Press Releases

    2 August 2002


    NEW YORK, 1 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Summit on Human Trafficking, Child Abuse, Labour and Slavery, to be delivered by Antonio Maria Costa, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna and Executive Director of the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Abuja, Nigeria, 2-4 August 2002:

    It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to this important international meeting, which will address one of the gravest human rights violations of our times: human trafficking and child abuse, including child labour and slavery.

    Over the past decade, trafficking in human beings has grown to an alarming degree. It is estimated that more than 700,000 women and children are trafficked every year for sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage and forced adoption. According to Europol, the "industry" is now worth several billion dollars a year.

    No region is immune to this evil trade. From Asia to Eastern Europe, from Latin America to Africa, traffickers recruit victims, who, like commodities, are smuggled across borders, sold and then exploited under the threat of violence. Many of them end up coerced into bonded labour, often including sexual exploitation. Trafficking is also a growing concern in West and Central Africa, where cross-border smuggling, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates, enslaves more than 200,000 children. These children are often "sold" by unsuspecting parents who believe their young ones are going to be looked after, learn a trade or be educated. But in the netherworld where they find themselves, their survival is threatened and their most basic human rights are denied.

    Trafficking in persons is fuelled by poverty, unemployment and disruption of traditional livelihoods, as well as by economic disparities among countries and between women and men. It has become the fastest-growing business of organized crime, and many drug traffickers have switched to it because it is more lucrative and relatively risk-free. Indeed, traffickers can earn huge profits by taking advantage of potential immigrants seeking a better future, and face few risks because of the powerlessness of their victims, inadequate legal frameworks and weak law enforcement procedures.

    The fight against this menace starts with the conventions and protocols that have already been drafted and adopted under United Nations auspices -– in particular, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. In several countries, the Protocol has already served as a basis for legislative reforms. As of today, it has been signed by 105 countries and ratified by 12. Nigeria was among the first to ratify it, and I hope we will soon reach the 40 ratifications required for its entry into force.

    I also urge all States to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the International Labour Organization’s Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

    These conventions will not end trafficking on their own, but they are part of the legal framework necessary for our effort. Policies and practices must also be strengthened at the regional and national level, for example, as the Economic Community of West African States has done in adopting a political declaration and action plan last December in Dakar. There is an urgent need to establish mechanisms for cooperation between source, transit and destination countries. There must be strong penalties for traffickers and those who enslave and exploit human beings. At the same time, let us not forget that their victims need protection and assistance, and that potential victims need to know the truth behind vague promises of a good job in Europe or North America. Last but far from least, we must eliminate the conditions of poverty and underdevelopment that lead so many people to leave their village or country for the unknown, in search of a better future elsewhere.

    I thank the Government of Nigeria for convening this meeting and offer all of you my best wishes for the success of your deliberations.

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