimination and ending violence. Looking at theoretical models, Professor Jones proposed the need for a more victim-led approach.  Naming environments where VAWG takes place such as schools and institutions; homes and communities, Professor Jones explored the various forms of sexual exploitation including window prostitution; pornography; online cyber violence.

Seeing the need for a unified, holistic approach to tackling human trafficking for sexual exploitation, Professor Jones determined that root causes needed to be targeted, in political, economic, social and cultural spheres, whilst effective strategies to help individuals leave the exploitative situations and remain safe must be made a priority. Recommendations for renewed efforts included establishing policies to prevent and combat trafficking and protect the victims of trafficking from re-victimisation; taking further steps to alleviate the factors that make persons vulnerable to trafficking, such as poverty, underdevelopment and lack of equal opportunities, whilst adopting and/or strengthening legislative or other measures to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons that leads to trafficking. Professor Jones presented the Nordic Model which is considered part of the state’s obligation in relation to one of the four Ps: Prevention and commended the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) for its ongoing work.


Photo: Katie Klaffenböck


Katie Klaffenböck

Counter Trafficking Focal Point International Organization for Migration

Country Office for Austria

Although the event focused specifically on the contemporary enslavement of women, Klaffenböck with her background in counter trafficking of migrants, made clear that this is a crime that is directed at both women and men. Calling for an understanding of trafficking within the context of conflict, she named Libya, an origin and transit country for migration, explaining the inordinate risk and vulnerability faced not only by those on the move but by local populations, with conflict exacerbating vulnerabilities. In Libya, there are very few mechanisms in place – very little rule of law, and men women and children can be faced with kidnap, sexual slavery, labour and this can easily cross over into situations of trafficking. Detention centres present added complications and opportunities for exploitation, and she called for a need for partners, NGOs and local agencies to identify vulnerable individuals – emphasising a lack of protection facilities currently in place. Speaking of the long term, there is a need for not just humanitarian aid but for ongoing strategies. Ambassador Nazhat Shameem-Khan thanked her for her presentation and for reminding us of the intersectionality of vulnerability.



Photo: Dr. Behnaz Hosseini

Dr. Behnaz Hosseini

Research Fellow University of Alberta Canada

Dr. Hosseini spoke of the popularity of ‘pleasure temporary’ marriages with the objective of exploring the causes and identifying potential solutions to child and forced marriage in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Dr. Hosseini says: “Forced marriage is an oppressive tradition that came to light after the 1979 revolution in Iran and is justified under the name of religion, cultural beliefs, economic and political problems. This inhuman phenomenon, whose primary victims are girls, is carried out in Iran with the complete backing of the clerical government’s leaders due to the misogynist laws they have introduced. In many cases, girls are actually sold to resolve the family’s financial problems. At the same time human trafficking networks, which are in contact with the Islamic government, are actually profiting from the mullahs’ misogynist laws to traffic and sell Iranian girls.”
Ambassador Nazhat Shameem-Khan thanked her for her presentation and said it was a really poignant example of how cultural practices mask inequalities and create high risk.




Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald

Independent scholars and human rights defenders

Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald discussed Family-Based Non-State Torture, Human Trafficking, Captivity & Enslavement. Describing the forms of state and specifically, non-state torture (NST), torture committed in the private or domestic sphere, be this by parents, neighbours, trusted adults, human traffickers or pornographers, in various public and private places. They shared emotive stories of survivors they have collated from around the world, detailing the significance of the issue and the powerlessness of those who suffer.  Sarson and MacDonald explained that few countries have enacted laws addressing this form of torture, and how their activism involves working to have non-State torture named as a human rights crime, whilst supporting the healing of victimized persons, to end social exclusion, discrimination and stigmatisation, towards an eventual prevention of NST. Educational resources and questionnaires can be found at


Photo: Ambassador Nazhat Shameem-Khan of Fiji, Michael Platzer, Dr. John Winterdyk


Establishment of the Mechanism for the Review of the Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto:

Agreement was found by member states for the establishment of Mechanism for the Review of the Implementation of the UNTOC and Protocols. The aims of the Review Mechanism include identifying, at the earliest possible stage, difficulties encountered by States parties in the fulfilment of their obligations under the Convention and its Protocols, to promote constructive collaboration on issues inlcuding protection of witnesses and assistance and protection for victims;  to complement existing relevant international and regional review mechanisms be cost effective, concise, user-friendly and non-political and non-selective, respecting the principle of equality and sovereignty of States parties. To read further on the Review Mechanism and its goals Click HERE

Photo: Soroptimists (and Michael Platzer) at the Side Event, Contemporary Enslavement and Trafficking of Women and Girls.


Background: On 9 December 1998, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared Resolution 53/111 to establish an open-ended intergovernmental ad-hoc committee, with the aim of creating a Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, and three supplementary, optional Protocols. Negotiations ensued at Committee meetings in 1999 through to October 2000, with the final text of the document agreed in November 2000, and the Treaty ratified by forty countries, thus becoming international law. Within four weeks, over 124 State parties signed the Treaty (UNIS, 2000). Furthermore, eighty countries signed on to two of the protocols, namely the Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and the Protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, air and sea.





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