|© UNICEF video|
|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman addresses a conference on child sexual trafficking at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota, United States.|
By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 26 APRIL 2006 – As the keynote speaker at a conference on the problem of child sexual trafficking, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman reaffirmed UNICEF’s commitment to creating a protective environment for children at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Ms. Veneman spoke at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota, whose Human Rights Programme hosted the 21 April conference entitled, ‘United Front for Children: Global Efforts to Combat Sexual Trafficking in Travel and Tourism’.
“I am honoured to support this very important conference confronting one of the silent tragedies facing children,” said Ms. Veneman at the start of her address. “I say ‘silent’ tragedies because child sexual trafficking happens largely in the shadows, away from public attention and beyond the reach of reliable statistics. But it is a problem that affects all areas of the world, developing countries and wealthier countries alike.
“Every year, hundreds of thousands of children are smuggled across borders or trafficked within countries and sold,” she continued. “Their education, their health, their protection from exploitation and abuse are all put at risk, and their survival and their development are threatened.”
Effects of global tourism
The Minnesota conference brought together representatives of academia, non-governmental organizations and the public and private sectors to address a problem affecting large numbers of children worldwide.
As many as 1.2 million children are trafficked every year for purposes of cheap labor and sexual exploitation. Children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking, believing that better employment and lives can be found in other countries.
The fast-growing global tourism industry has contributed to the problem of trafficking, conference participants agreed. For all its positive features, easy and low-cost international travel has also had serious pernicious consequences, including a dramatic increase in the reported sexual exploitation of children in tourist destinations.
In her keynote speech, Ms. Veneman noted that UNICEF has been engaged in partnerships with the travel and tourism sectors as part of its effort to combat child sexual trafficking. “In 2004, UNICEF joined the World Tourism Organization and the NGO community to launch the code of conduct for preventing child sexual exploitation in the tourism industry,” she said.
Ms. Veneman also stressed UNICEF’s belief that children are entitled to grow up in a protective environment – and that the organization works to create such an environment in order to safeguard children from abuse, in the same way that immunization and nutrition fortify them against disease.
“Child protection is a core mission of what we do at UNICEF,” she said. “While it’s not explicitly part of the [Millennium Development Goals], it is in the underlying Millennium Declaration…. If a child is free from exploitation, chances are greater that he or she will be in school, that he or she will be healthy and that he or she will be better able to contribute to society and their own development.”