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Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative illicit businesses in Europe, according to a United Nations report launched today at an event where Spain became the first country on the continent to join the UN Blue Heart Campaign against trafficking in people.

The report Trafficking in persons to Europe for sexual exploitation, issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows that criminal groups make around $3 billion per year through sexual exploitation and the forced labour of some 140,000 people at any given time.

The vast majority of victims tend to be young women who are subjected to rape, violence, imprisonment, drugging and other forms of abuse, according to UNODC.

Around the world, more than 2.4 million people – up to 80 per cent women and girls – are currently being exploited as victims of human trafficking, either for sexual or labour exploitation, the UN has said. Other forms of human trafficking include domestic servitude, the removal of organs and the exploitation of children.

At the same event, Spain, which holds the European Union (EU) presidency, became the first country in the region to join the Blue Heart Campaign, which aims to raise awareness about human trafficking among governments, civil society, the media and the general public.

Speaking at the event, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, urged all Europeans to join the Blue Heart campaign.

“Europeans believe that slavery was abolished centuries ago. But look around – slaves are in our midst. We must do more to reduce demand for slave-made products and exploitation,” Mr. Costa added.

In Europe, more than half of the victims are from the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, with 13 percent originating in South America, seven per cent in Central Europe, five per cent in Africa and three per cent in East Asia.

The UNODC report also showed that while men were most often convicted as traffickers, women are often used to front gangs to entrap victims.

The UN agency also found a “strong correlation” between the nationality of the trafficked victims and their recruiters.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa /

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