Friday, September 4, 2009

Unicef Report: Child Trafficking in E & SE Asia

The latest Unicef report, Reversing the Trend : Child Trafficking in East and Southeast Asia, focuses on China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. Most of the report focuses on trafficking for child labor and sexual exploitation, but there are also mentions of trafficking for child brides and for adoption. I’ve tried to include every relevant mention of adoption in this summary. There is very little about international adoption, and the report carefully distinguishes between illegal adoption and legal adoption. Nonetheless, the report notes that children can and have been trafficked into legal adoptions.

The report notes: “The demand for adoption, whether operating within or outside legal and regulated processes, has fuelled the abduction and sale of children, particularly infants.” (p. 27) After mentioning the high-profile case of adoption corruption in Cambodia in 2003, the report notes that trafficking to meet the demand for adoption is growing in the area. “Existing reports and the country assessments for China and VietNam also indicate that babies are being trafficked both to and within China for adoption, given the patriarchal lineage and inheritance system. (In another place in the report (p. 29), it is noted that one well-known route of trafficking in Southeast Asia is boys trafficked from Vietnam to China for illegal adoption).” (p. 36) Still, in China, “internal trafficking is more of a problem than its cross-border form. . . . Trafficking occurs in every province in China,with most victims trafficked to the provinces of Guangdong, Shanxi, Fujian, Henan, Sichuan,Guangxi, and Jiangsu.” (p. 31)(Note: this is all forms of child trafficking, not just for the purpose of adoption.)

One of the problems faced in combating child trafficking, says the report, is the wide spectrum of interpretations of child trafficking across the region:
On one end are those who believe that all forms of child exploitation (including
commercial sexual exploitation and the worst forms of child labour) amount to
child trafficking; at the other extreme are those who reject that trafficking even exists. Within this range are those with more nuanced perspectives, For this group, not all commercial sexual exploitation is trafficking, nor have all children in worst forms of child labour been trafficked. . . . Consensus breaks down on ’grey areas’ such as: Can older adolescents consent to prostitution if there are ’good’ working conditions? Is illegal adoption into loving families exploitative? Do lower thresholds of ’exploitation’ need to be met for children? Is cross-border street begging by children, orchestrated by their parents for family survival, a form of exploitation or trafficking? (p. 23)
Despite the increase in child trafficking in the region, the report notes some progress: “There is growing recognition of broader legal frameworks in the fight against trafficking. For example, Viet Nam’s guiding policy framework, the 2004–2010 National Plan of Action Against the Crime of Trafficking in Children and Women, calls for strengthening legal frameworks in the areas of criminal law, administrative law, marriage, child adoption involving foreigners, tourism, the export of labour, exit-entry management and community reintegration of victims.” (p. 43)

Still, the report notes that there is much to be done. With regard to adoption, the report notes there should be stronger justice institutions to regulate adoption, including regulation and monitoring of adoption agencies, and holding offenders accountable. (p. 80). The report suggests that all forms of exploitation of children should be criminalized, including illegal adoption. (p. 85) Unicef would also like to see countries in the region “address harmful social and cultural attitudes and beliefs by targeting traditional practices, ethnic and gender discrimination, stigmatization, lack of accountability, impunity, the perception of children as commodities, and rampant consumerism. Attitudes and beliefs that stimulate the demand for child trafficking and exploitation should be addressed through sustained education, particularly regarding sexual activity with children, child marriage, involvement of children in armed conflict, and illegal adoption. The report also calls on countries to “advance protective social norms that bolster children’s resilience and foster healthy and safe family and community environments for children, such as respect for children’s participation, positive perceptions of domestic adoption and foster care,” intolerance of child exploitation. (p. 86)

The report is well worth reading; there is much of interest that I have not included here. The report focuses a lot on the demand side of the equation, resisting the idea that the poverty of victims is the cause of trafficking. Poverty may be a condition precedent, but it is not a cause.

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