The international organisation Save the Children has released its latest findings, including that one in four victims of trafficking and exploitation are children. Albania is one of the main source countries along with Nigeria, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Out of 108,000 registered cases of trafficked individuals in 184 countries in 2019, over half were for the purposes of sexual exploitation while the others were for labour exploitation. Some 23% were minors and one in 20 were under the age of eight years old.
According to the report “Little Invisible Slaves”, the situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it harder to reach those who are being trafficked.
It’s estimated that there are 40 million victims of trafficking or exploitation in the world, 10 million of which are under 18. Another Save the Children report in 2016 found 20,500 recorded cases in Europe with almost a quarter involving minors, 68% of which were female.
The COVID-19 crisis has also changed the usual models of trafficking and exploitation. Criminal groups dedicated to sexual exploitation have been very quick to adapt their ways of working by intensifying the use of online communication and exploitation in homes. According to the European Commission, in some EU Member States, the demand for child pornography has increased by up to 30% during COVID-19 lockdown.
Raffaela Milano, Director of Italy-Europe Programmes of Save the Children in Italy, said:
“In dealing with the COVID-19 emergency we must not forget the invisible victims of trafficking and exploitation in our country. Unfortunately, traffickers have quickly managed to change the forms of sexual exploitation and have made victims even more isolated and difficult to reach.
“We need to step up the fight against child exploitation, with a particular focus on online exploitation, and intensify our work to support victims. A key aspect is support for survivors who escape from exploitation. Many routes to re-integration for girls who had the courage to rebel against their exploiters are at risk because job placement opportunities, which are usually in sectors such as hotels or catering, have suddenly disappeared owing to COVID-19. We cannot fail to support the courage of these girls, who are exposed to serious risks of violence and retaliation.”
On an international level, the lockdown has likely limited the movement of victims and lessened their chances of escaping ior finding help. The closure of schools has pushed many more children onto the streets in search of food or income, leaving them at risk of becoming victims of trafficking. In addition to this, the increased reliance on online communication during lockdown increased the likelihood of falling victim to online predators.
In a report on human trafficking, the US State Department advised the Albanian government to “investigate, prosecute and punish traffickers – including officials who cooperate with them.”
“The government sentenced five traffickers in 2018 and 2019, the lowest number of convictions since 2014.” – emphasizes the report.
According to the Department, the Albanian government does not fully meet the required minimum standards for eliminating trafficking but is making efforts to do so. It is currently ranked as a “tier 2” country.
The report states that over the last five years, human traffickers have exploited domestic and foreign victims in Albania as well as exploiting Albanian women and children. They often use false promises such as marriage or employment to force victims into sex trafficking. Children are often forced to beg or perform other kinds of compelled labour. Members of the Roma and Balkan Egyptian community are regularly exploited by traffickers.