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In Egypt, forum highlights the problem of human trafficking

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2471/Kamber
A girl carries a baby in the Marché Forum in Adjamé, a poor quarter in the city of Abidjan. The Marché Forum is one of the biggest markets in Abidjan, where hundreds of children work, selling produce or carrying customers’ goods.

By Emily Meehan

NEW YORK, USA, 30 December 2010 - UNICEF Child Protection Chief Susan Bissell, Egypt Representative Philippe Duamelle and Regional Goodwill Ambassador Mahmoud Kabil joined 300 business and civil society leaders and celebrities at a forum in Luxor, Egypt, earlier this December, to highlight the scourge of human trafficking and consider recommendations on how to prevent the practice.

“Trafficking of children is a grave violation of their rights, robbing them of their childhood, their well-being and the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Susan Bissell. “No country is untouched by human trafficking as a source, transit point or destination.”

The majority of trafficking victims are women and children. Sexual exploitation is the most commonly identified form of trafficking in persons - 79 per cent - followed by forced labour. An estimated 2.5 million people are currently victims of human trafficking, a $32 billion a year global enterprise.

Trafficking remains a reality

Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak  acknowledged in a speech that Egypt is a source of trafficked individuals and a destination point. Mrs. Mubarak’s advocacy campaign, End Human Trafficking Now!, co-organized the Luxor Forum with the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.

Egypt's tens of the thousands of street children are often forced into begging and face sexual exploitation, explained Mrs. Mubarak. Girls in rural villages are often compelled to leave school at an early age to get married. While Egypt ‘s Child Law has recently been amended, raising the age of marriage for girls to eighteen, poor families frequently falsify documents, forcing their underage daughters to marry older men from oil rich Gulf states. Mrs. Mubarak vowed that Egypt would step up efforts to ensure that the law is enforced and to bring perpetrators to justice.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2579/Noorani
A young woman hides her face in Proshanti, a shelter managed by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) in Dhaka, the capital. She was married at 14 years old, but her husband abandoned her when she became pregnant.

Other speakers at the conference included actor and anti-trafficking philanthropist Ashton Kutcher, Princess Mathilde of Belgium, and CNN anchor Jim Clancy. As the forum closed, the BBC produced an episode of the program, “The World Debate”  on the topic of ending human trafficking. UNICEF’s Susan Bissell participated in the filmed discussion.

Preventing exploitation

Protecting children from this form of enslavement begins with prevention - reducing the vulnerabilities that make children and families susceptible to traffickers. To this end, UNICEF works to prevent and respond to child trafficking around the world. In the vicinity of North Africa and the Middle East, one initiative is to end trafficking of expatriate children for use as camel jockeys on the Arabian Peninsula.

Camel racing is a tradition whose commercialisation, in the 1970s, spurred the use and abuse of young expatriate children as camel jockeys. Many of these children have been sent with agents from Sudan, Mauritania, Bangladesh and Pakistan with permission from parents who hoped they could earn a livelihood. 

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2203/Kamber
Ibrahim Cisse, 13, works and lives at a port in Conakry, the capital. At the port, he and other children load boats, sell goods at the market or wash dishes at food stalls. They are paid only in food. Most are orphans trafficked from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.

UNICEF has been working together with the government of the United Arab Emirates to put in place policies to repatriate and reintegrate these children back in their homes and to prevent such trafficking in the future.

Reversing the trend

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a message to the Luxor Forum that the crime of trafficking is no longer being ignored by the international community.

This year the UN General Assembly launched a Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and established the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which funds humanitarian, legal and financial aid to human trafficking victims.

"I implore businesses, civil society and each and every person to pledge their support for the Trust Fund,” said Yuri Fedetov, UN Office of Drugs and Crime Executive Director. “The special role that the business community can play in the Fund is one where I would particularly like to hear your views.”



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