16 May 2003

Thematic Discussion on "Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children" Held As Part of the Twelfth Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

VIENNA, 16 May (UN Information Service) -- A thematic discussion focusing on "Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children," was held at the Vienna International Centre on 13-14 May as part of the Twelfth Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

The discussion was divided into three parts: (1) Trends in trafficking in human beings; (2) Investigating and prosecuting cases on trafficking in human beings: national and international law-enforcement cooperation and assistance; and (3) Awareness-raising and social intervention: victim support and the role of civil society.

(1) Trends in trafficking: Five panelists made statements pertaining to data collection, global trends in responses to trafficking, to trafficking in Western Africa and South-Eastern Europe, and to child trafficking.

An important step forward in the fight against trafficking was the establishment of a database to collect information on trafficking by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) Centre for International Crime Prevention. Currently almost 3,000 cases of human trafficking have been entered into the database. Such information allows for identifying principal countries of origin, transit and destination of trafficked persons. The data has established a clear link between economic development and the level of trafficking reported. Other insights: the majority of women are trafficked for sexual exploitation, and almost 50 percent of all cases involved child trafficking.

Child trafficking in West Africa, which occurs largely within the region from poorer to richer countries, to a large extent is in the hands of organized criminals. In an effort to curb this trade, Togo has established monitoring committees around the country and mounted public awareness campaigns. The Minister of Health, Social Affairs, Promotion of Women and Child Protection, said her government, in a bid to fight child trafficking, had reinforced its borders with security and customs officials, and proposed a law for punishing traffickers and regulating the export of under-age children.

Current research on child trafficking in Africa by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) was presented. Child trafficking was perceived as a severe or very severe problem by 90 per cent of respondents in Africa. Uncovered cases showed that children were often moved around several countries. Primary flows involved children being circulated around West Africa, from Eastern Africa to South Africa, and from East and West Africa to Europe.

The UNICEF IRC reports several points on child trafficking, including (a) Africa's low level of ratifications of international standards; (b) Child trafficking is a cross-cutting protection issue; (d) A proper database to fight child trafficking is needed; (e) Cross-border and multi-country approaches and multifaceted strategies are also required.

(2) Investigation and prosecuting cases on trafficking: Speakers called for ratification of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Harmonizing national legislation in line with the Convention and the Protocol would provide the necessary framework for international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting cases. Cooperation between governments and other bodies, notably NGOs, was also essential.

Several speakers emphasized the importance of supporting and protecting victims to empower the victims to cooperate with the courts. The Director-General, Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection, from the Ministry of Justice of Thailand, speaking on the victims' role in the criminal process, stressed that victim support should not be linked to the victim's readiness to testify in court. Even without actually testifying in court, something many were reluctant to do, the victims could provide information on traffickers that could at least lead to money-laundering prosecutions and to civil forfeitures.

The Philippines was an example of national and international law-enforcement cooperation and assistance. The Director of the Philippines National Burau of Investigation, in his presentation stressed most recent anti-trafficking initiatives in his country: (a) The Anti-Trafficking Bill (2003) which was before the Philippines Congress; (b) The country's involvement in regional anti-trafficking initiatives; (c) Its involvement in international anti trafficking initiatives, such as the finalization of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the UN Trafficking Protocol .

(3) Awareness-raising and social intervention: victims support and the role of civil society: Providing assistance and protection is an obligation of countries under international law. The speakers agreed that assistance and victim protection was necessary in both countries of destination and origin at the repatriation and reintegration process. Cooperation with international organizations and NGOs was essential for victims' needs response. Regarding victims assistance, several countries were providing such help through the joint efforts of national and local government units, in collaboration with NGOs and the private sector.

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