Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Trafficking of Children for Prostitution and the UNICEF Response

Sexual Exploitation: Mumbai Prostitute. (Capitan Giona/Flickr)

Sexual Exploitation: Mumbai Prostitute. (Capitan Giona/Flickr)

Ruchira Gupta
Project Officer at UNICEF in New York

Measures Adopted

  • UNICEF supports major studies of trafficking that are taking place around the world, including a study of trafficking in the NAFTA region underway at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • UNICEF provides input to "The Global Programme Against Trafficking in Human Beings", a three-year study undertaken by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. It focuses on the role played by organized crime, trafficking patterns, the nature of the criminal syndicates involved, the role of corruption, the impact of clandestine migrant communities, the trafficking of women and children for purposes of forced/exploitative labour, commercial sexual exploitation and unlawful adoption. UNICEF is concerned to ensure that the human rights aspects of the issue are not overwhelmed by the study's focus on the criminal aspects.
  • In the Asia and Pacific Region, UNICEF is a partner in a number of projects that specifically address the trafficking of women and children. They include:
  • the Mekong Regional Law Centre project, "Illegal Migration: The Case in Trafficking of Women and Children" (Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam), which aims to develop a practical program to improve legislation and law enforcement in the area of trafficking;
  • the ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) Human Resources Development Section of the Social Development Division, "Project for the Elimination of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth in Asia and the Pacific"(Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), which will build capacity of local government and NGO personnel through research and networking, raising awareness of policymakers, development of curriculum and training materials and sub-regional training;
  • the ILO-International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) project, "Combat Trafficking in Children and Women for Labour Exploitation in the Mekong Sub-region and South Asia", which aims to develop best practice guidelines based on the evaluation of pilot activities and train trainers as well as offering direct socio-economic alternatives to child and women victims of trafficking and to those at risk;
  • the UNDP project, "Trafficking in Women and Children in the Mekong Sub-region", which will do an inventory of UN agency, government, NGO and CBO activities addressing trafficking; assess gaps in these activities; establish mechanisms to improve communication and coordination; identify research needs and begin research;
  • the International Organization for Migration (IOM) project, "Return and Reintegration of Trafficked Women from China to Vietnam, Thailand to Cambodia and Cambodia to Vietnam", which will build research capacity, train border police and provide psycho-social recovery assistance to trafficking victims.
  • UNICEF participates in the Regional Working Group on Child Labour (involving ILO/IPEC, Save the Children Alliance, and Child Workers in Asia).
  • UNICEF supports the International Network for Girls (INfG). Organized by the NGO Working Group on Girls, the network comprises 400 NGOs in 86 countries who work with and for girls. Sexual exploitation and trafficking are two of its highest priorities.
  • In Benin, UNICEF supports the Project on Children in Need of Special Protection. The project raises awareness about child trafficking and exploitation and the hazards these children face. The project also advocates for children's rights in the CRC; has set up eight educational facilities for girl domestic workers; provided community support, giving women access to loans to finance income-generating activities; and promoted girls' education.
  • In Cambodia in July 1999 the Cambodian National Council for Children has launched a national 5-year plan against child sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Nature of the Issue

