Human Trafficking: A Global Enterprise
Human trafficking is among the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprises and is estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global industry. It profits from the exploitation of vulnerable populations as a form of modern-day slavery and can occur within one country or may involve movement across international borders. According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, for every 10 victims detected globally, about five were adult women and two were young girls. Sexual exploitation remains the most commonly-detected form of trafficking—overall, more than 50 per cent of detected victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Armenia is both a country of origin and destination for victims of human trafficking. Some Armenian migrants (predominantly men) who seek employment in Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey face forced labor. Armenian women and children are at risk for sex trafficking in Turkey and the UAE. Armenian women and children may be exploited for sex and labor trafficking and forced begging within the country. Furthermore, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Uzbek, Chinese and Russian women working as dancers in Armenian nightclubs are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Traffickers may target Iranian and Indian migrants who willingly seek employment in the informal sector for exploitation in forced labor. Men in rural areas with low educational attainment and children staying in childcare institutions remain highly vulnerable to labor and sex trafficking.
International Instruments and Armenian Legislation
The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Protocol) represents a significant step toward establishing a comprehensive definition of human trafficking and framing it as a human rights violation. It also outlines protection for victims. Countries that ratify this treaty, which entered into force in 2003, must criminalize human trafficking and develop anti-trafficking laws in line with the Protocol’s legal provisions. 117 countries (including Armenia) signed the Protocol and, currently, 178 countries have ratified or acceded to it, significantly expanding international cooperation on human trafficking.
The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (the CoE Convention) seeks to build on the Palermo Protocol and extend its provisions with regard to victims’ rights, international cooperation and gender equality.
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol defines human trafficking as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, or deception, or the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
According to Armenian legislation, human trafficking is considered a crime against human beings. Taking into consideration that Armenia signed and ratified these international instruments, the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia was brought into compliance with the international requirements. Articles 132, 132.2 and 132.3 of the Criminal Code set out the criminal responsibility for human trafficking and exploitation. The 2014 Law on Identification of and Support to Persons Subjected to Trafficking in Human Beings and Exploitation prescribes identification, referral and assistance procedures for relevant actors.
As part of the accession process to the Council of Europe, Armenia took special steps to combat human trafficking in 2002. The Government has adopted the Concept Paper for Preventing the Illegal Transfer and Transportation of and Trade in Persons (Trafficking) from the Republic of Armenia for the Purpose of Exploitation, and adopted and implemented five national action plans stemming from it. The latest sixth National Action Plan (NAP) for 2020-2022 on the Fight Against Trafficking in Human Beings and Exploitation was adopted on June 4, 2020.
The actions set out in the NAP are intended to make the fight against human trafficking more comprehensive and to consolidate the efforts of the parties involved, to strengthen the capacity of specialists, to more effectively prevent incidents, identify victims, improve support and simplify protection mechanisms, taking into account the best interests of the child.
The Council on the Fight Against Trafficking in Human Beings and Exploitation is a body comprised of the senior officials of stakeholder state bodies. The Council is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and meets regularly to set policy directions. The Commission on Identification of Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings and Exploitation is the sole body vested with the authority to recognize a person as a victim.
The work on combating human trafficking and exploitation in Armenia is carried out in several directions: 1) legal regulations, 2) awareness-raising and capacity-building, and 3) protection and social assistance programs.
Numerous legislative reforms have been implemented within the framework of the Government Programme to regulate the legal field, as a result of which the legal acts related to child trafficking have been improved. In particular, amendments were made to the Law on Identification of and Support to Persons Subjected to Trafficking in Human Beings and Exploitation, as a result of which the process of providing financial assistance was improved. Previously, the child could receive financial compensation only after reaching the age of 18. With the new regulation, this restriction was removed.
Amendments have been made to the “Procedure for Providing Assistance to Potential Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation, Victims and Special Category Victims”. In particular, the proposed amendments set the stage for the development of a referral mechanism for trafficked or exploited children, the establishment of partnerships between the main actors, the prevention of cases of trafficking in minors through the development of interdepartmental cooperation, as well as effective organization and control of measures to support and protect children.
The Labor Code is also in the process of being amended to clearly define the concept of “compulsory or forced labor”.
The Rules of Procedure of the Commission on Identification of Victims of Trafficking is in the process of being amended to further improve its work.
