On 2 July, the UN Human Rights Council discussed the recent report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. As her six-year tenure comes to an end, the Special Rapporteur took stock of her previous research and reports and provided strong state recommendations to address the protection gaps in the legal and policy framework to prevent and combat trafficking and adopt a genuinely human rights based approach to combating human trafficking. The report stresses the undeniable link between migration and human trafficking and that “the restrictive migration policies and xenophobic or racists approaches to migration exacerbates and creates vulnerabilities to trafficking”. The Special Rapporteur further states in the report that “trafficked persons’ rights can be fully protected only if migrants’ rights are protected”. Child10 and recipients of the 2020 Award who have partnered up in 2020 to address trafficking of children along the migration routes towards Europe fully supports the findings and recommendations set out in this report and wish to stress the urgent need for states to now also act in accordance with these recommendations. We in particular want to point out two specific areas where we continue to see the consequences of inadequate protective mechanisms for children.
The Special Rapporteur points out that “trafficking is overlooked, especially when it is linked to migration, and victims are not identified as such when they are trafficked during their perilous journey, due to the lack of dedicated procedures in places or first arrival, aimed at identifying vulnerabilities, including vulnerabilities to trafficking”. It is clear that states need to step up efforts to identify victims of trafficking in migration – especially children. Without being identified, these children are not given access to the rights and services that they are entitled to according to national and international law. Despite the significant numbers of unaccompanied and separated migrant and refugee children disappearing and concerns expressed by NGOs at the heightened risks of trafficking, limited steps have been taken by police and migration authorities to identify child victims. It is for example our experience that migration interviews of children upon arrival are seldom conducted in a child friendly way which allows for children to disclose their vulnerabilities, including if they have been trafficked or exploited. They might not be asked the right questions, and if they are, they do not feel safe enough to talk with police or migration authorities about what they have experienced in fear of retribution from traffickers or because they fear it will affect their migration case negatively.
In addition, there is also a need to amplify efforts to identify children at risk of being trafficked, by inter aliaestablishing dedicated and standardized procedures for the identification of indicators of young migrants’ vulnerabilities, including to trafficking and exploitation. Such procedures need to clearly identify the responsibilities and actions of all actors involved, both within the official child protection sector, but also within the civil society sector. In several countries, the lack of an effective child-friendly age assessment procedure prevents many children from being properly identified as children. As a result, they are excluded from the official child protection systems, forced to live on the streets or to make their way to other countries, circumstances that expose them to serious risks of being trafficked and exploited, often leading to their disappearance. As recommended by the Special Rapporteur “children, especially unaccompanied and separated children, should be promptly identified, registered and referred to child protection systems. States should ensure that identification procedures are proactive and take into account age, gender and maturity, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (…) In case of doubt when carrying out a child-sensitive age assessment, the person concerned should be considered a child.”
Access to assistance and protection.
Another problem stressed by the Special Rapporteur is victims’ lack of access to assistance. The lack of access to assistance can be linked to the lack of identification, but even victims of trafficking who are identified by the authorities in a situation in which exploitation have already taken place, are often asked to report and give testimony in criminal proceedings to access assistance, risking retaliation from their traffickers as well as deportation. As set out in the UN report, “their residence status and therefore the possibility to access assistance and remedies is made conditional on the legal qualification of the crime, the initiation and continuation of criminal proceedings, and sometimes even the fact that their contribution leads to the arrest or conviction of perpetrators”. We fully concur with the UN Special Rapporteur that such procedures are “not human rights compliant, or effective.”
Although states are obliged to offer assistance and protection to all trafficking victims identified as children, organizations working on the ground see how the lack of sufficient protective mechanisms within childcare services is a severe problem in many countries with direct and serious consequences on children’s wellbeing and integrity. Children in migration, especially unaccompanied children, are often left to depend on themselves for protection against traffickers due to lack of dedicated housing and services for children. The childcare facilities that do exist, often lack the necessary safeguards, leaving children exposed to traffickers and exploitation. Child protective services in many countries fail to provide vulnerable children with a comprehensive and personalized care adapted to their needs. Often we see that there are insufficient preventative measures against all forms of violence against children (physical and psychological mistreatment and abuse, sexual and labor exploitation, trafficking, etc.), there is an absence of complaint mechanisms accessible for children, and a lack of protection measures when violence might have happened, as well as a lack of sufficient and trained childcare professionals. These failures in childcare services increase children vulnerabilities and facilitate traffickers’ exploitation of children, whether they have already been subject to trafficking or they are at risk of being trafficked.
In her concluding remarks before the Human Rights Council last week, the Special Rapporteur stressed that there is a need for a new wave of laws inspired by the human rights agenda. In this, residence status must not be a conditional criteria for assistance, as it leaves migrants more vulnerable. States must ensure free and speedy access to remedies to trafficking victims, irrespective of resident or legal status and a new methodology to identify vulnerabilities, especially in the context of mixed migration flows, is needed.
For organizations working on the ground with children either exposed to, or at risk of being exposed to trafficking and exploitation the gaps in the official child protection systems are clear. When the UN Special Rapporteur presents well-considered recommendations on how to address these gaps, it is important that states follow up and implement these recommendations. Trafficking and exploitation of children along the migration routes towards Europe is happening every day. We need our governments to act now.
Action Pro Sierra Leone
The Home Project
Defence for Children International Greece
Family Counsellors Association Turkey
The Greek Forum of Refugees