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Countering human trafficking in Ukraine: tendencies and challenges

Countering human trafficking in Ukraine: tendencies and challenges

Human trafficking is a phenomenon still existing in the modern world. It encompasses the use of force, coercion, fraud, taking advantage of people’s vulnerable position in order to exploit them. In addition, it is a severe violation of human rights and freedoms that is subject to criminal liability. That is why questions arise about the scope of this phenomenon in Ukraine and barriers on the way of dealing with it.

For example, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM),over 260 thousand Ukrainians have suffered from human trafficking since 1991. It is particularly threatening that every eighth Ukrainian is ready to accept at least one risky job offer abroad that may potentially lead to human trafficking. This showcases risks of being a victim of labour exploitation, and a publication by the International Organization for Migration Mission in Ukraine “IOM Ukraine Counter-Trafficking Programme at a Glance” confirms this.For instance, since 2010 forced labour has prevailed over other forms of human trafficking such as sexual exploitation, forced begging, etc. Moreover, 97% or 1630 victims of human trafficking who received assistance from IOM Ukraine in 2020 had suffered exactly from labour exploitation. The number of people who suffered from this kind of exploitation in 2019 included 1251 persons.

As we can see, human trafficking exists in Ukraine. However, how is this phenomenon dealt with at a national level? For example, IOM Ukraine identifies people who have suffered from human trafficking. It also provides them assistance. At the same time, the number of identified victims of human trafficking by IOM Ukraine shows an increasing tendency. For instance, IOM Ukraine identified 1345 victims of human trafficking in 2019 and 1680 persons in 2020. It shows that the mission of this international organization in Ukraine improves its mechanism of identifying persons who have suffered from human trafficking. Compared to the mechanism of identification by the Ministry of Social Policy, the latter shows significantly smaller numbers. For example, official status of a human trafficking victim was granted to 221 persons in 2018, 185 people in 2019 and 136 persons in 2020. Thus, we see some negative dynamics here. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2021 by the US Department of State, such dynamics can be explained by effects of the pandemic, especially by the quarantine restrictions as a statement of the issuance of the status of a human trafficking victim is submitted in person, i.e. in offline format that was inaccessible in 2020.

In general, according to information presented in the above mentioned report of the US Department of State on countering trafficking in persons, Ukraine belongs to tier 2 states where the minimal standards of countering human trafficking is not quaranteed but significant efforst are made to achive them. One of the biggest problems in the matter is the Ukrainian judiciary system, particularly the low level of prosecution against persons accused of human trafficking. The report of the Department of State indicates as follows:

«The government of Ukraine reached final judgment on 25 cases and convicted 29 traffickers in 2020 under Article 149 of the Criminal Code, compared with 35 traffickers in 2019. Of the 29 convicted traffickers sentenced in 2020, only five (17 percent) received prison sentences, of which four received terms of three to five years and one received a term of five to 10 years; 23 of the remaining convicted traffickers received probation, and one was fined»,

As we can see the number of court verdicts is small and they are quite indulgent. The small number of verdicts is also confirmed by data from the IOM in Ukraine, especially in the publication “Migration in Ukraine: Facts and Figures, 2021” . For instance, if the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered 306 crimes related to human trafficking in 2019 then a court made only 36 verdicts. The situation was similar in 2020, i.e. there were 212 registered crimes and only 26 verdicts. The situation in the first half of 2021 was a little better as the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered 130 crimes regarding human trafficking and the court made 22 verdicts.

Given the aforementioned, team iDemocracy calls upon to ensure firm investigation of crimes in the sphere of human trafficking as well as recommends to intensify educational events for law enforcement officers regarding identification of persons who have suffered from human trafficking. We also recommend to broaden education for prosecutors and judges concerning investigation of cases and prosecution of offenders involved in human trafficking. This will lead to better countering of this phenomenon and will enhance chances of human trafficking victims to get help and achieve just punishment for criminals who have exploited others for their own benefit.

Let us recall that the team of team iDemocracy has analyzed Ukrainians’ labour migration abroad which hides certain threats.