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Trafficking in humanitarian emergencies: A largely unattended threat to children

Call for comment and exchange on expanding research efforts
Refugee family arriving in Mosul, Iraq

Following hostilities in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, newly arrived refugees on the way to the Al-Hol camp, close to the Iraqi border in Syria’s north -eastern Hasakeh Governorate.

(23 August 2017) A new UNICEF Innocenti blog sheds light on important evidence and knowledge gaps related to human trafficking in humanitarian settings. One of the most neglected issues in emergencies, trafficking is usually viewed as a pre-existing problem and not as a direct consequence of conflict or natural disaster. Its peculiar nature is often misunderstood, remaining largely unaddressed in emergencies. However, humanitarian crises tend to exacerbate pre-existing exposure to abuse and exploitation, introducing new risks and threats especially for women and girls.

Human trafficking in humanitarian settings can take many forms including forced prostitution, forced marriage and sexual slavery. It can often involve fathers, mothers, husbands, extended family, acquaintances and neighbors. In a context of general vulnerability – such as prolonged sheltering in a crowded tent camp – there are often factors that leave families with no viable alternative for survival other than situations that could be defined as exploitation and trafficking in national and international law.

As Alina Potts, the author of the post, says: “how aid agencies deliver assistance —and through whom it is channeled— are critical in determining whether power imbalances that can lead to exploitative situations are maintained, worsened, or reduced…. The principle of ‘doing no harm’, or at least seeking to minimize or avoid exposing people to further harm as a result of one’s actions, is essential, as is avoiding adding to a long list of protection concerns that are unrealistic for any one actor or sector to address.”

Consolidating the evidence base on how human trafficking for sexual exploitation is exacerbated by conflict and natural disaster is an essential first step in addressing the problems. It will also be necessary to better catalogue what humanitarian actors are already doing to combat trafficking during emergencies. There is an urgent need to better understand which approaches best meet the needs of the children and women most at risk, and to take a critical look at how responses in emergencies may inadvertently act as a push or pull factor, as well as for expanding the tools and resources we have at our disposal.

In addition to those recently proposed at the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment side event  in Geneva Preventing Human Trafficking among Crisis-Affected Populations in Emergency Settings, the author raises the following potential framing questions and invites those currently engaged in research, programming and policy making to prevent and/or respond to trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation in emergencies to share findings, burning questions, and future plans to contribute to a broad discussion on the subject:

What is known about trafficking of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation during humanitarian emergencies? (Mapping Patterns)

  • How do the drivers of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation differ in emergencies vs non-emergency settings, and how are they the same?
  • How do humanitarian responses put women and children more at risk of this type of trafficking?
  • What mechanisms are in place to monitor this and trigger corrective action when needed?  (Do no/least harm)

What is already being done about it, and how? (Emerging good practices)

  • How can an understanding of drivers specific to humanitarian settings be used to adapt responses used to combat trafficking in non-emergency contexts?
  • What (innovative) actions are already being taken in emergency contexts, and which show signs of promise?
  • How are affected individuals and communities (including religious leaders) involved in efforts to better understand and address the issue? What ethical issues arise for those at-risk, as well as the researchers and practitioners involved?
For those interested to share findings, burning questions, and future plans read the blog

Related Articles

Children on the move from Africa do not aim for Europe, UNICEF study shows
Article Article

