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Print this pageGLOBAL: An inquiry into trafficking and children's rights




Child Rights International Network

Resource type:

News release

The football World Cup is often touted as a force for good. It presents a unique opportunity for global unity and for the host nation to present a positive image to the world.

With the 2010 World Cup now in full swing, however, questions are being asked about the darker side of such events. One issue that prompts particular concern from child rights activists, government officials and donors alike, is trafficking in children.

In this context, today's CRINMAIL aims to provoke debate around what trafficking really means, clarify how it differs from other forms of exploitation or from voluntary migration, ask whether the focus on trafficking eclipses other important issues, and raise questions about the role that politics have played in addressing and distorting the issue.

What does trafficking really mean?

On the face of it, trafficking in children seems a straightforward example of exploitation in its cruelest form. The reality, however, is much more complicated. During the 1990s, concern about the negative impacts of globalisation began to soar, with national governments increasingly losing their grip on immigration and transnational crime. The 2000 UN Convention on Transnational Crime and its protocol ‘to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children (the Palermo Protocol) was, at least in part, born out of such fears. The practice of trafficking can be difficult to define but, according to the Palermo Protocol, it refers to:

“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

However, many States tend to confuse trafficking in children with the sale of children, prohibiting the former but not the latter.While these violations overlap, they are not the same - for example, a child can be trafficked without being sold at any point as trafficking requires only the physical transfer of a child and needs neither a buyer nor a seller. The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre further clarifies that a child can be sold without being trafficked since the sale of a child does not require any movement within or across borders at all. that the sale of a child is not always done with the purpose of exploitation, in contrast with child trafficking.

Trafficking in children and the sale of children are separate but equally important issues, and must be treated as such. Indeed, article 35 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC) oblige States to take measures to prevent both. Article 3 of the OPSC sets out specific acts that must be criminalised, and all States should work towards fully complying with this obligation. Read UNICEF Innocenti's Handbook on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

There are also serious concerns with the link between trafficking in children and other forms of exploitation. According to ECPAT International, “all child victims of trafficking are made highly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation because they are removed from familiar support structures, such as their families and communities.” With this in mind, there has been considerable attention paid to trafficking in both women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Studies and initiatives have often focused specifically on sexual exploitation, although many have also addressed exploitation more broadly to include domestic work and other forms of labour, forced marriage, and adoption, among others.

The politics of trafficking

Attention on trafficking, particularly for purposes of sexual exploitation, soars in anticipation of major sporting events like the World Cup as activists worry about the opportunities such events afford, and media outlets seize the opportunity to sensationalise an issue. Horrific personal stories, which may only be remotely related to trafficking practices, are identified as 'the norm' and as representative of a huge black market in women and children. Each time the World Cup approaches, newspaper articles begin to describe the perils for thousands of trafficked women and children, seemingly one and the same, who flood the host country at the hands of sinister criminal gangs. Yet the figures quoted are often mere estimations that are later discredited in the aftermath of the event. In the 2006 World Cup, for example, it was very widely reported that around 40,000 women and girls were set to be trafficked into the host country, Germany. A report by the Council of the European Union, published in 2007, however, found no evidence ‘whatsoever’ of any increase in the numbers of people trafficked or forced into prostitution.

South African President Jacob Zuma has himself spoken out about the perils of child trafficking during the present World Cup. It remains to be seen whether the concerns will be similarly ill-founded, and South Africa, where millions of children suffer from poverty and hunger, is a very different place to Germany. But it nevertheless seems that huge interest in the issue is skewing child rights programming, and some are angry that vast funds have been spent on misplaced initiatives and priorities. Joan van Niekerk, of Childline South Africa, told CRIN: “We have been absolutely flooded with thousands of pamphlets warning about trafficking. But there is nothing being done on the ground to address the factors that make children vulnerable.” Van Niekerk said that schools have been shut to reduce the risk of trafficking – yet 70 per cent of children are reliant on school feeding programmes. “We have millions of hungry and unsupervised children in the country at the moment. Pamphlets on trafficking mean very little when your tummy is empty. International donors who don’t understand the reality on the ground are deciding where the money is spent, and people are swayed by the money because they have staff to pay. We need a big wake- up call.”

