Stronger legislation and effective implementation needed to protect South Asian children from trafficking

©UNICEF IRC/Allyson Alert/2008 - In Kathmandu, Nepal, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Dan Toole speaks at the launch of the Innocenti Research Centre’s report on child trafficking in South Asia.

by Allyson Alert-Atterbury

Kathmandu, 27 August 2008 - Children in South Asia are being trafficked for many forms of exploitation - for sexual exploitation, labour, begging, early marriage, forced military recruitment, to work on camel farms, and for several other harmful purposes. This grave violation of children's rights is occurring in the region and throughout the world, but precise and reliable numbers are lacking.

A UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre report launched today, South Asia in Action: Preventing and responding to child trafficking, issues a call for a stronger legal framework and effective child protection systems. This will result in better protection of children and strengthened data collection, more reliable, systematic and comparable data and improved information-sharing.

Legal commitments are insufficient
South Asian governments have made several national and regional commitments to protect children from trafficking. However, these commitments are insufficient. For example, the 'Palermo Protocol' - international legislation on trafficking that provides the first global definition of trafficking in human beings and specifically addresses children - has not been ratified by any of the countries in the region.
Not all of the countries in South Asia have laws that criminalize child trafficking. Often children who have been trafficked are prosecuted, rather than receiving care and support as survivors of a crime.
"We have a long way to go to understand the problem and we have an even further distance to go before we can deal with the problem," says Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.

Many factors to track
The trafficking industry is hidden, and often illicit interactions with children are even more underground. The South Asia report calls for increased analysis of the links between child trafficking and other protection violations, such as violence, abuse and exploitation. It also stresses that collaboration among many sectors - health, education, social services, the legal system and others - is required to effectively address trafficking of children.
Girls who have not yet reached puberty may be married off to older men so that their parents have one less mouth to feed. Children are often sent to the capital city or an urban area to 'have a better life', which often involves deprivation of food, sleep and shelter, restriction of movement, and severed contacts with their families. The unprepared child who lacks awareness of the risks may voluntarily leave the home to migrate to another country and increase her or his vulnerability to trafficking.
"Poverty is well recognized as a factor that increases children's vulnerability to trafficking," says Lena Karlsson, the UNICEF child trafficking specialist who presented the report. An in-depth analysis of the other forces that make children vulnerable - broken families, lack of opportunities, domestic abuse and exploitation, gender discrimination, armed conflict and other risk factors will refine the analysis of risk.

"Governments must do more"
The report calls for strengthened legislation, national child protection systems with solid data and child-friendly procedures and services, stronger involvement of children and young people in programmes against trafficking, training of professionals, better cooperation and concrete actions by governments to prevent and respond to child trafficking.

South Asia in Action issues a broad call on governments to increase their efforts to protect children from trafficking. "The primary response is for governments," said Mr. Toole. "Governments must do more.".
South Asia in Action: Preventing and responding to child trafficking. Child rights-based programme practices
South Asia in Action: Preventing and responding to child trafficking. Summary report
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