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Despite regional efforts, trafficking continues to take heavy toll on children

Study finds efforts to prevent trafficking have fallen short – recommends new approach.

© UNICEF/Thailand/Robert Few

BANGKOK/WELLINGTON, 1 September, 2009 – A recent assessment of child trafficking programs in seven countries in East and Southeast Asia has found that the tides of trafficking have yet to be stemmed despite the best efforts by governments, donors and international and local aid organisations, and that a new approach is needed to confront not only child trafficking, but also other related forms of abuse and exploitation.

The study, Child Trafficking in East and Southeast Asia: Reversing the Trend, found that a great deal had been accomplished in this region in generating bilateral, multilateral and transnational cooperation. There have also been unprecedented developments in legislative and policy reform.

However, the study also found that, although most countries have developed or amended laws and policies with gusto, enforcement has generally been weak, due in some part to insufficient resources, limited capacities, poor coordination, or a lack of leadership.

The study is being released on the eve of the Pacific Trafficking in Persons Forum in Wellington, New Zealand on 2-4 September.

Tackling core vulnerabilities together

“We have a situation now where there are dozens of child trafficking programs in the region, but there are also dozens of child labour, sexual exploitation, child violence and neglect, and juvenile justice programs as well,” said UNICEF Regional Director, Anupama Rao Singh. “Yet the core vulnerabilities that put children at risk in these situations should really be addressed together rather than separately.”

“As a result, the same justice and social welfare structures and personnel in these countries are generally responsible for working on all of these child protection violations. This splits financial resources, burdens human resources, and stretches already limited capacity to keep apace with new laws, regulations, and similar but different training, procedures, and guidelines,” she added.

With donors, funds are often distributed based on ever-shifting and competing priorities, which has led to a worrying trend of support flowing toward one area of child rights violations and away from others. For example, to prioritise victims of child trafficking over victims of sexual abuse or child labour is neither practical nor equitable, and misses the fact that most child protection issues are related.

Child protection systems needed

The same factors that make children vulnerable to trafficking, including poverty, family breakdown, lack of educational opportunities, gender inequality, demand for cheap labour or brides, and widening disparities between and within countries, are the same factors that make children vulnerable to other forms of abuse, violence and exploitation.

The study concludes that what is required to address this situation is the development of national child protection systems within countries similar to the creation of effective health systems decades ago. By taking a comprehensive, system-based approach to addressing the vulnerabilities of children in this region, trafficking, as well as other violations, can be more effectively prevented before they happen.

“Given the complexity of factors which frame child vulnerability, adopting a systems-building approach to protecting children would provide the most logical, sustainable, effective and resource-efficient means for achieving long term impact on issues pertaining to the trafficking of children,” said Rao Singh. “It is time to stop confronting trafficking as a separate issue and address it more systematically along with other child protection issues.”

The seven countries assessed in the study are:  China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.



Madeline Eisner, UNICEF Regional Communication
+6623569406 or +66817014626 (cell)

Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Communication Specialist
+6633569407 or +66819060813 (cell)

David Youngmeyer, UNICEF New Zealand
+6448159387 or +6421851263 (cell),





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