Amendments are expected to the Law on Identification of and Support to Persons Subjected to Trafficking in Human Beings and Exploitation to ensure that minimum standards for the quality of services provided are developed, as well as the introduction and implementation of pre-identification indicators for potential victims.
With regards to awareness-raising and capacity-building activities, July 2021 was a busy month. Armenia joined the Blue Heart Campaign. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MLSA) launched a dedicated campaign on Human Trafficking and Exploitation Awareness and Prevention. Accordingly, several TV and radio interviews with MLSA, Police, Justice, Migration Service, Health and Labor inspection Body, Investigative Committee, NGOs were aired. Information leaflets were developed and distributed at different United Social Service centers. Various training sessions (in cooperation with the United Methodist Committee on Relief) were provided to beneficiaries and professionals.
Furthermore, the Anti-Trafficking Platform of Armenia operates to combat human trafficking through mass media coverage. The platform also includes information on the work being carried out in the field.
MLSA provides assistance to victims and the Police provide protection. The assistance is aimed at the physical, psychological and social rehabilitation and integration of the victims, for which the budget has doubled compared to 2019 (from 19 million AMD to 40 million AMD). The program is implemented in the form of a delegated service.
Support services include:
- provision of domicile
- in-kind aid
- provision or restoration of necessary documents
- medical aid and service
- psychological aid
- consultative aid
- legal aid
- provision of care, including in a relevant institution
- provision of translation services
- provision of general education
- ensuring the accessibility of secondary education and primary special (vocational) education
- provision of employment
- arrangement for a safe return
- lump sum monetary compensation (250,000 AMD)
In July 2021, the United States Department of State released the 21st annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Although the report indicated that the government of Armenia did not fully meet the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking, it demonstrated increasing efforts to combat trafficking. These efforts included investigating more suspects, convicting a sex trafficker and identifying more victims. The government developed a manual for local police on monitoring businesses for trafficking and engaging vulnerable communities, and adopted a law that restricted interviews for children to 90 minutes in the presence of a psychologist. The Prosecutor General’s Office created a working group to review all trafficking cases from 2018-2019 to identify legal or procedural issues, and law enforcement added a trafficking curriculum to train the new patrol police. The government significantly increased resources to NGO-run shelters, developed screening indicators for social workers, and strengthened procedures to identify child victims. The Health and Labor Inspection Body conducted labor inspections for the first time since 2015. Cooperation between police and NGOs increased the number of investigations and provided police a greater understanding of international and domestic sources of trafficking. A strong collaboration and cooperation continued among various government stakeholders, international and local NGOs for the purpose of effectively fighting against human trafficking and exploitation. Due to these efforts, Armenia has successfully updated its status to Tier.
Despite the progress made, the crime and impunity of traffickers remain widespread. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this phenomenon by the increased misuse of information and communications technologies to facilitate human trafficking.
While much work is already underway, there are also additional areas of possible improvement. They include:
- Identifying and addressing the root cause of human trafficking (poverty, oppression, unemployment)
- Adopting procedures to proactively identify human trafficking cases (instead of relying on self-identification)
- Implementing mechanisms to monitor labor trafficking in the informal sector (such as agriculture, construction, mining and services)
- Introducing legislation and policies that promote decent working conditions and permit unannounced labor inspections
- Adopting a system to license, regulate and monitor employment agencies to ensure the legitimacy of employment offers
- Establishing joint mobile groups/task forces that include human trafficking experts such as police and labor inspectors to screen for violations
- Increasing funding to investigate more industries for labor trafficking
- Ensuring in-depth, specialized training for judges, public defenders, prosecutors and police officers
- Creating a multidisciplinary unit within law enforcement with representatives from all agencies to carry out joint investigations
- Setting up joint investigation units with countries where Armenian citizens are more likely to become victims
- Adopting victim-centered and gender-child sensitive law enforcement procedures
- Increasing awareness and education on human trafficking, especially for vulnerable populations in rural areas, as well as for first responders (police, teachers, social workers, health care providers, etc.)
- Developing and implementing a stricter procedure for border control in both origin and destination
- Improving the victim protection program to assure smooth integration/reintegration assistance to victims upon their return to their place of origin
- Strengthening research to improve understanding and support the development of prevention and intervention strategies
- Reinforcing multisector and interagency collaboration
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
1-United Methodist Committee on Relief, World Vision, Democracy Today, Hope and Help, USAID
2-Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Act’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
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