Friday, June 13, 2003

U.N. urges more action against child trafficking and prostitution

GENEVA — Bewailing the stolen lives and shattered dreams of the very young, the United Nations on Thursday appealed for more concerted global action to stamp out child labor, trafficking and prostitution.

"Every year, tens of thousands of children are lured or abducted from home: from infants, kidnapped and sold for adoption; to girls exported as mail-order brides; to teens forced into sweatshop labor or sexual exploitation," Jordan's Queen Rania said at a conference marking the World Day against Child Labor.

"This brutal trade in human lives is a billion-dollar industry," she said.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 246 million child laborers, including 73 million under the age of 10. It says that the largest proportion of these — 70 percent — work in farming or fishing. Smaller numbers toil in factories, hotels and domestic work. The most pernicious form of child labor — slavery and prostitution — traps an estimated 8.4 million minors.

"They are sent to mines, plantations, factories, or into domestic labor," said Queen Rania in a speech to the ILO's annual conference. "They are put on the street, to scavenge, sell or beg on behalf of their jailers."

In war-torn countries, boys were forced into battle or used to clear land mines while girls as young as 10 were sold as "comfort girls" for soldiers, and countless more driven into prostitution and pornography, she said.

The U.N. labor agency and UNICEF, the children's agency, are spearheading an international campaign against child labor in the manufacture of, for instance, soccer balls and carpets.

The ILO is supporting efforts of the Philippines Port Authority to clamp down on recruiters of children and on traffickers. In Latin America it is working with local committees along the common borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to fight the sale and smuggling of children.

An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year — sold within their own countries or across borders into a life of economic or sexual exploitation.

The United Nations believes that human trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime. Some estimates say revenues from human trafficking — mainly in women and children — are as much as US$12 billion per year.

Girls as young as 13 (mainly from Asia and Eastern Europe) are trafficked as "mail-order brides." Others suffer sexual abuse as domestic servants. In Fiji, for example, a UNICEF survey said eight out of 10 domestic workers reported sexual abuse by their employers. In Africa, child trafficking is recognized as a major concern in at least half of the countries.

"The fight against trafficking is hampered by gaps in laws and law enforcement," said Queen Rania. "In many cases, even in advanced democracies, the issue has only recently been put on the national agenda. The suffering of trafficked children has gone unaided, unseen, or worse, seen but not addressed."

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Created: January 8, 2004
Last modified: January 17, 2004
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