As Long as It Remains Profitable, Child Trafficking Will Continue
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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about child trafficking and efforts to stop this crime.
Child trafficking is the transportation of children for forced labor or sex or other illegal activities. It is internationally recognized as a crime. Political leaders and human rights activists everywhere condemn it. Yet, trafficking in children has become a huge industry affecting every part of the world.
The United Nations Children's Fund estimates as many as one million children are being trafficked every year. The exact number is hard to find, however, because trafficking is done in secret.
Many VOA reporters around the world have written about this issue recently. In Washington, the State Department released its yearly report on human trafficking earlier this month. The report named fourteen countries for failing to take acceptable steps to fight the problem. They are Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica and Kuwait. Also on the list are North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
These countries could face possible restrictions on American aid if they do not take action by the end of September. State Department officials say the goal of the report is not to punish governments. It is to get them to take action to put the traffickers in jail and free the victims.
The State Department says the largest numbers of child trafficking victims are from Asia. Activists, non-governmental organizations, aid groups and world leaders recognize that child trafficking is a widespread problem. But fighting it has been difficult. Organized criminal groups and individual traffickers use many methods to get children.
UNICEF officials in the Philippines told VOA reporter Nancy-Amelia Collins that traffickers often trick parents into selling their children into forced sex or slavery. Children are taken from villages across the country with promises of high-paying jobs in and around the nation's capital, Manila. But once there, most girls end up in prostitution -- providing sex for money. Boys often end up working as slaves on farms and in fish markets.
Cecilia Flores Oebande heads a private organization in the Philippines called the Visayan Forum Foundation. The group works with the Philippine government and the country's largest shipping company to help rescue trafficked children. Most victims come to Manila by boat. Visayan Forum has operations in four main ports in the capital. The group says it rescues between twenty and sixty children a week. However, officials believe thousands more are never found.
Ms. Oebande said that child trafficking is the most profitable industry in the Philippines after the illegal drug and arms trade.
Thousands of children in Africa face similar problems. In Ethiopia, for example, officials estimate tens of thousands of poor children are trafficked each year.
Yitna Getachew heads the International Organization for Migration in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. He told VOA reporter Alisha Ryu that Ethiopia is different from other countries. He says organized crime or criminal groups support child trafficking activities in many nations. But in Ethiopia, children are trafficked by individuals.
Mr. Getachew says people promise village children an education and a better life in a bigger city. The children are taken from their families and transported to Addis Ababa. But for some, the trip does not stop there.
Officials believe thousands of Ethiopian girls are sent out of the country each year to countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Traffickers can earn as much as eight hundred dollars for each victim.
The International Organization for Migration says most of the child trafficking takes place inside Ethiopia. Many boys are forced to work in Addis Ababa making clothing for more than ten hours a day. They are given little food. If they cannot perform their jobs, they are left to live on the streets. Young girls usually become slaves for families living in the capital. They are often beaten or sexually attacked by the children of their employers.
The Ethiopian government has established a national committee to protect children and arrest traffickers. Non-governmental organizations in Addis Ababa have also joined local police to find young victims and reunite them with their families.
West African nations are also dealing with the problem. Officials in Sierra Leone estimate more than one thousand five hundred children live on the streets of the capital, Freetown. The children's parents were killed in the civil war. Or the children left home because their families are too poor to care for them. These street children face the dangers of trafficking, prostitution and illegal drugs. In Ivory Coast, soldiers have been accused of sexually attacking girls working as prostitutes. And in Liberia, Eastern European girls have been brought to the country for foreigners who want European prostitutes. In these countries, some of the sex workers are girls as young as ten years old.
Boys are also victims of human trafficking. Each year, thousands of boys are taken from Pakistan and other poor Muslim countries in Asia and sent to the Middle East. There they are forced to race large animals called camels. They become camel jockeys. Human rights activists say the boys are treated like slaves. They are beaten, starved, often permanently injured and left to live on the streets.
Ansar Burney heads a human rights organization in Pakistan. He told VOA reporter Benjamin Sand that many boys in Pakistan are kidnapped from their parents and secretly transported out of the country. An estimated forty thousand child jockeys ride in camel races in countries like Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
For years, international aid groups have urged Middle Eastern governments to end the use of children in camel races. Most Persian Gulf countries have laws banning child jockeys. However, activists say the rules are not followed at private race grounds. They say there is no real effort to charge violators under existing laws because many influential, powerful people enjoy the sport. UNICEF estimates there are about four thousand child jockeys in the United Arab Emirates alone.
However, the United Arab Emirates has recently signed an agreement with the United Nations to take action against child traffickers. The government has promised to enforce an existing ban on children in camel races. It also has agreed to create two treatment centers for former child jockeys.
A new program aims to fight child trafficking in Russia. A non-governmental organization based in Switzerland started the program. The group is called Terre D'Homme. Natalia Chuard [pronounced chew-AHRD] is the head. The program is designed to stop the illegal flow of children into Russia from other former Soviet republics.
The program will start by helping one hundred children from Moldova who are working for criminal groups in Moscow. The children are forced to ask strangers for money on the streets of Moscow. Ms. Chuard told VOA reporter Lisa McAdams that the program will send the children back to their country and guarantee that they will not become victims again.
Efforts to stop child trafficking have grown as more people learn of the problem. The United Nations, World Trade Organization and private groups operate campaigns to fight this crime. Many people believe these campaigns are starting to have an effect.
The United States government says at least thirty-two countries now permit their citizens to be tried in court for traveling to other countries to have sex with children. Also, more than fifty international travel companies have signed a promise to urge travelers not to take part in such activities.
Still, human rights activists believe the problem will never be solved until buying and selling children is no longer profitable. Human trafficking is an estimated ten thousand million dollar a year industry. Activists argue that it is because people are making money that more pressure, more laws and more public education are needed.
This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.
Correction: An earlier version of this page referred incorrectly to an official of the International Organization for Migration. Yitna Getachew is a man.