By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The global fight against human trafficking could use a boost in criminal prosecutions, the top U.S. anti-trafficking official said on Thursday, noting the odds of getting hit by lightning are better than being prosecuted for the crime.
About 11,000 prosecutions of human trafficking were recorded around the world last year, according to the U.S. State Department's most recent human trafficking report.
"Overall, I think traffickers operate with impunity," U.S. anti-trafficking Ambassador John Richmond told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on the sidelines of the United Nations' key annual meeting.
"We ran the numbers. You're more likely to get struck by lightning than prosecuted for engaging in trafficking."
Worldwide, 24,000 people are killed and 240,000 people are injured each year by lightning, according to U.S. scientific research.
The United Nations' 193 member states agreed in 2015 to a new set of global goals that include ending slavery by 2030.
Richmond, who took up his post at the end of last year, said global anti-trafficking efforts should look at sponsorship systems that put migrant workers at the mercy of their employers, "systems we can dismantle."
In the United States, he said, anti-trafficking efforts can be effective against a backdrop of tougher immigration policies, which have come under some criticism for potentially making migrants and asylum seekers more vulnerable.
An estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery in the United States, according to the Global Slavery Index, published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.
"We can have a robust immigration enforcement system and a robust trafficking enforcement system," Richmond said. "They're not mutually exclusive. They can exist together.
"I don't think there's a sufficient emphasis on internal trafficking where folks don't come across the border," he added.
Globally, the U.N.'s International Labour Organization and the Walk Free Foundation estimates more than 40 million people are enslaved, including people trapped in forced labor, sex trafficked or in forced marriages.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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