Children on the move from Africa do not aim for Europe, UNICEF study shows

(26 July 2017) Children on the move into Europe from Africa take the decision to leave home on their own and do not initially intend to go to Europe. For the majority the systematic trauma and abuse they witnessed or suffered in Libya caused them to flee to Europe and take the terrifying Central Mediterranean sea route, according to a new study (download right) commissioned by UNICEF and carried out by REACH. As many as 75 percent of the refugee and migrant children interviewed in Italy as part of the study, took the decision to embark on the journey alone. The journey itself can take a staggering two years or more for children. One of the key reasons children give for leaving home was violence at home but also deprivation and conflict. Child marriage was also reported as the main reason for leaving by 1 in 5 of all girls interviewed. Children’s journeys to Europe were often fragmented and their destination changed along the way.“What is striking about this study is it shows for the first time that there are overwhelmingly far more reasons that push children to leave their homes, than has been previously understood, and fewer pull factors that lure them to Europe,” said Afshan Khan UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. The aim of the study is to provide decision makers, partners and governments with evidence on what drives children to flee their countries and homes. The interviews were conducted in the two main gateways into Europe – Italy and Greece – with a total 850 children, between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.  UNICEF Innocenti has recently begun a new research project Children and Migration: Rights and  resilience which emphasizes child rights-sensitive inquiry to explain the intricate dynamics not captured by more general research. The latest version of UNICEF Innocenti's Research Watch has also focused on child migration bringing together top world experts to discuss the research agenda for migrant and refugee children.Refugee and migrant children in Italy unanimously reported their time in Libya as the most traumatising part of their journey on land. Almost half of them (47 per cent) reported to have been kidnapped for ransom in Libya, and one in four children (23 per cent) reported to have been arbitrarily arrested and held in prison without charges. The majority come from various countries in sub-Saharan Africa but some are from as far afield as Bangladesh.“For those who did aim to come to the continent, the allure of Europe was the chance of furthering their education, respect for their rights and getting ahead in life. However once they reach Europe the reality is sadly quite different and their expectations are shattered,” said UNICEF’s Afshan Khan. Mohammad, 17, (left) from Kafuta, Gambia sits by a pond in a park in Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy, during a walk around town to take a break from their accommodations at the asylum seeker reception center, known as a Hot Spot. In Greece the survey showed that one in three parents or caretakers said that seeking education for their children was the main reason they left their countries for Europe. However the survey of refugee and migrant children revealed that lengthy procedures and confusion about their rights have led to many children dropping out of the Italian and Greek reception systems, losing out on education and exposing them to high risks of abuse and exploitation.Of the 12,239 children who arrived in Italy in the first six months of this year, 93 percent travelled alone.As outlined in the study, the profiles of children arrived in Italy and Greece vary significantly. Children in Italy tend to have made the decision to migrate individually (75 per cent of interviewed children) and are mostly unaccompanied, boys, aged 16 to 17. In Greece, children tend to have taken a joint decision within their family and arrive with family members (91 per cent of interviewed children), at an almost equal level between boys and girls, and from all age groups. At the recent G20 and G7 summits, UNICEF urged governments to take action to protect child refugees and migrant as part of its six-point plan of Action for Children Uprooted which calls for the protection of every child uprooted by war, violence and poverty. The plan calls on governments to:Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence;End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives;Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status;Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services;Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants;Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.(This press release was originally published on the www.unicef.org press centre)
Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation
Article Article

Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation

(17 May 2017) The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, UNICEF said today in a new report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.‘A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’ presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death. “One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”[Visit Research Watch: Children on the Move for current evidence and knowledge discussion on migrant and refugee children] The report includes the story of Mary, a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor from Nigeria, who experienced the trauma of being trafficked firsthand during her horrific journey through Libya to Italy. When describing the smuggler turned trafficker who offered to help her, she said, “Everything (he) said, that we would be treated well, and that we would be safe, it was all wrong. It was a lie.” Mary was trapped in Libya for more than three months where she was abused. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”Additional key findings from the report include:200,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum across around 80 countries in 2015-2016.100,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2015-2016.170,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Europe in 2015-2016.Unaccompanied and separated children accounted for 92 per cent of all children arriving to Italy by sea in 2016 and the first months of 2017.Children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally.Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims at 64 and 62 per cent respectively.As much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks.Ahead of the G7 Summit in Italy, UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their wellbeing. “These children need a real commitment from governments around the world to ensure their safety throughout their journeys,” said Forsyth. “Leaders gathering next week at the G7 should lead this effort by being the first to commit to our six-point agenda for action.”The UNICEF agenda for action includes:Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives; Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status; Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination. UNICEF is also urging the public to stand in solidarity with children uprooted by war, violence and poverty, by supporting the six-point agenda for action. 

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