It is everybody’s business: Uniting against child exploitation

By Yuliya Zabyelina

While considerable progress has been made in reducing child mortality and increasing child health around the world, millions of children continue to be subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse. The month of June has several occasions that remind the international community to promote children’s issues and take action to prevent child abuse.

The International Day for Protection of Children is celebrated on 1 June. This day was chosen by the Women’s International Democratic Federation during its congress in Moscow in 1949 and was first celebrated as the International Day for Protection of Children in 1950. The goal of proclaiming this day is to promote children’s rights and denounce child maltreatment around the world.

Another celebration in June, namely 4 June, dedicated to children’s issues is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression established by the United Nations on 19 August 1982. Originally, the day acknowledged the victims of the 1982 Lebanon War. Over the course of time, the purpose was expanded to raise awareness about the suffering of children abused physically, mentally, and emotionally anywhere in the world.

Another key date in June promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) since 2002 is the World Day Against Child Labour celebrated on 12 June. Many countries organize events dedicated to awareness raising about and responses to child trafficking for labour exploitation.

Child trafficking is a crime involving the movement of children for the purpose of their exploitation. The 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons states that children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide (28%), a 5% decrease compared to 2014.

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Image 1. Trafficking victims. Source: UNODC elaboration of national data.

Children are forced to work in different sectors, including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and domestic services. One of the less understood and often disregarded forms of child exploitation is child begging. Children who are forced to beg at a younger age might grow up being exploited into prostitution or could even turn into victims of organs removal. Additionally, EUROPOL brings attention to the fact that children may be trafficking to be forced to commit different types of property crimes, including but not limited to burglaries, robberies, shoplifting, etc.

Whether their parents or organized crime groups exploit children, they tend to use the same means to force them into compliance. They often beat children or deprive them of food until they follow their orders. Sometimes, the threat of violence and coercion are enough to persuade children to obedience. Other times, children are manipulated psychologically.

The UNODC database of transnational crimes, SHERLOC, offers several court cases of child begging. In case CA Brasov 43-Ap-2009, a Romanian perpetrator recruited ten people, of which one was a minor at the time of the crime. The victims were taken to Greece. Once there, the defendants used threats and various forms of coercion to force the claimants to beg for them. The victims were also forced to commit other crimes like shoplifting and sale of false gold jewelry. In another case in Norway, a Romanian defendant was charged with human trafficking for having exploited his two children, a girl and a boy, for the purpose of begging. The father “gave the children sheets of paper with different texts, mainly referring to different types of handicaps and the ‘Regional Association certificate for physically disabled children, deaf and sick.’” This association never existed and was used to create the false appearance of children collecting donations for a care center. The family had no other source of income but the funds gained from child begging.

The UNODC has been working along with national governments and non-governmental organizations to combat human trafficking, including child exploitation. Through the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, established in accordance with resolution A/RES/64/293 Article 38 of the General Assembly on 12 August 2010, the UNODC provides humanitarian, legal, and financial aid to victims of trafficking in persons. Furthermore, the UNODC, together with other agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF, created the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). This program constitutes a series of activities that raise awareness and promote media coverage on the issue of child labor. It also calls for efforts to reduce the impact of conflicts and disasters on the lives of affected children.