Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The horror of child trafficking

By Sekina Joseph
Column: Simple Dreams

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — There is a paramount and urgent need to address the worldwide child trafficking "business," and this can only be done effectively by creating national child protection systems, just as countries have created national healthcare systems to address their people’s health needs.

Child trafficking in Malaysia is a serious threat and, sadly, there is no proper collaboration among agencies to combat it. Not one of the 15 or so cases against arrested child traffickers has made it to court since the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was implemented in 2007, according to Dr. Hartini Zainuddin, an adviser for Rumah Nur Salam children’s shelter in Kuala Lumpur.

Many officers in the immigration, marine, customs and police departments are not trained to deal with young victims of human traffickers, Hartini said. Some are treated as routine illegal immigrants and deported; some have no identity documents and are therefore considered stateless.

Speaking at a media forum in Kuala Lumpur, Hartini said that under the anti-trafficking act child victims are classified as victims of human rights violations. She said that, although Malaysia signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, there are many crucial gaps in the system that attempts to protect children. She cited the lack of proper counseling services for traumatized victims as one example.

Children who are being exploited in the global commercial sex trade are actually part of the larger problem of human trafficking, an industry believed to be worth billions of dollars per year. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime lists it as the third largest international criminal activity after illegal drugs and arms trafficking.

Children are indeed seen as easy prey, as they can be taken away by deception or force, and at times by the very people that their families know. Threatened and held captive, these children – a category that includes anyone under the age of 18, according to Article 1 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child – are usually sexually exploited.

The number of missing children is rising in Malaysia. Many are blatantly abducted from their families. Surely more can be done to prevent this horrendous crime and punish the culprits.

Many young girls are cruelly raped as an introduction to prostitution – the younger the better, their captors think. Crime syndicates, which view them as a "long-term investment," groom children to enter the prostitution, pornography and/or child labor trade, forced marriages, or even illegal organ harvesting. Some eventually become "mother hens" or pimps.

The child sex trade is not a phenomenon confined to the developing world, as is often perceived. In fact, children are trafficked for sexual exploitation in virtually all countries of the world.

Kritsana Pimonsaengsuriya, regional officer for East Asia and the Pacific of ECPAT International – a network of organizations that work to end the sexual exploitation of children – said in Kuala Lumpur recently that quantifying the number of children trafficked into the global sex market each year is a challenge. The latest official figures released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime count 21,400 human trafficking victims that were identified through the criminal justice process and through victims' assistance organizations in 111 countries.

Nearly 80 percent of all trafficking worldwide is for sexual exploitation. Among identified cases, the proportion of minors involved in all forms of human trafficking increased between 2003 and 2007 from about 15 percent to nearly 22 percent.

Although the world has paid more attention to the trafficking of children between nations, what is alarming is that the number of children trafficked within certain countries, or what is called "domestic trafficking,” is increasing. The State of Global Child Trafficking for Sexual Purposes has identified disturbing developments that cause grave concern among those fighting the exploitation of children and young people.

Such trafficking may involve movement from rural to urban areas or from one city to another. Children may be moved from poor and underprivileged places to tourist locations or to areas where there is a higher concentration of male workers. A review of the flows, routes and changes in patterns in child trafficking highlights the fact that most of this activity takes place over relatively short distances either within regions or sub-regions.

Almost any child can be a victim of child traffickers. The factors that heighten the risk include poverty, a volatile family environment, low levels of education, separation from families, low self-esteem and a general lack of love and kindness.

These factors – fuelled by the demand for sex with children, not only from pedophiles but also from people who pay for sex – remain a driving force for the trafficking of minors.

ECPAT's research also suggests that the current global recession is likely to increase the risks for vulnerable children and can result in a further rise in child trafficking for sexual purposes.

According to Pimonsaengsuriya, numerous parties profit from the trafficking of children, including document forgers, corrupt officials, transport workers, sex trade profiteers and of course, the tourist trade.


(Sekina Joseph is a freelance writer, social activist and member of the Malaysian Interfaith Network based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She writes on social, cultural, philosophical and interfaith issues. She can be contacted at ©Copyright Sekina Joseph.)

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