Protection & Rehabilitation: Child Trafficking in Southeast Asia

Child Trafficking in Southeast Asia
Instances of child trafficking in Southeast Asia are among the greatest in the world. UNICEF provides an abbreviated definition of child trafficking: “A child has been trafficked if he or she has been moved within a country, or across borders, whether by force or not, with the purpose of exploiting the child.” Although this issue is extremely prevalent, there are indeed ways to combat child trafficking.

The Problem

According to UNICEF, the movement of children contributes to child vulnerability and exploitation. Displaced children lack relatives, healthcare, money and other options to return home; oftentimes, these children are unfamiliar with the new language and region.

In many cases, UNICEF emphasizes that “no force or deception is required” to traffic children. The Australian Institute of Criminology explained that economic pressures on families — such as poverty, unemployment and barriers to educational attainment — that push loved ones toward migration. As a result of such circumstances, children find jobs in low-skilled sectors.

Addressing Child Trafficking

It is difficult to recognize the occurrence of child trafficking, especially due to the unspecified language set forth by the United Nations Trafficking Protocol, also known as the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children of 2000.

For instance, the Australian Institute of Criminology noted that the terms “exploitation, slavery, forced labour and vulnerability” held conflicting interpretations in a case study involving respondents from U.N. agencies and NGOs.

In the case study, it was found that “no two respondents answered all questions in the same way; an indication of the high degree of confusion regarding what constitutes child trafficking.” Despite these limitations, however, programs still strive to eliminate child trafficking. Child trafficking organizations specifically address concerns involving child vulnerability as unique from that of adults. Victims of child trafficking in Southeast Asia experience “bio-physiological, cognitive, behavioral, and social changes,” which require specialized attention.

Terre des Hommes

Concentrating on child trafficking in Southeast Asia, the organization Terre Des Hommes works with local partners in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to implement prevention and protection measures along migration routes. Protection measures include the implementation of shelters, medical care, education, psychosocial support and “family reunification.”

Beginning in 2017, Terre des Hommes successfully rescued 58 boys and 86 girls in Cambodia. The organization’s training programs even teach community members and NGOs about children’s rights. In fact, approximately 19 street shows were performed in Myanmar to discuss child trafficking in a public setting, and educate community members about the issue.

Asia Against Child Trafficking (Asia ACTs)

Working at the regional level, Asia ACTs is an organization associated with the International Campaign against Child Trafficking (IcaCT). To reduce child trafficking in Southeast Asia, the organization campaigns for legislative reform so that authorities can “implement human rights standards for trafficked children.”

Actions involve the development of protection and rehabilitation programs for child victims and “implementing preventative measures like poverty alleviation [and] community awareness campaigns.” Targeted countries include the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The fight against child trafficking in Southeast Asia progresses as organizations continue to provide aid at the regional level and offer more individualized solutions, rather than a singular and over-generalized answer for all of Southeast Asia. These personalized response measures will change the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, and hopefully model the proactive measures other organizations and nations should take against child trafficking.

– Christine Leung
Photo: Flickr