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Number of children and young people becoming victims of trafficking on the rise worldwide

BERLIN, 10 January 2013 — The UNICEF National Committee for Germany and the child protection organization ECPAT are calling for better protection and assistance for victims of child trafficking.

Well-known German actress Nadja Uhl (right) with a UNICEF Romania staff member (centre) during a field trip to Romania during the production of "Operation Sugar" - UNICEF Germany / 2012

According to the United Nations` latest information compiled from 132 countries around the world, an estimated 27 percent of all trafficked victims are children and young people. About two thirds are girls. They are subject to systematic abuse and exploitation. Between 2003 to 2006, the percentage of minors among the total number of trafficking victims was significantly lower at around 20 percent.

Many governments have strengthened police actions and legal measures to combat this serious crime. However, many victims of child-trafficking are still not recognized as such or are inadequately protected which makes the prosecution of offenders even more difficult.

UNICEF and ECPAT Germany are launching their appeal prior to the broadcast of "Operation Sugar", a movie produced by German public broadcaster ARD in Germany and Romania. “Operation Sugar” will premiere at prime time on Sunday, 16 January 2013. The film focuses on the fate of abducted and abused children especially in Eastern Europe.

"Trafficking is a global business in which mainly women and children are exploited," said Anne Lütkes, a Board Member of UNICEF Germany. "Poverty, broken families and discrimination, poor governmental structures and corruption make it easy for criminal gangs to identify new victims. They meet the high demand for cheap labor and sexual services."

"In Germany, the fight against human trafficking is an important issue," said Joerg Ziercke, Chief Commissioner of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany.

"From a technical perspective, the introduction of improved police supervision, control and monitoring means, as requested by the Conference of Interior Ministers in November 2010, makes a significant contribution to the fight against human trafficking and helps to improve the protection of women working in prostitution," he said.

"The current information the authorities have and the existing facilities for the support and protection of victims of child trafficking are not sufficient," said Mechtild Maurer, Managing Director of ECPAT.

"Germany needs to implement the relevant EU Directive fully and improve the protection of victims, in particular for minors," she added.

False promises of a better life

Child trafficking and human trafficking in general is estimated to be a global billion-dollar business according to UNICEF.

The European Commission estimates annual profits for the criminal networks to be over 25 billion Euros per year. Especially vulnerable are children and adolescents from economically poor regions. They live in dysfunctional families or without their parents in nursing homes or with relatives or neighbors. These children and young people are in great danger of becoming victims of trafficking

Due to the economic woes, tens of thousands of parents leave their homes in countries like Moldova, Bulgaria and Romania to find work in Western European countries. In Romania alone, public data says that up tp 80,000 children are left by one or both parents.

Potential victims of trafficking are often children from poor regions. - UNICEF Germany / 2012

Adolescents are promised position as trainees or apprentices. Once under the control of the perpetrators, they are often bound to their traffickers for years, are held against their will, beaten and humiliated. Around two-thirds of the world's victims were forced into prostitution. Others need to do hard physical work, beg or are forced into marriage. The exploitation often continues into adulthood.

Difficult prosecution - Inadequate protection of victims

Preventing child trafficking and human trafficking requires effective laws to in place, a consistent, cross-border law enforcement, public information campaigns in countries of origin on the dangers and early outreach to children in danger.

Law enforcement, prosecution and convictions have increased worldwide. Nevertheless, to date only a small number of perpetrators are held accountable. Across the EU, in the year 2010 only 1,250 offenders were convicted of human trafficking.

In Germany, there was a total of 482 cases of "human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation" in 2011. However, sexual abuse, child pornography or cases where children who are forced to beg were not included in this category.

The cases usually come to light through police checks. Victims rarely file complaints or charges with the police because they are afraid of the consequences. The majority of the cases discovered in Germany in 2011 included 640 victims under 21 years old. Twelve percent of the victims were between 14 and 17 years of age and 13 percent were even younger than 14. These crimes are only the tip of the iceberg or part of a bigger “dark figure”.

An important prerequisite for effective law enforcement are the statements of the victims. Often they do not want to speak out because of fear or shame and refuse to testify in court. Many of the victims also withdraw testimonies they made early. Language problems are an additional hurdle.

UNICEF and ECPAT are calling for better protection and assistance for those affected. These include, for example, legal aid, residence permits, shelter, medical care and support to return home.

  • This dark field, i.e. the number of cases that does not come to light, needs to be "illuminated". The authorities need sufficient capacity to single out offenders` criminal networks - even across national boundaries – so they can pursue them more effectively.
  • Younger victims need special protection and special assistance. The rights of the children and young people must be ensured at all times - even if they may not be able to appear as witnesses. This requires comprehensive victim protection guidelines. Training and education for professionals in government agencies and counseling services are needed.
  • The victims need professional contact points, trustworthy advice and psychological and medical assistance. They must know their rights and cannot be scared off by the threat of deportation. They need time to overcome their traumatic experiences.
  • Children and young people at risk and their families in the origin countries must be informed at an early stage. Child and youth protection need to be strengthened. Upon returning they need guidance and support. 





Additional information

Read the original press release (in German and English)

Watch a trailer of the film and read the synopsis here (both in German)

Watch the accompanying documentary (in German)

Find out more about the UNICEF Germany research trip in 2012 here

UNICEF Germany website

ECPAT international website


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