  • Trafficking is a term used to describe the illegal trade across borders of goods – especially contraband, such as drugs – for profit. Over the last decade, the concept has been expanded to cover the illegal transport of human beings, in particular women and children, for the purpose of selling them or exploiting their labour.
  • In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly defined trafficking as the "illicit and clandestine movement of persons across national and international borders, largely from developing countries and some countries with economies in transition with the end goal of forcing women and girl children into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations for the profit of recruiters, traffickers, crime syndicates, as well as other illegal activities related to trafficking, such as forced domestic labour, false marriages, clandestine employment and false adoption."
  • There are no accurate statistics of how many people are involved, but it is estimated that in the last 30 years, trafficking in women and children in Asia for sexual exploitation alone has victimized over 30 million people. In comparison, 12 million Africans were sold as slaves to the New World between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. (Centre for International Crime Prevention).
  • National and international legal structures are inadequate to deal with the trafficking in human beings.
  • While there are different patterns of exploitation in different parts of the world, children are trafficked for a number of purposes, including:
    • sexual exploitation;
    • adoption;
    • child labour (e.g., domestic work, begging, criminal work like selling drugs);
    • participation in armed conflicts;
    • marriage;
    • camel racing;
    • organ trade
  • The victims of trafficking or their caregivers are often seeking escape from poverty. The children most likely to be trafficked are girls, those from tribal groups and ethnic minorities, stateless people and refugees (according to the UN special rapporteur).
  • Some children (or their parents) are lured by promises of education, a new skill or a "good job"; other children are kidnapped outright, taken from their home villages or towns and then bought and sold like commodities. Often they are crammed into boats or trucks without enough air, water or food. When their smugglers are threatened by discovery, the children may be abandoned or even killed. If they reach their destination, they end up in situations of forced labor, forced prostitution, domestic service or involuntary marriage. They are virtual slaves, who have been stripped of their human rights.
  • Children who are trafficked lose contact with their families. They are taken into an entirely new situation, often to another country, to a place where they don't know anyone and don't speak the language. They are vulnerable to many kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse. It is difficult for them to seek help not just because they are children but because they are often illegal immigrants and have false documents or no documents.
  • Boys who are trafficked in armed conflicts are usually used as soldiers, while girls are usually forced to be servants who are often used sexually by the soldiers as well.
  • Different cultural situations produce different types of exploitation. In India, for example, the caste system and a history of bonded labour mean that tribal and low-caste children are more likely to be trafficked than others. In West Africa, a long tradition of sending one's children to work in the home of a better-off relative or friend has facilitated the trafficking of ever-increasing numbers of children, especially for domestic work.
  • Child trafficking works through personal and familial networks as well as through highly organized international criminal networks. Recruiters are often local people. Trafficking routes change rapidly to adjust to changing economic or political circumstances or the opening of new markets. However, the main trafficking routes are from south to north and from east to west:
    • from Latin America to North America, Europe and the Middle East;
    • from countries of the former Soviet bloc to the Baltic States and Western Europe;
    • from Romania to Italy, and through Turkey and Cyprus to Israel and the Middle East;
    • rom West Africa to the Middle East;
    • from Thailand and the Philippines to Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan;
    • from Cambodia, Myanmar, and Viet Nam to Thailand; and
    • from Nepal and Bangladesh to India; and from India and Pakistan to the Middle East.
  • Poor economic conditions, poverty, unemployment, an upsurge in international organized crime, the low status of girls, lack of education, inadequate or non-existent legislation and/or poor law enforcement – all contribute to the increase in child trafficking. Trafficking becomes intensified in situations of war, natural disaster and lax regard for human rights.

Statistics

  • Between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepali girls are trafficked every year across the border to India. Most of them end up as sex workers in brothels in Bombay and New Delhi. An estimated 200,000 Nepali women, most of them girls under 18, work in Indian cities (estimates by Maiti Nepal, Child Workers in Nepal and National Commission for Women in India).
  • An estimated 10,000 women and girls from neighboring countries have been lured into commercial sex establishments in Thailand. Recent Thai Government policy to eradicate child prostitution means that fewer girls are being trafficked from northern Thailand and more girls and women are being brought from Myanmar, southern China, Laos and Cambodia (estimates by ECPAT [End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism]).
  • China's Public Security Bureau reported 6,000 cases of trafficking of children in 1997, with a steady increase in girls aged 14 and 15 (Oxfam).
  • UNICEF estimates that 1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies and children a year are trafficked for adoption by foreign couples in North America and Europe.
  • Girls as young as 13 (mainly from Asia and Eastern Europe) are trafficked as "mail-order brides". In most cases these girls and women are powerless and isolated and at great risk of violence (quoted by La Strada, Ukraine and Sanlaap, India).
  • Large numbers of children are being trafficked in West and Central Africa, mainly for domestic work but also for sexual exploitation, to work in shops or on farms, to be scavengers or street hawkers. Nearly 90 per cent of these trafficked domestic workers are girls.
  • Children from Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana are trafficked to Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Gabon. Children are trafficked both in and out of Benin and Nigeria. Some children are sent as far away as the Middle East and Europe.

