Tokyo Trafficking Symposium

Remarks by Kul C Gautam
At the Tokyo Trafficking Symposium
Japan, 20 February 2003

We at UNICEF feel very privileged to join the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to sponsor this Tokyo International Symposium on Trafficking of Children, a fitting follow-up to the very important Yokohama World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

It is truly wonderful to see so many of our partners here, from all walks of life – government officials, representatives of civil society and NGOs, especially from or working in the Asia-Pacific region, and members of the extended UN family, among others.

I wish to acknowledge and commend the committed leadership and strong support of the Government of Japan, for this Symposium and the earlier Yokohama Congress.

I also want to pay tribute to our many NGO partners. Without your bold activism and dedication, trafficking and sexual exploitation of children might still remain a taboo subject in such international gatherings. It has often been the courageous NGOs that have exposed this most heinous abuse of child rights and have applied pressure for action on a priority footing.

One might ask why should we give this issue of trafficking such a high priority, among so many other issues that are crying out for our attention?

First, let us recall the scale of the problem. It is estimated that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, although the actual figure could be much higher.

According to ILO Convention 182, trafficking of children is one of the worst forms of child labour. Indeed it is a modern form of slavery.

The scale of this slave trade is staggering. According to the Centre for International Crime Prevention, 12 million Africans were sold as slaves to the New World over a period of three hundred years, between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Compare that with this figure: it is estimated that trafficking in children and women for commercial sexual purposes in the Asia Pacific region alone has victimised over 30 million people over the last three decades .

We are, ladies and gentlemen, speaking about the largest slave trade in history. It is carried out using even more cruel and devious means than the original slave trade. Worse still, experts attest to the fact that commercial sexual exploitation of children is actually increasing.

Built on greed and the abuse of power, the trafficking of children and women has become a worldwide, multi-billion-dollar industry.

In this age of computer-driven culture, trafficking is even becoming high-tech, with child pornography, sex tourism information and mail-order brides offered openly on the Internet.

Trafficking is a global, transnational crime. Fighting such a phenomenon requires co-operation at national, regional and international levels.

Fortunately, we now have in hand the necessary global standards and commitments to combat this heinous crime. These include:

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography;
  • The ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour;
  • The Declaration and Plan of Action from the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children entitled “A World Fit for Children”,
  • The Yokohama Global Commitment from the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, and
  • The Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, which were part of the 2002 Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Economic and Social Council.

Armed with such widely accepted conventions, declarations, guidelines and principles, we no longer need more normative instruments. What we need is effective action on the ground.

We need to create a protective environment for children built on the conviction that a world fit for all children is one in which they must have the best possible start in life and ample opportunities to develop their individual capacities in a safe and supportive environment.

In seeking to ensure that all children grow up in such an environment, UNICEF considers the following actions as vital interventions to protect children from the dangers of trafficking and sexual abuse:

1. At the macro/policy level, there needs to be a government commitment in every country to universal primary education, and increasingly to secondary education as well. Girls’ education, in particular, is recognized as one of the most effective interventions against exploitation, abuse and discrimination. Young girls ought to be in schools, not on the street or in servitude where they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

2. Legislation and law enforcement also need to be strengthened, to ensure implementation and monitoring of international conventions as well as bilateral agreements for cross-border co-operation.

3. At the level of service delivery, there needs to be capacity building in order to ensure that those who come into contact with children, their parents and caregivers, are able to prevent and address trafficking by recognising early warning signs.

4. To promote the recovery and reintegration of trafficked children in their families and communities, judges, lawyers, police, social workers, child psychologists and teachers need training to support and protect trafficked children, whose needs, vulnerabilities and rights are often different from those of adults.

5. At the family and community level, there needs to be support to ensure that they become the first line of protection for children. Communities need to be enabled to monitor abuses, report on them, and look for early warning signs of children at risk. Children themselves can be active in their own protection and that of their peers.

6. At the community level, concerted efforts are necessary to improve attitudes, customs, behaviours and practices, such as countering discrimination against girls and the tradition of sending children away to work as domestic labourers. The support of the media should be enlisted to foster open discussion of child protection issues.

I know that government officials, NGOs and child rights activists attending this symposium could share with us many other examples and country case studies of initiatives that have contributed to the building of a protective environment for children. We hope to learn much from your experience, insights and wisdom.

If one examines trafficking in its socio-economic context, it is clear that trafficking is both a symptom and an outcome of underlying, deep-seated inequity, discrimination and poverty in our societies. That is why it impacts most heavily on children who are from the ranks of the most vulnerable groups – members of ethnic minorities, refugees, orphans, abandoned children, and children from the poorest strata of society.

And unless we also tackle the root causes of trafficking, we will never really eliminate the problem.

Friends, at UNICEF we stand ready to work with you to tackle this horrendous crime against children, their trafficking and sexual exploitation, with resolute commitment.

As Carol Bellamy, UNICEF’s Executive Director emphasized at the Yokohama Congress, “The sustained realisation of the rights of children hinges not only on what governments do, but on the outcome of partnerships involving a broad range of allies in civil society – partnerships based on a shared understanding of the rights of all human beings”.

In this context, I want to underline how much we value our partnership with the NGO community working in this field. NGOs have unique strengths, experience, and comparative advantages. That is why tripartite partnerships among governments, civil society, and UN agencies such as UNICEF and other international organizations are vital for significant progress in combating trafficking of children.

Let me conclude by once again paying tribute to Japan for its activism and leadership in tackling the issue of trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. In 1999 Japan enacted a law combating child prostitution and pornography. In 2000 it enacted a law on child abuse. In 2001 Japan prepared an action plan against commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Indeed we can go back to the Meiji era when Japan began pursuing the policy of universal basic education, pioneered by Fukuzawa Yukichi, among others, which paved the ground for universal girls’ education, an effective deterrent against child trafficking.

May we learn and benefit from this shining example of our host country. And may this symposium be a grand success.

Thank you.