This is a regional trade route for the traffic
in children. Preying on communities desperate for a
better life for their children, traffickers promise
jobs in the city, on farms, in foreign countries.
And children are forced into work that scars them emotionally, physically and mentally, work which can even kill them.
They respect the community and the community
respects them. In that way, behaviour can be changed.
An apocryphal story? No. A real one, illustrating the kinds of activities taking place in many parts of the world as support for the activities of the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).
Born of necessity, the ILO, together with a host of partners, has fought child labour. It has helped create mechanisms to legislate against child labour, interventions to prevent it, and remedies to heal the wounds it leaves on a community and a child.
World Day against Child Labour
Child trafficking is
one of the worst forms of child labour and the focus
of this year’s
World Day Against Child
From the most remote villages to the annual ILO International Labour Conference in Geneva, June 12 marks the day when events show the global solidarity which exists to stop child labour.
What kind of solidarity? Experts sharing
information on fighting child trafficking. Shipping
industry staff talking about how to spot suspicious
travellers and prevent trafficking. Counsellors at
repatriation centres discussing how children are best
welcomed back into their home countries.
In dozens of places - from ILO offices, workplaces, schools, and community centres to villages, market places, streets, and rehabilitation centres - this solidarity is apparent and growing.
The trafficking of children results from the
unmet demand for cheap and malleable labour in
general, as well as the demand for young girls and
boys in the fast-growing commercial sex sector.
Though children are generally less productive than adults, they are easier to abuse, less assertive, and less able to claim their rights - and accordingly, can be made to work longer hours with little food, poor accommodation, and no benefits.
Trafficking is not a discrete act - it is a
series of events which takes place in the
child’s home community, at transit points, and
at final destinations.
Whenever a child is relocated and exploited, it is trafficking. All those who contribute to it and profit from it - recruiters, middlemen, document providers, transporters, corrupt officials, employers and service providers - are traffickers.
By no means a new phenomenon, the trafficking of children continues to grow across all continents and cultures. Nearly all countries are affected, either as sending, receiving, or transit countries for trafficked children.
Cases of child trafficking have been reported
in South Asia, South-East Asia, Africa, and Eastern
Europe, with patterns of trafficking in the Americas
and Caribbean only now beginning to emerge. South
Asia, South-East Asia, Central and West Africa show
particularly high numbers.
Most children continue to be trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. However, many children are also trafficked into other forms of labour exploitation, including domestic service, armed conflict, service industries like restaurants and bars, and hazardous work in factories, agriculture, construction, fishing, and begging.
Beyond the poverty factor
The stereotype is
that “a poor family is a family at risk”.
But it is not only poverty which leads to child
trafficking. In many South Asian communities,
marrying off a daughter - with dowry and all the
requisite gifts - can put an unsustainable strain on
Late last year, this was the case for one family in south-eastern Nepal. A suitable young man approached the father of the family and asked for the hand of his sixteen-year old daughter.
Relieved of the burden of having to find a groom and meet the financial demands which a groom’s family might make, the parents arranged the wedding. Not many days later, the couple left, ostensibly for the groom’s home.
In fact, they fled the country. Wherever they
stopped to pass the night, the groom told their hosts
that they were brother and sister. The day before the
couple was to cross the border, a sharp-eyed local
woman sensed some tension and made inquiries.
She was a member of the Village Vigilance Committee, knowledgeable about the movements and habits of traffickers. The story unravelled, and the girl returned home, having narrowly escaped being sold to an Indian brothel.
Prevention, intervention, and re-integration
This tale ends well
where many do not. The conditions which enable child
trafficking are only the beginning of the story;
poverty, political instability, natural disasters,
lack of education, and social and cultural attitudes
towards children, especially girls.
The remedies which allow it to end happily are those which adapt to the regional, social, and economic context: appropriate psychological counselling, affordable schooling or vocational training, and bringing traffickers to justice.
But best of all would be for the story never to start, for there to be better work alternatives for parents, equal access to education for boys and girls, vigilant communities, and muscular law enforcement.
The ILO and the fight against child labour: Parents to work, children to school
Eliminating child labour is an essential element in the ILO goal of “decent work for all”. The ILO tackles child labour not as an isolated issue but as an integral part of national efforts for economic and social development.
- The first International Labour Conference adopts a Minimum Age (Industry) Convention (No. 5).
- Adoption of the first Forced Labour Convention (No. 29).
- Adoption of the Minimum Age Convention (No. 138).
- The ILO
International Programme on the
Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).
Action includes: assessment studies, capacity building, legal reform, awareness raising and social mobilization, prevention, withdrawal and rehabilitation of children from hazardous work, and the creation of alternatives for child labourers and their families.
- Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action. The elaboration of the principle that a crime against a child in one place is a crime anywhere. The ILO codifies this into an international standard by developing Convention 182 three years later, spelling out the role of enforcement and penalties.
- Adoption of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work: Freedom of association, abolition of forced labour, end of discrimination in the workplace, and elimination of child labour.
