Human trafficking statistics vary and can be hard to pin down. Although arrests of traffickers are periodically made, most incidents go unreported. Many victims end up in conditions where they're unable to contact law enforcement or simply refuse to out of fear or an inability to communicate in the local language. Many countries also either don't collect authoritative data from their law enforcement agencies about trafficking or do not report it to international bodies like the United Nations.
Because of these and other reasons, most statistics associated with trafficking should be considered estimates, and one should monitor the sources closely. Since the problem is believed to be a serious one, inflated numbers can be disseminated without scrutiny, as was the case prior to the 2010 World Cup, when many newspapers claimed that up to 40,000 sex workers -- many of them allegedly victims of trafficking -- would be transported into South Africa, the host of the event. Newspaper investigations were unable to find a source for this 40,000 figure, and while experts interviewed concluded that trafficking is a terrible problem, that particular statistic was likely heavily inflated [source: Bialik].
The United Nations claims that 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking, having been forced into brutal forms of labor -- usually prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation [source: United Nations]. Nearly all trafficking victims experience some form of sexual abuse. More than half -- 1.4 million -- of those people are in Asia and the Pacific region, and the problem encompasses 161 countries, if one includes countries used for transit. Most victims of human trafficking are in developing countries and quite young -- 18 to 24 years old -- and approximately 1.2 million children fall prey to traffickers annually [source: United Nations].
Human trafficking is believed to be a major industry, generating at least $31 billion in profits each year. A 2009 United Nations report found that child trafficking was "more prevalent" in West and Central Africa and in Central and South America [source: United Nations]. However, while these and other less developed regions may be more likely to be the source of trafficked persons, the problem is also driven by demand for slaves in the developed world.
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