Social problems

How serious is human trafficking during COVID-19?

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking involves trapping and exploitation of a person using deception, violence, or coercion. It generally includes forced labor, forced marriage, prostitution, forced organ removal, and others.


According to the United Nations, there were 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally in 2016 based on data gathered from 155 countries. 79% of human trafficking was sexual exploitation, the other was forced labor (18%), making women and girls the most affected groups (71%), while 29% were men and boys. Pathetically, only 0.4% of human trafficking cases were identified. Human trafficking is a big business across the globe, it earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, $99 billion of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation.

Why human trafficking is increasing in COVID-19?

This global health crisis of Covid-19 has taken so many lives away and pushed 150 million people into extreme poverty, making it easier for people to take risky job offers that may involve forced labor. Jeff Bond once wrote that labor violations against workers can be found in the Philippines, the Middle East, and Ethiopia, their passports being taken away without paying them wages. Some of them are also subject to sexual abuse and violence.

So how about organ removal? Can it happen with the travel ban? Actually, the pandemic increased the rate of unemployment, so it is anticipated that most vulnerable people would be lured into selling their organs for the exchange of money to support their families. We can also find evidence of increased human trafficking in previous outbreaks, Ebola. During that time, the number of orphans vulnerable to trafficking increased. And the state cannot combat human trafficking as it diverts resources to fight the outbreak.

As seen in developing countries, the pandemic also created victims in developed countries. According to a survey of the U.S.-based National Fair Housing Alliance, they have seen an increase in sexual harassment complaints since the pandemic started. Because most young women cannot afford their rent and are more likely to sextortion by their landlords.

Since the pandemic started, children and youth are forced to be at home, which increased their chance to be ‘hunted’ online for child sexual exploitation, especially when their parents are unemployed or lack parental care. We can see that there has been a significant increase in the number of graphic sexual imagery, including images of children being sexually abused at home recently according to Europol.


Human trafficking is more serious in such outbreaks as we are witnessing it right now, and it needs intervention more than what government can do. We believe that innovation and technology should apply for combating human trafficking and more industries should join the force.

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By Social Innovation Insight

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