The UK government has announced that it’s ramping up efforts to combat human trafficking and modern slavery, particularly among children who are “most vulnerable.”
Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s international development secretary, delivered a passionate speech about the need for global unity in the fight against human trafficking, at a modern slavery event at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Monday.
Mordaunt was joined by co-hosts from Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, Nigeria, and the United States — all countries that she said have been “championing” the efforts.
“It is a true demonstration of the need to tackle this crime in every region of the world,” Mordaunt said. “Because whether it’s young girls affected by trafficking across the borders for sex, men and women forced to work in factories and fields, or the child labour that goes into our smartphones, no nation is free from the terrible abuses and violence that go hand in hand with these human rights violations.”
Mordaunt cited shocking statistics that highlight the true scale of the problem — if not the reality of the situations of those impacted by human trafficking.
Right now, she said, there are at least 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, and 25 million victims of forced labour, and, she said, “beyond those statistics are real people, enduring real suffering.”
What’s more — and “perhaps the most troubling,” according to Mordaunt — one in four victims of modern slavery is a child.
“Child slavery is truly one of the most heinous crimes imaginable,” she said. “It has no place in any society. We must do more to protect and support all those at risk of falling into the clutches of people traffickers and organised criminals, but particularly those children who are most vulnerable.”
“Children caught up in conflict, many of those who have lost parents or carers, children displaced from their homes because of war, child refugees trying to escape along the dangerous routes on their own,” she continued.
This is why, Mordaunt said, the UK is stepping up its support of the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking.
Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to double the amount the UK spends on combatting modern slavery, up to £150 million. But on Monday, Mordaunt said the UK would be increasing funding to over £200 million, “so that we can reach those most in need of our help.”
Of this funding, according to Mordaunt:
- £10 million will go to UNICEF, the UN’s children’s agency, to protect more than 400,000 boys and girls at risk of violence and slavery in the Horn of Africa, and along migratory routes in Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The funding will help provide children with birth registration, so children can legally provide their age and nationality, to help protect them against forced labour and child marriage.
- It will help educate children about the dangers of trafficking, support social workers and carers, and help reintegrate survivors of modern slavery and trafficking back into society.
- £26 million of the funding will be invested in a new regional programme to tackle child labour in South Asia; alongside £5 million to support the Bangladesh government meet its “ambitious” commitment to end hazardous child labour by 2021.
One year ago, at UNGA 2017, world leaders launched a Call to Action to eliminate the “scourge of forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking from our societies once and for all.”
Now, according to Mordaunt, 77 countries — over a third of the UN membership — have endorsed the Call to Action. But Mordaunt called on those who haven’t yet done so to join the “visible statement of intent.”
“Because we must not forget that as we speak, millions of men, women, and children are living and working in unimaginable conditions, facing violence, abuse, exploitation on a daily basis,” she said. “We owe it to them to put our strong words into even stronger actions, to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments, and to ensure that each day is a day closer to ending this injustice.”
The world is making progress against modern slavery and human trafficking, according to Mordaunt, but she warned that there must be more “urgency” — and that we “need to respond to people trafficking with the same speed and sense of purpose as we do with drug and gun trafficking.”
Mordaunt’s message echoed that of May, on her recent visit to South Africa, in which the prime minister outlined the need to address the root causes of instability that are driving both migration and people trafficking, largely through political stability and economic growth.
But Mordaunt emphasised in her speech that the UK “must also ensure our own house is in order,” and said the UK will review its Modern Slavery Act to make sure that legislation is “as strong and effective as it can be.”