If there is a blot on the conscience of the so-called free world, the modern-day slavery represented by the millions of children who cross borders as sex slaves should turn the blot into a wound. Apparently respectable people cross borders into countries where law-enforcement is either lacking, inefficient or totally absent to engage in the pastime that ruins the lives of millions of children globally. In a world where the buzz words are freedom and respect for human rights, it can only shock the most innocent observer that trafficking in children thrives as some form of international trade – complete with its own lingo. Perhaps what is even more shocking is that concerted international efforts could bring this trade to an immediate end.
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The enormity of the problem can best be understood by reference to statistics from the UN body that looks after the rights of children – UNICEF. UNICEF reports indicate that trafficking in children is both profitable and global in character (“Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse”). The most likely source of children for international trafficking is Africa and UNICEF reports that, on the African continent, children are trafficked both internally and internationally.
Internally, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Gabon are beneficiaries of children trafficked from Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana (“Child protection from violence”) While various reasons exist for traffic in children, UNICEF observes that most of the children are sent to the countries mentioned mainly as domestic workers but also as sex slaves. For this reason, the majority of the children “exported” are girls. Africa’s contribution to the trade in the traffic of children is truly remarkable but the rest of the world is not spared either. Asia and Eastern Europe are also major contributors to the trade and supply girls who are trafficked as “mail-order brides” and who in most cases are “as young as 13” (“Child protection from violence”).
To prove that the trade in the traffic of children is truly international, UNICEF also observes that Europe and North America are recipients of children trafficked from Guatemala and other areas of Latin America. Most of the children ending up in Europe and North America are adopted by the families that acquire them. In summary, UNICEF estimates the number of children trafficked annually is a staggering 1.2 billion (“Child protection from violence”).
The trade in the traffic of children thrives for a number of reasons but the prime reason is poverty (Mathews 649). Perhaps that explains why Africa and Asia are the biggest suppliers of children. In concurrence with the UNICEF report cited above, Mathews (649) observes that most of the children being trafficked are mainly lured by promises of employment and better living. The poverty that the children suffer makes them vulnerable and once in the jaws of their captors are unable to extricate themselves.
Mathews (649) notes a paradox in the trade of traffic in children by observing that the beneficiaries of the trade end up appearing like benefactors. Where a child is sent into a brothel, he or she is, effectively, the property of the brothel owner. While all freedom is lost, the child’s basic needs are taken care of and therefore will have escaped the crushing poverty that the child knew before.
Poverty aside, Mathews (649) observes that the trade could be thriving because of international confusion on issues as basic as the definition of a child. There is no universally accepted definition on who a child is and this compounds the problem for several reasons. First, it is impossible to protect children unless the various countries they end up in can agree on who a child is. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (qtd in Mathews 649) “defines ‘child’ as a person under the age of eighteen”.
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This therefore means that even if it was possible to offer protection to children, evidence would need to be provided that they were under eighteen years of age. Since different countries have different definitions of a child, the eighteen-year definition that the UN offers lacks universality and therefore aggravates an already bad scenario. As if that is not bad enough, Spun (19) notes a major headache that confronts law-enforcement agencies in their bid to protect children involved in prostitution or other forms of exploitation. For law-enforcement agencies, there is no definite way of telling the age of a child involved in prostitution.
Spun (19) quotes Detective Mark Gilkey “of the prostitution unit of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department “, who says, ‘many of the kids we lock up are not of age but we can’t get a positive ID’” (Spun 19). The problem that the police in Washington face is symptomatic of the global nature of the problem. Mathews (649) further notes that most of the children who are victims of trafficking originate from countries which might not have proper birth records and, even where they exist, such records are not easily accessible.
Trafficking in children also thrives because the beneficiaries are mainly wealthy people who have the ability to move from country to country. Even if such clients come from countries where laws for the protection of children exist, they are able to roam the world and operate in countries where such laws do not exist. Moreover, should such clients feel uncomfortable with existing laws or fear arrest they are able to move quickly to other countries where they stay unscathed (Mathews 649).
While individual wealth by perpetrators of the trade and the individual poverty of the victims contributes to the trade in child trafficking, Mathews (649) observes that at the root of the trade is the disparity between wealthy and poor nations. While the poverty of the child’s nation makes him or her an easy victim, such poor nations also contribute to the problem in their desperate need to attract wealth from the prosperous nations.
Closely related to poverty, another major contributor to the trade is political instability and official corruption. In countries with unstable governments, borders are not properly secured and it is therefore easy to ship children out of such countries. Police and other law enforcement agencies could do much to stop the trafficking of children from their countries but this hardly happens due to corruption in these agencies.
Mathews (649) notes that prosecution of offenders hardly ever takes place because of corruption among these agencies. Where victims of child prostitution end in the hands of corrupt law enforcers, Mathews (649) observes that “in some countries, the victims are charged and prosecuted for illegal sex acts rather than being treated as victims of a crime”. Victims of child trafficking do not fare much better either when they end up in the hands of the police in their countries of exploitation. According to UNICEF, such children are sometimes “arrested and detained as illegal aliens” (“Child protection from violence”).
The immediate victims of child trafficking are the children used in the trade but the trade affects large segments of the society and has the potential to sour international relations. Apart from breaking families and ruining the futures of innocent children, child trafficking could disrupt countries by taking away the children who are a nation’s most valuable resource. It is for this reason that child trafficking has been identified as a major global problem which needs to be fought by a united world.
That the world has been aware of the enormity of the problem is illustrated by the fact that the UN has attempted to address the problem through its Convention on the Rights of the Child (Mathews 649). This convention, which was signed by “all UN member nations and ratified by all but the United States and Somalia” (Mathews 649), contains a long list of rights that the member countries are supposed to guarantee children. Signatories of this convention are supposed to protect children from torture and mistreatment and to safeguard them from exploitative acts. As a direct attempt at ending child trafficking, the convention clearly calls “for a ban on the separation of child and family to counteract the influences that lead to child trafficking” (Mathews 649).
This convention is by far the boldest step that the world has taken to end child trafficking but there have been many other treaties and resolutions on an international scale. A common streak in most of these treaties, resolutions and conventions has been the agreement that child trafficking can best be fought by raising awareness on the magnitude and the dangers that the trade poses to the entire world. An equally important global attempt at fighting traffic in children is the Hague Convention which, among other things, “provides support for parents whose child has been abducted” (Mathews 649).
When all is said and done, child trafficking remains a basic human rights issue. Where human rights violations in whatever form are carried out, it becomes easier to violate the rights of the child. Since the suppliers of children are countries with weak, poor, undemocratic or even non-existent governments, all attempts should be made to spread democratic governance on a global scale. International providers of finance, such as the Bretton Woods Institutions, should continuously tie the provision of Aid to democratic governance and the observance of human rights.
While the UN has done much in passing conventions on the rights of the child, it should go a step further and bring an end to wars that disrupt governments and families and therefore fuel the trade. Even more critically, the trade could be dealt a death-blow if individuals, operating as global citizens, raised awareness on the gravity of the problem and petitioned their governments to deal most severely with perpetrators of the trade.
“Child Protection from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse”. Unite for Children. UNICEF. 2007. Web.
Mathews, Stacey. “International Trafficking in Children: Will New U.S. Legislation Provide an Ending to the Story?” Houston Journal of International Law 27.3 (2005):649+.
Spun, Brandon. “Closed Doors and Childhoods Lost: Many Experts Believe Cases of Child Pornography and Prostitution Are on the Rise. Sometimes Prosecutors Focus on the Victims Rather Than on the Perpetrators”. Insight on the News 18.3(2002):19+.