Interview From Bangkok: Child-Trafficking The 3rd Biggest Global Consumer Market

Carmen Madrinan, Executive Director, ECPAT International, tells Anthony Dias that the saddest truth for all adults and parents is that child-trafficking has nudged it way up to become the third biggest global consumer market after such major crimes like drugs and arms sales.

It is a sad and tragic phenomenon that the third biggest consumer industry in our world involves the very constituency whom we should protect: our children.

Child trafficking ranks third after drugs and arms dealing in the world. At the ECPAT ( an acronym for ‘End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes’) global conference which ended in Bangkok on August 13, to our horror, we realised, through accumulated scientific study and statistics, that an estimated 1.2 million children are annually traded globally for exploitation and child labour.

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Strangely, I am to some extent surprised by the lack of knowledge among the not-so-otherwise ignorant about the nature of child trafficking. Most people think that this crime is limited to only developing nations when the facts are quite the opposite.

In London alone, more than 30% people do not even know what child trafficking is or its extent in the country while at around 34% believe that trafficked children end up only in foreign countries.

Child trafficking, which generates $27.8 billion globally in a year, is a crime which pervades the UK, US and all the rich countries where ignorance cannot be taken as an excuse.

For example, the UK chapter of ICPAT, which has done no small study on the evils of child abuse, has identified 325 children in the island in the last one year though the actual figure must be much higher. We cannot forget that child trafficking, like almost all major criminal activities, is covert in nature and the laws cannot always help in identifying the perpetrators of the crime.

However, what has come to the surface at the Bangkok conference and was known by us earlier too is something quite unexpected. Child trafficking is as much an internal and national problem as it is internationally. The evil is not restricted to borders and geography but has spread its tentacles inside, gnawing away at the entrails.

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In the UK, as in other countries like India, for example, children are ferried inside the nation mostly for personal gratification but also for other purposes like labour. In the inland ferrying, these criminals are very difficult, almost impossible, to catch and the laws are not favourable either.

Whenever cases have been booked, I for one have come across numerous examples when the adult criminal has taken refuge in the loopholes of the law, using fear and cash, or both, to silence the victim into saying that there is no case.

Also, there are many countries where the age of consent is variable and even at 16, I have heard of kids being treated as adults so that silence is taken as consent by the law. International rules to stop trafficking must thus be looked into more deeply.

In the UK though, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel with ECPAT International and The Body Shop, a major global cosmetic goods retailer and leading corporate enterprise with an extensive history of involvement and support to social causes, joining hands.

This is a remarkable step forward. Working in collaboration, The Body Shop and ECPAT have committed to use their respective global platforms to create awareness and support action to protect children from trafficking and sexual exploitation.

In this invaluable partnership, the Body Shop will use its extensive network of 2,400 stores around the world to reach out to the public and magnify the message and goals of the campaign.

Through a series of initiatives which will be coordinated globally and undertaken directly at national level through the 81 member networks of ECPAT organisations in 75 countries, the campaign will inform the public on the problem of child trafficking and sexual exploitation to stimulate public engagement and turn public concern into direct action as well as collective social action.

The ECPAT report released in Bangkok “*Their Protection is in Your Han*ds” spotlights the specific situation of children in relation to trafficking and sexual exploitation placing the problem within the broader panorama and context of lapses in the application of child rights.

The 2008 report on *Trafficking in Persons *of the US State Department identified internal trafficking as a relevant problem in 64% of the countries analysed worldwide. The number of children trafficked within countries is, however, unknown.

The recent report by the North American NGO, Shared Hope International, provides a snapshot of the problem where it is estimated that exploitation of US children through prostitution is in the range of 100,000 victims per year: a large part of these children are trafficked domestically for this purpose.

But it ought to be known universally that it is society’s fault that we cannot protect our children. Whenever the support structure collapses, it is then that children become most vulnerable and are then easy targets for criminals. Children are helpless in the face of such dangers.

Their only succor comes in the form of the immediate family or community. When there is a vacuum in both, or are non-existent, it is then that children suffer the most and can be silenced into abuse.

The laws in most countries are almost universally lopsided. For example, there are some nations in which a minor is qualified as only a girl and boys are thus compromised. There is an immediate need to set such anomalies right.

We have a significant phenomenon in Wales where the number of boys being abused are more than girls. We are looking into this phenomenon and trying to find the reasons for this trend. However, this unusual fact is in keeping with the larger map of an increase in boys being abused and falling prey to trafficking.

Depending on the reason for trafficking, some countries might be only sending, while others might be both sending and transit. Some countries can be all three. The UK is primarily a destination country although, to a lesser extent, is used as a transit country to other parts of Europe.

Ports are significant entry points to the UK, but increasingly traffickers use diverse routes such as regional airports and lorry drops on motorways in less predictable locations. Airports are the most commonly used means of entry followed by seaports. Boys are more likely than girls to enter the country via clandestine means like buses and lorry stowaways.

I have noticed that children coming into rich nations are mostly unaware of why they end up where they do. For example, a child may be whisked away to the UK and then finds itself in an unknown environment with hostile adults all around. This is a pathetic situation because any protest can bring further abuse while help in the form of police is mostly unreachable.

Children who have been trafficked from abroad for sexual exploitation have been identified all over the UK, indicating that this is not just a problem for inner city London. Studies suggest that the demand for prostitution is increasing in the UK fuelled by the availability of online child pornography. Police operations in the north of England have uncovered the online and offline grooming of British teenage girls that resulted in the girls being transported across the UK and pimped for sexual exploitation.

Demand is not just about the people who buy sex but the many people who seek to make easy money by facilitating the arrangements. British nationals have also been prosecuted for the sexual abuse of children abroad in countries such as India, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Romania, and the Czech Republic but also in Sweden, France and Spain.

ECPAT is an ongoing movement in over 75 countries to end the exploitation of children. However, what we need is not mere individual concern but sharing of knowledge among nations and institutions. It is only this adult association and bonding which can save the future which lies in the innocence of our children.

Anthony Dias is an independent writer with 28 years of experience in the print media in Indian nationals. His work can also be seen in the UK Guardian, Sunday Express and the Scotsman.