- Adoption of the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182). Focused world attention on the need to take immediate action to eradicate those forms of child labour which are hazardous and deleterious to children’s physical, mental, or moral well-being. Ratified by 3 out of every 4 ILO member States.
- The ILO establishes 12 June as World Day Against Child Labour. Supports 80 countries in the formulation of their own programmes to combat child labour.
ILO concern: the unbearable fate of child soldiers
Among the voiceless victims of the worst forms of child labour are child soldiers - or children who fight - for whatever reason - or provide various forms of support in conflicts. Many of these children face not only the dangers of combat, but suffer physical abuse or rape at the hands of their fellow combatants. A recent conference organized by the US Department of Labor (USDOL) in Washington highlighted the plight of child soldiers, and announced a $13 million programme to rehabilitate them - including $7 million to develop comprehensive strategies with the ILO.
WASHINGTON - "Perhaps there is no greater challenge or more pressing charge than freeing the 300,000 children who are caught in the crossfire of conflict," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia at the " Children in the Crossfire" conference organized by USDOL here on 7-8 May. "They are on the front lines; servants of strife and victims of brutality; the objects of violence and vengeance learning to kill, to harm and to destroy."
The use of child soldiers may be the worst form of child labour. More than 300,000 children are serving on the front lines in civil strife worldwide and have witnessed, or experienced, such horrors as torture, assassinations, pillage and rape, according to "Wounded Childhood," a new ILO report on the use of children under the age of 18 in armed conflict in Central Africa prepared for the Washington conference.
Appealing for an end to this practice, Mr. Somavia declared: "Instead of weapons and war, let's arm our children with opportunity and hope."
The Washington conference, hosted by US Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, aimed to heighten the global response to the exploitation of child soldiers. Some 500 representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies heard testimonies from, former child warriors describing the fear, grief and violence which have marked their lives.
The report provides a horrifying litany of danger, fear, abuse and violence suffered by children in conflict around the world. Children are either incorporated into armed bands using false papers or coerced into fighting, or supporting troops. Outright abduction is frequent, especially in the countryside. Boys are used as spies and sent to the camps of regular forces to obtain information. The girls are used as domestic servants and sex slaves. Children who do fight are often massacred in combat.
"During combat, I used to say to myself that I was a tree. That way I was less afraid of dying," says Michel, a former child soldier from Rwanda.
The reasons why children become soldiers are often unclear. Although outright abduction, particularly by rebel groups, accounts for 21 per cent of the recruitment of children into armed groups, a surprising 64 per cent of the children involved said they made a personal decision to enrol. Reasons given range from material needs, fascination and prestige to ideology, the desire for revenge and the desire to get away from alienating situations at home or at school. Of the 34 per cent that justify their choice for material reasons, however, half say they took the decision under extreme psychological pressure for their immediate survival, while the other half saw a long-term means of earning a livelihood.
"I joined the militia because I thought I could get paid after the war. I knew I was risking my life but I had no other choice. My mother was finding it hard to feed us. While other youths joined the group for ideological reasons, I joined to have a job," says Sylvestre, now 18, a former child soldier and the fifth child of a fatherless family of nine from the Congo-Brazzaville.
Despite the risks involved in escaping these horrors, 41 per cent do manage to flee. In the DRC and Rwanda, many child soldiers have been demobilized or released through the intervention of relatives or organizations. Their ordeal, however, does not end when they get away.
Return to their home villages can be difficult as their communities have been victims of the conflict and see ex-combatants as responsible for the looting, torture and murder and think them capable of committing such crimes again. "Girls often have to overcome the double stigma of having participated in the conflict and of being unwed mothers. I hide my past as a soldier," says Kavira, a former DRC child soldier. "I'm 16 and the mother of a little girl... people have a bad opinion of soldiers and it's worse if one is a girl."
Are there solutions?
At the Washington conference, Mr. Somavia proposed a three-point "battle plan" to prevent and end the use of children in armed conflict. The elements include:
- Improving enforcement to go beyond conventions and laws. Awareness raising, adopting and implementing legislation in policies and practice are key elements;
- Developing practical, targeted strategies to help children overcome their trauma and prepare for a better future. These strategies include counselling, education, vocational training, assistance to parents to boost incomes and get decent jobs; and,
- A development strategy to get at the root causes. This includes promoting social and economic reconstruction poverty eradication, employment and education policies.
US Labor Secretary Chao announced that USDOL would devote a further $13 million "to help educate, rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers". The initiative includes $7 million to develop comprehensive strategies with the ILO help former child soldiers in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Colombia. It also includes $3 million to help educate former child soldiers in Uganda and $3 million to educate and reintegrate child fighters in Afghanistan.
"Child soldiers cannot cry out - but we can speak up for them," Ms. Chao said. "That is why we are here today. As part of this commitment, let us also pledge ourselves to address the root causes of child soldiers, which is the absence of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The US was one of the first countries to ratify The ILO Worst forms of child labour Convention No. 182 (1999) that includes a ban on the forced recruitment of children as combatants.