A United Nations women’s rights panel has warned that social media is increasingly being used by human traffickers to recruit victims during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) gave the warning in a statement in Geneva on Wednesday.
CEDAW said women and girls remained the major victims of trafficking across the world, in spite of “existing anti-trafficking legal and policy frameworks at national and international levels”.
Pointing to recent trends of trafficking in cyberspace, it emphasised that trafficking in women and girls now goes well beyond the offline world.
The committee described as alarming the development of social media and instant messaging apps to gain easy access to potential victims.
This, it added, is more rampant during COVID-19 lockdowns when traffickers cannot use more traditional ways to recruit women and girls for sexual exploitation.
CEDAW called on social media companies to “set up relevant controls to mitigate the risk of exposing women and girls to trafficking and sexual exploitation”.
It also urged them to use big data in identifying traffickers and involve parties from the demand side.
CEDAW called on governments to address the root causes that push women and girls into vulnerable situations.
“These fundamental problems lie in sex-based discrimination, including socio-economic injustices in home countries, gender-biased migration policy and asylum systems in foreign countries as well as conflicts and humanitarian emergencies.
“Trafficking is a gendered crime, closely linked to sexual exploitation.
“State parties must create appropriate conditions to ensure women and girls are free from the danger of trafficking”, the statement quoted Dalia Leinarte, a member of the committee, as saying.
The panel called for public policies to provide women’s autonomy and equal access to education and job opportunities.
It also urged a gender-responsive safe migration framework to protect women and girl migrants.
The committee underscored the importance of comprehensive protection and assistance systems to help displaced women and girls in conflicts and emergencies.