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Definitions: trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children

Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking and children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide.

Child trafficking is defined as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt” of a child for the purpose of exploitation. This definition comes from the United Nations Palermo Protocol, which has been adopted by the majority of countries around the world, making it the internationally accepted definition of human trafficking. A child is defined by the Palermo Protocol and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as any person under the age of 18.

The trafficking of children is a process comprised of two distinct stages: the Act and the Purpose. The Act is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or reception of persons, including the exchange or transfer of control over those persons” and the purpose is “exploitation”.

The definition of child trafficking is different from that of adults, which in addition requires “the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person”. This is known as the Means stage, which is not required for the definition of child trafficking. The definition therefore recognizes that a child cannot give informed consent to his or her own exploitation, even if the child agrees.

Trafficking can occur across international borders, but also within a country. Children who are moved within a country for the purposes of exploitation, whether or not they are children from abroad or a citizen of that country, are therefore also victims of trafficking. Trafficking, however, differs from smuggling, which involves the movement of people across an international border, when a person cannot access a legal route to migrate.

Child trafficking involves the exploitation of children. The definition is not limited to specific types of exploitation, but the most common ways children are exploited are through forced labour and sexual exploitation.

In the EU, nearly three quarters of all victims are women and girls, mainly trafficked for sexual exploitation, in particular commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a major and growing crime throughout the world and is usually understood as exchanging money, goods, and services for sexual acts. Trafficking and sexual exploitation are often linked and can occur at the same time.  Sexual exploitation and abuse, can however, also occur in instances where the perpetrator is related to the victim and no exchange, monetary or otherwise, has occurred.

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Trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children

Child trafficking in
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