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The Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) published its annual report for 2021, a year during which, despite the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of important milestones were achieved.
GRETA’s President Helga Gayer points out in the report that child trafficking has increased, even though the states parties to the anti-trafficking Convention have adopted legislative and policy measures to counter this phenomenon: “The Covid-19 pandemic has made children even more vulnerable to trafficking, including exploitation online. All actors involved in action against human trafficking need to step up efforts to combat child trafficking and develop innovative approaches to protect children”.
The 2021 report, in particular, discusses the main findings and recommendations of a study conducted on the topic of human trafficking facilitated by networks and technology, based on information provided by 40 States Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, 12 NGOs and two IT companies.
Technological tools for the identification of trafficked persons, such as facial recognition and web-crawlers, can be useful to reduce data and manage large volumes of information, but, at the same time, they raise ethical issues and should only be used by well-trained practitioners with knowledge of human trafficking. Online self-report mechanisms and helplines enable victims of trafficking to seek assistance and disseminate information to communities at risk.
"The Covid-19 pandemic and ICT developments have produced structural changes in the way human traffickers operate, which requires countries to adapt and equip their law enforcement and criminal justice systems with the necessary capacities to deal with the changing environment. To counter the use of ICTs by human traffickers, it is essential that governments invest in training of law enforcement personnel, provide adequate resources and strengthen cooperation with private companies and other national authorities," said GRETA President Helga Gayer.
Finally, the study recommends strengthening confidential online reporting mechanisms and working with private companies to establish mechanisms for reporting suspicious activities and advertisements. Countries should also develop data sharing procedures and cooperation protocols with companies that hold relevant data.