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Trafficking violates the entire spectrum of children's rights

Trafficking of children takes many different forms: Some children are forcibly abducted; others are tricked and still others opt to let themselves be trafficked, seduced by the promise of earnings but not suspecting the level of exploitation they will suffer at the other end of the recruiting chain. It always involves a journey, whether within a country - from the rural areas to a tourist resort, for example - or across an international border. At the final destination, trafficked children are brought into an underground world of illegality and violence where they effectively disappear. [figure 3.6]

The relocation takes children away from their family, community and support networks, leaving them isolated and utterly vulnerable to exploitation. Often they are even more disempowered by having been transported to a place where they do not speak the local language, making it much more difficult for them to seek help or escape. Because they are there illegally and without documents, they may feel unable to trust the police or other officials . In addition, by being trafficked to other countries they find themselves deprived of access to basic services.

Trafficked children are also almost invisible to the eye of the statistician. Collecting data about these children is notoriously difficult and reliable global statistics are impossible to compile. However, it is estimated that trafficking affects around 1.2 million children each year.

Although trafficking is a shadowy practice that has neither particular rules nor predictable sequences, some dominant regional patterns are identifiable:

  • In West and Central Africa the most common form of trafficking is an extension of a traditional practice - often a survival strategy - whereby children are 'placed' in marginal positions within other families. Increasingly this practice is being used to exploit children's labour, both within and outside the home. Children are also trafficked into plantations and mines, while in those countries affected by conflict they can be directly abducted by militias.

  • In East Asia and the Pacific most trafficking is into child prostitution, though some children are also recruited for industrial and agricultural work. It is largely driven by poverty and especially by the pull of the wealthier countries in the region. Girls are also recruited as mail-order brides and for domestic service.

  • In South Asia trafficking forms part of the immense child labour problem in the sub-continent, often related to debt bondage, whereby a child is in effect 'sold' to pay off a debt, frequently a debt deliberately imposed by the exploiter with this in mind. In addition to sex work, children are trafficked into carpet and garment factories, construction projects and begging.

  • In Europe children are mainly trafficked from east to west, reflecting the demand for cheap labour and child prostitution in the richer countries of the continent. Organized criminal gangs exploit the open borders to channel children into unskilled labour, work in the entertainment sector and prostitution.

  • In the Americas and the Caribbean much of the child trafficking is driven by tourism and focused on coastal resorts, again feeding a demand for child prostitution and easily exploitable labour. Criminal operations that used to move drugs across borders are reportedly now becoming involved in human trafficking as well.

Often children trafficked into one form of labour may be sold on into another, as with girls from rural Nepal who are recruited to work in carpet factories or hotels in the city but are then trafficked into the sex industry over the border in India. In almost all countries, the sex trade is the predominant form of exploitation of trafficked children, a practice that entails systematic, long-term physical and emotional abuse. [figure 3.7]