A five-year regional project to fight human trafficking across Southeast Asia was launched in Hanoi yesterday by the United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT).

The Asia-Pacific region records by far the highest rates of human trafficking in the world. The International Labour Organisation estimates that some 20.9 million people globally are in conditions of forced labour at any given point in time, and more than 50 percent - 11.7 million people - are in the region.

Trafficking in the region takes place for labour and sexual exploitation, begging, forced marriage, illegal adoption, and other purposes.

As in many parts of the world, human trafficking is a serious problem in Vietnam, which is both a source and destination country for victims.

Males and females of all ages are trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour and marriage, and begging.

In recent years the Government has shown commitment to fighting human trafficking through policy intervention, prosecution, protection, and prevention – referred to as the "4 Ps" in anti-trafficking work.

Vietnam has implemented a National Plan of Action against trafficking in persons and endorsed a national anti-trafficking law.

It has also ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crimes and the Protocols.

However, important challenges remain as the scale of human trafficking in the country remains significant.

Since 2005 law enforcement efforts have uncovered more than 3,000 trafficking cases with more than 5,000 offenders involved and 6,200 victims deceived and exploited.

UN-ACT will work closely with governments, civil society, academic and research organisations, as well as the private sector, to strengthen policy and operational responses to human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and beyond.

By liaising with both government and non-governmental organisations, both centrally and at the local level, the project will help to translate what takes place at the policy level into effective action on the ground and vice versa.

The aim is to ensure that governments are able to deliver the services that victims are entitled to and effectively punish perpetrators.

Speaking at the launch, UN Resident Coordinator Pratibha Mehta emphasised the importance of UN-ACT.

"Human trafficking is an issue of great concern," she said.

"It exploits vulnerable people, resulting in severe suffering and grave violations of human rights. Working in a concerted and mutually supportive way is key not only to reducing, but also eventually to eradicating this form of modern slavery.

"Let us build on the strong foundation of cooperation established under UN-ACT, as we continue to work together."

Lieutenant General Do Kim Tuyen, Deputy Head of Vietnam's COMMIT Task Force, was quoted as saying in a press release from the UN Communications Office in Hanoi: "As UN-ACT is a successor to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, we look forward to a continuation of unique, dynamic and creative interventions to effectively support countries in this region to counter human trafficking."-VNA