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Climate change and Trafficking

Climate change is a major contributor to migration and displacement and therefore, significantly increases the risk of human trafficking. Climate change can cause displacement in multiple ways. The most prominent are water shortages and desertification that threaten food supplies and livelihoods and extreme weather conditions leading to natural disasters like flooding, famine and drought. These disasters may disrupt local security safety nets, leaving women and children unaccompanied, separated or orphaned due to the erosion and breakdown of normal social controls and protections. This makes them especially vulnerable to the exploitation of human trafficking[1]. Organised trafficking of women is emerging as a potentially serious risk associated with environmental problems.... writes Dr. Seema Pawar

When people lose land or access to basic resources like water and food, they try to migrate to areas that are more livable. However, rural and poor families tend to be most affected, and in times of great stress, they become even more vulnerable when they seek assistance from human smugglers, placing themselves at risk of many of the forms of exploitation that are commonly associated with trafficking, such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage, as well as organ removal.
These conditions, when coupled with a disparity between demand for labour and supply and the emergence of corrupt and dodgy recruitment agencies, increase the high-risk behaviours and negative coping tactics among affected communities. This may include approaching to migrant smugglers, which in turn makes them vulnerable to human trafficking and allied forms of exploitation and abuse. Unfortunately, climate change is not often considered as a potential contributor to human trafficking in national and international discussion forums, and this connection remains ignored.
Traffickers have, for example, targeted children displaced by climate-change related floods throughout South Asia, particularly in India and Nepal[1]. A report by the United Nations Environment Program noted that trafficking increased by 20-30% during natural disasters in Nepal between 1990 and 2011[2]. Some studies report that women are especially vulnerable as incidents of women originating from climate vulnerable areas being duped by “agents” is frequent. The agents promise employment but instead sell vulnerable women to brothels where they are sexually exploited[3].
Climate change is a latest emerging factor for human trafficking; it destroys livelihoods and place women and children in vulnerable situations that traffickers exploit. In order to curb the human trafficking, it is important to focus on promoting gender equality and equity that incorporates efforts to uplift women and families so they are less vulnerable during a natural disaster.   Dealing with disparities in resources, economic and political power will help women better cope with the risks caused by the warming planet. Therefore, allocating resources to trafficking prevention programs lessens the potential that trafficking as well as other crimes will take hold in the affected communities.
[1] Women at the Frontline of Climate Change- Gender Risks and Hopes,  


[3] T. Anderson, M. Shamsuddoha and A. Dixit, Climate Change Knows No Borders (ActionAid International, 2016).