Unicef on trafficked children and how UK social workers can identify and support them: 60 second interview

Mike Dottridge, author of a new report by Unicef and Terre des Hommes on child trafficking published this week, answers our questions. His report includes the voices of child victims from Albania, Moldova, Romania and Kosovo, where the research was carried out.

What happens to children who are trafficked? 
Trafficking is one of the worst forms of human rights violations in modern history and has been called modern day slavery. Child traffickers operate by deception, offering the most vulnerable, marginalised and poverty-stricken children the false opportunity or promise of a job abroad. They may use violence or threat to lure a child into what in reality turns out to be forced labour and sexual exploitation. These children are deprived of their documents and are subject to ongoing physical and mental abuse. Working conditions are often imposed with alcohol and drugs and as a rule, many contract sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, fall pregnant or become severely damaged psychologically.

The experience has lasting effects on their behaviour. Many become aggressive, dependent on sex or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

How many children are trafficked into the UK? 
Child trafficking is by its very nature criminal and a covert and deceptive practice, so acquiring accurate data is difficult.

Anecdotal estimates suggest that hundreds  if not thousands of children are trafficked from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe in to the UK each year, lured into sexual exploitation and for other forms of forced labour, including domestic slavery, agricultural work,  restaurant work, packing and construction.

Despite the significance of this problem, trafficked children have no guaranteed protection or support in the UK.  From 2000 to the end of 2004, the International Organization for Migration gave assistance to more than 6,000 women and children who had been trafficked from countries in south eastern Europe.  Between 10 and 20 per cent of these were under 18 when trafficked.

What are the root causes of child trafficking? How can these issues be addressed?
Unicef says poverty is the context in which children are trafficked. Many children who are trafficked have prior experience of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, and in some cases experience of severe discrimination (in the case of Roma minorities).

By analysing the cases of children who are trafficked, it is possible to identify these and other factors which make some children disproportionately more likely to be trafficked than others.  

Most trafficked children have not completed secondary education, are illiterate, have dropped out of school, or begin begging to support their family. These children are easy prey for traffickers; they have few options, little education, no social or family network or vocational skills and crave an escape from their current hopeless situation.

To end trafficking, we need to tackle it at its root, by tackling poverty.
How can children be protected and rescued from trafficking?
An ideal response to trafficking takes into account “three Ps” – prevention of trafficking, protection of the victims and prosecution of the perpetrators. However, our report finds that while progress is being made in terms of prosecution and conviction of criminals, the current response is lagging behind in the other two areas.

The weakest link that must be broken is the prevention one because with effective prevention, less children would fall victim to this crime. But at the receiving end in countries like the UK, we need to ensure adequate identification, protection, care and support of victims, as well as prevention by reducing the willingness of members of the public to give money to traffickers or their agents.

Our new report says: “The exploitation of trafficked children has repeatedly been facilitated because consumers, clients, employers, law enforcement, officials and members of the public have not realised that activities in which they see children  involved are  abusive – or have not known what an appropriate reaction would be.

Providing clear information to both children and adults on what constitutes child abuse and what to do about it when it occurs is crucial. One way of doing this is through specially designed campaigns.”

What do awareness-raising campaigns focus on?
There have been numerous awareness-raising campaigns in every country in south eastern Europe (and along the eastern border of the European Union). These were started primarily to make adult women who were thinking of migrating abroad aware of the possibility that they might be trafficked into forced prostitution, in the EU and also areas where international peacekeepers had created a demand for commercial sex (Bosnia and Kosovo) and Russia and Turkey.

A campaign by Save the Children in Kosovo in 2003 pushed the message to Kosovar men and boys who pay for commercial sex that they may now be contributing to the abuse of Kosovar women and girls (where a few years earlier it was almost exclusively foreign women who were being trafficked into Kosovo).

How can social workers in the UK identify and support trafficked children?
Unicef’s Reference Guide on Protecting the Rights of Child Victims of Trafficking in Europe (free download) contains a comprehensive chapter about how trafficked children can be identified  (chapter 4).

Ecpat (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) also publishes work on trafficked children relevant to UK social workers.

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