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The identification of trafficked persons is a critical intervention in counter-trafficking and there are numerous difficulties associated with it. The available data indicates that less than 1% of the estimated number of victims globally are ever formally identified, suggesting that fundamental changes are needed in the victim identification procedures.
The discrepancy in estimated versus identified trafficked persons has a broad impact on counter-trafficking: it affects our understanding of the phenomenon; it affects the ability of trafficked persons to receive the assistance and services they require and are entitled to; and it affects our ability to pursue an effective criminal justice response.
The members of COMMIT, an inter-governmental process between the 6 Greater Mekong Sub-region countries (Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) to counter human trafficking, and ASEAN have recognized current challenges in victim identification as a central issue in their counter-trafficking response, and have prioritized the development of common indicators of trafficking between the respective governments to improve cooperation and ultimately rates of identification.
This was manifest in the significant steps made in 2015 in cooperation against human trafficking in the region, namely the adoptions of the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons and the COMMIT Sub-regional Plan of Action IV (SPA IV). SPA IV takes a systems-based approach, further developing referral mechanisms in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and prioritizing effective victim identification as requirement for referral mechanisms to come into effect.
Through cooperation developed between these two mechanisms, it was agreed that joint indicators be developed to inform their responses. A workshop in December 2015, hosted by the Government of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, brought together the ASEAN and COMMIT members in a technical forum to develop such joint indicators.
The participants looked at human trafficking and associated forms of exploitation, based on international legal frameworks, those of international organisations, and their experiences and frameworks at a national level. As most incidents of trafficking identified occur when the person is in a situation of exploitation, the indicators were based on this understanding.
Through discussions around cases the participants succeeded in defining simple and concise indicators, in as few numbers as possible. As a result, the governments now have a set of clear indicators of trafficking that can be used by frontline officials in identifying possible victims of trafficking, and determining more broadly those who need assistance.
The next steps for both ASEAN and COMMIT will be to implement these indicators, through integration into national victim identification frameworks and the training of frontline responders to put them into practice. They will also be disseminated once formally approved.
The indicators should assist frontline officials and responders to understand where trafficking may be occurring, including situations not previously recognized. Ultimately the expectation and design is such that more victims of trafficking will be identified and removed from situations of exploitation, leading to an overall increase in the effectiveness of responses.
This will only be possible to demonstrate through data collection, monitoring and analysis going forward.