A new study says 70 per cent of the worldwide victims of human trafficking are women and girls.
One in three victims of human trafficking worldwide is a child, many of them subject to sexual exploitation or forced labour, a UN report says.
Overall, child trafficking has increased five per cent since 2010, with girls and women accounting for 70 per cent of the overall number of victims worldwide, according to the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
"There is no place in the world where children, women and men are safe from human trafficking," said UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov.
The report said the global figures represented only "the tip of the iceberg", and that impunity remained a serious problem.
"It is very clear that the scale of modern-day slavery is far worse," said Fedotov.
Women and girls are often trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour, while children are also forced into combat or to take part in petty crime, the report said.
In 2003-2006, about 20 per cent of human trafficking victims were children, the report said, indicating how much the problem has increased over the past few years.
Children alone represented around 60 per cent of victims in regions such as Africa and the Middle East, it said.
The report also highlighted that the number of convictions remain low despite initiatives to combat trafficking.
"Forty per cent of countries recorded few or no convictions, and over the past 10 years there has been no discernible increase in the global criminal justice response to this crime, leaving a significant portion of the population vulnerable to offenders," the report said.
About 15 per cent of the 128 countries covered by the report did not record a single conviction, it said.
Detection of trafficking may be improving
A rise in identified cases of child trafficking may not mean the incidents are increasing.
Authorities may be getting better at finding cases of child trafficking, World Vision’s Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons and Child Protection, Melissa Stewart said.
“Whether this is better identification of child victims, compared to other victims who are also trafficked, or whether this is an actual increase in actual numbers [is unclear],” Ms Stewart said.
She welcomed the increased focus on children in exploitative situations, since they were the most vulnerable victims of trafficking.
The statistics on men may not be so revealing.
“By the very nature of [some nation's laws] men are excluded from being identified as victims,” Ms Stewart said.
Australia's changing trend of trafficking to other countries
Associate Professor Jennifer Burn from the University of Technology, Sydney said Australia was in line with the increasing global trend for men and women to be exploited in areas like hospitality, construction and domestic work.
“Historically, Australia has been a destination country for women being trafficked for sexual exploitation,” Prof Burn said.
Prof Burn is also the director of Anti-Slavery Australia.
The cases of people being trafficked out of Australia were growing too, Prof Burn said.
“We’re now seeing people trafficked out of Australia for the purpose of forced marriage.”
Last week the United Nations General Assembly resolved to call on all states to pass and enforce laws banning child marriages.
The resolution would increase pressure on states to address child marriage, Prof Burn said.