UNICEF Policy

  • UNICEF is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by all countries except the US and Somalia. Articles 9 and 10 of the CRC state that a child must not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except where it is in the best interests of the child. Article 11 commits States to combat the illicit transfer of children abroad. Article 35 asks States to adopt appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction, sale or trafficking of children for any purpose or in any form. For children who do not live with their parents, Articles 20 and 21 declare the best interests of the child to be paramount, and note the desirability of continuing the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background. Article 21 provides that international adoption must not involve "improper financial gain".
  • Articles 32, 34, 36 and 39, which provide for protection against economic, sexual and all other forms of exploitation, and the child's right to physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration, are also relevant to the protection of child victims of trafficking.
  • The UNICEF strategy for addressing child trafficking focuses on four main areas:
    • raising awareness about the problem;
    • providing economic support to families;
    • improving access to and quality of education;
    • advocating for the rights of the child.
  • Measures aimed at preventing the trafficking of children include increased educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, particularly girls; support to families at risk, appropriate social welfare, training of law enforcement officials and judicial authorities. It is also essential to raise awareness of the media, communities and families on the rights of child victims of any form of trafficking.
  • A proposed Optional Protocol to the CRC would reinforce the protection offered to children who are at risk of or exposed to sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking.
  • UNICEF holds that any new policy on trafficking must build on standards already adopted by the international community, including the CRC.
  • UNICEF provides input to the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) "Project Against Trafficking in Persons".
  • A proposed UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime is now being drafted with a special protocol on trafficking. UNICEF has emphasized the importance of not criminalizing the victims of trafficking; children, who are the victims, must be protected. Similarly, where children are trafficked, particularly when they find themselves in an unfamiliar country, the first priority must be to treat them in an environment which fosters the health, self respect and dignity of the child (as outlined in the CRC).
  • Child victims of any form of trafficking require special protection and need to be treated with respect and in a manner consistent with their age and special needs. They are entitled to legal protection and to help integrating back into their communities.
  • If children are used as witnesses, officials should secure their testimony in a manner that does not re-traumatize them and ensures their protection throughout the criminal proceedings and beyond as necessary.
  • States should ensure that parents are provided with the necessary legal aid and financial assistance for a child's participation in legal proceedings.
  • States should ensure that child victims have access to assistance that meets their needs, such as legal aid, protection, secure housing, economic assistance, counseling, health and social services, physical and psychological recovery services and that they are not discriminated against. Special assistance should be given to those who are suffering from HIV/AIDS. Emphasis should be placed upon family and community-based rehabilitation or placement in foster families rather than institutionalization.
  • Children should be given an opportunity to express their views, particularly within the framework of any administrative or judicial proceeding affecting them; and no child should be discriminated against, including on the basis of gender, national or social origin. This is consistent with article 2 and 13 of the CRC.
  • Efforts against trafficking should be aimed particularly at preventing vulnerable groups of children from becoming victims. While it is true that boys are increasingly involved in child prostitution and child pornography, girls comprise the majority of victims. Gender discrimination can place girls at greater risk of sexual exploitation, and also creates specific needs for their rehabilitation.

Measures Adopted

  • UNICEF supports major studies of trafficking that are taking place around the world, including a study of trafficking in the NAFTA region underway at the University of Pittsburgh.

     

  • UNICEF provides input to "The Global Programme Against Trafficking in Human Beings", a three-year study undertaken by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. It focuses on the role played by organized crime, trafficking patterns, the nature of the criminal syndicates involved, the role of corruption, the impact of clandestine migrant communities, the trafficking of women and children for purposes of forced/exploitative labour, commercial sexual exploitation and unlawful adoption. UNICEF is concerned to ensure that the human rights aspects of the issue are not overwhelmed by the study's focus on the criminal aspects.
  • In the Asia and Pacific Region, UNICEF is a partner in a number of projects that specifically address the trafficking of women and children. They include:
  • the Mekong Regional Law Centre project, "Illegal Migration: The Case in Trafficking of Women and Children" (Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam), which aims to develop a practical program to improve legislation and law enforcement in the area of trafficking;
  • the ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) Human Resources Development Section of the Social Development Division, "Project for the Elimination of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth in Asia and the Pacific"(Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), which will build capacity of local government and NGO personnel through research and networking, raising awareness of policymakers, development of curriculum and training materials and sub-regional training;
  • the ILO-International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) project, "Combat Trafficking in Children and Women for Labour Exploitation in the Mekong Sub-region and South Asia", which aims to develop best practice guidelines based on the evaluation of pilot activities and train trainers as well as offering direct socio-economic alternatives to child and women victims of trafficking and to those at risk;
  • the UNDP project, "Trafficking in Women and Children in the Mekong Sub-region", which will do an inventory of UN agency, government, NGO and CBO activities addressing trafficking; assess gaps in these activities; establish mechanisms to improve communication and coordination; identify research needs and begin research;
  • the International Organization for Migration (IOM) project, "Return and Reintegration of Trafficked Women from China to Vietnam, Thailand to Cambodia and Cambodia to Vietnam", which will build research capacity, train border police and provide psycho-social recovery assistance to trafficking victims.
  • UNICEF participates in the Regional Working Group on Child Labour (involving ILO/IPEC, Save the Children Alliance, and Child Workers in Asia).
  • UNICEF supports the International Network for Girls (INfG). Organized by the NGO Working Group on Girls, the network comprises 400 NGOs in 86 countries who work with and for girls. Sexual exploitation and trafficking are two of its highest priorities.
  • In Benin, UNICEF supports the Project on Children in Need of Special Protection. The project raises awareness about child trafficking and exploitation and the hazards these children face. The project also advocates for children's rights in the CRC; has set up eight educational facilities for girl domestic workers; provided community support, giving women access to loans to finance income-generating activities; and promoted girls' education.
  • In Cambodia in July 1999 the Cambodian National Council for Children has launched a national 5-year plan against child sexual exploitation and trafficking.