The number of people involved in the trafficking trade is notoriously difficult to assess, partly because of practical barriers to measuring an underground and illicit trade, but also because of difficulties in defining the term ‘trafficking’ and dissociating the practice from migration. The Asian Migrant Centre argues that understanding this migration/trafficking distinction is key for human rights activists (AMC (2000) Asian Migrant Yearbook 2000: Migration Facts, Analysis and Issues in 1999. Hong Kong: Asian Migrant Centre).

“It must be emphasised that migration is the general phenomenon, and trafficking is only a mode of migration. Over-emphasising trafficking and taking it out of context (in relation to migration) is strategically counter-productive in the fight for human rights because:
(a) trafficking puts migration in a crime control, crime prevention context, rather than talking about migrants’ human rights first, and then talking about trafficking in the context of human rights; and (b) trafficking is being used by governments as a vehicle to develop more restrictive approaches to migration in general.”

This last reference to the ‘politics of trafficking’ is important. Many governments who may otherwise be indifferent to the plight of refugees or asylum seekers bang their fists at the injustice and horror of human trafficking. All of a sudden, ‘human rights’ are found liberally sprinkled throughout campaign speeches and political rhetoric. However, such anti-trafficking and ‘human rights’ measures can be used by governments to adopt more restrictive approaches to migration in general. Stronger border controls actually render children more reliant on third parties, and therefore more vulnerable to rights violations associated with both migration and trafficking.

Migration and trafficking: separating the issues

A Save the Children report explains that anti-trafficking measures can reduce or cancel out the positive effects of migration. For example, a study of 1000 migrant children who had migrated from Mali found that most had chosen to migrate, and were ‘positive’ about their migration, yet anti-trafficking measures prevented them from accessing the benefits of their migration they had migrated to work on the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast when the interviews took place. Benefits cited include: "an opportunity to experience urban lifestyles, learn new languages, and accumulate possessions. For both boys and girls, the experience provided a rite of passage with cultural as well as financial importance. " The report also points out that “few child rights agencies have, as yet, turned their attention to the many other child migrants – both accompanied and unaccompanied - who cannot be classified as “victims of trafficking”, “asylum seekers” or “refugees”, but who are nonetheless vulnerable to extensive and often serious violations of their rights.”

Moreover, talk of child trafficking has sometimes led to the reproduction of racist stereotypes. For example, Roma communities in Europe are often cited as both victims and perpetrators of child trafficking. As the Save the Children report notes: “The term “trafficking” is being used to blur all distinction between criminal activities, traditional practices and survival strategies on the part of communities that are already socially excluded.”

Most of us have heard about the appalling circumstances in which children have been abused and exploited because of trafficking. In view of this, the full depth and breadth of resources must be deployed in order to prevent such criminal activities and to mitigate against the consequences for children. But experts argue it is important to base programming, research and policy on a clear understanding of the practice, devoid of media sensationalism and political rhetoric, so that the ‘reality’ of children’s experiences are addressed. In other words, solutions must be rights-based. Many studies fail to include the views and experiences of children, and the criminalisation of victims of trafficking is still regrettably widespread. As always, children’s capacity for agency, for example in making choices on the basis of economic need, must be balanced with the need to protect their specific vulnerabilities.

Your turn! What do you think of this piece? Send us your views.

For follow-up information on this week's editorial, check our issues page.

Further information

This month's edition of UNICEF's Social and Economic Policy Update focuses on children and migration.

It includes links to latest resources and events, including a link to the new database ( on Human Rights, Children and Migration, which is a compilation of excerpts from the concluding observations of UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies related to migration and children's rights from 2000-2009.

Previous News release items

Organisation Contact Details:

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Tel: +44 (0)207 401 2257

Last updated 16/06/2010 10:39:24

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.

Your Feedback

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Pruff. Oğuz POLAT M.D. ,Prsident ,society for Reabilitation for Street children wrote on 23/06/2010:
Your artıcle provides a really good summary of this ısse. I would like to add a short comment about Turkey.

According to the Turkish Security General there are 1657 children, 1095 being female and 362 being male, reported as missing in 2010. It was also reported that only in the first five months of 2009, 645 children went missing. Every year approximately 6000 children go missing in Turkey (Narlı, 2010). Most of these children could be safely returned between the years of 2008 and 2010, while 500 missing children could not be traced. The children are mostly abducted by criminal gangs to be used for organ trafficking, prostitution, mendicancy and burglary.

Istanbul has the highest amount of missing minors. Besides, there has been a serious increase in the number of missing children in Turkey’s east and southeast regions during the last few years.

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