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US urges Ukraine to strengthen prosecution and conviction of human traffickers, report says

The US State Department’s 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report on Ukraine emphasizes the need for vigorous prosecution and conviction of human traffickers and complicit officials to combat the persistent issue of human trafficking in Ukraine, especially exacerbated after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Human trafficking. Illustrative photo.
Human trafficking. Illustrative photo. Source: Deposit photos
US urges Ukraine to strengthen prosecution and conviction of human traffickers, report says

The Government of Ukraine made “significant efforts” to combat human trafficking but still falls short of fully meeting minimum standards for its elimination, according to the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report on Ukraine by the US State Department.

Russia’s war against Ukraine forced 6.4 million Ukrainians, particularly women and children, to flee their homes and move abroad; 3.4 million people were internally displaced, with both groups becoming more vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers employ tactics such as confiscating identity documents and exploiting victims under the guise of providing jobs or housing. 

Developments in combating human trafficking in Ukraine

 Ukraine adopted a new National Action Plan for 2023-2025, resuming labor inspections that identified potential trafficking cases. It also cooperated with European partners on anti-trafficking investigations despite limited resources due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report.

 Authorities also investigated, prosecuted, and convicted more traffickers compared to previous years and created a specialized anti-human trafficking prosecution unit.

Shortcomings in combating human trafficking in Ukraine

Ukrainian judges continued to issue lenient sentences for most convicted traffickers, with many not receiving prison time.  For the seventh consecutive year, the government failed to secure any convictions of officials complicit in trafficking crimes despite ongoing investigations and “persistent concerns of corruption fostering impunity.”

The government did not identify any foreign national trafficking victims, with children from Ukrainian care institutions evacuated from war zones being at higher risk of trafficking. 

Recommendations to improve anti-trafficking efforts

  • Identify and certify the official status of more victims to ensure they are afforded their rights under the trafficking law and modify the procedure for granting victim status to lessen the burden on victims to self-identify and divulge sensitive information. 
  • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and complicit officials
  • Increase efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims among highly vulnerable populations, such as Internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees, unaccompanied and separated children, children evacuated from care institutions, undocumented persons, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, women in commercial sex, and Ukrainian citizens whom Russia has forcibly deported to its territory or transferred inside Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine. 
  • Increase training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges on investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases.
  • Establish and fill a dedicated national coordinator position to lead national efforts to coordinate and implement anti-trafficking policies. 
  • Continue government funding for anti-trafficking efforts, particularly funding for local communities. 
  • Increase the availability of trafficking-specific services in existing shelters 
  • Enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies by eliminating recruitment fees charged to migrant workers and holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable.

Ukrainian refugees also face the risk of forced labor in various sectors, including domestic work, childcare, cleaning, hospitality, and agriculture throughout Europe. 

The reasons that prevent Ukrainians from reporting trafficking crimes across Europe include language barriers, fear of reporting to foreign authorities, and lack of awareness of available resources.

Spanish authorities have recently dismantled a criminal group accused of sexually exploiting Ukrainian women, with 42 victims being freed during the operation. The group was operating in Málaga and other cities, where Ukrainian women, particularly those fleeing the war, were coerced into prostitution under false promises of legitimate jobs in Spain. The criminal organization, which included both Spanish and Ukrainian nationals, controlled the victims through threats, surveillance, and control of their earnings.

 

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