Trafficking of children for sexual purposes

Ttrafficking of children for sexual purposes refers to the cross-border or internal, recruitment, transportation, harbouring, transfer or receipt of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
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Taken from the most common international law definition contained in Article 3 (art. 3a) of the UN protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, the definition of child trafficking insists on the idea that the use of means to achieve the consent of a person (which is a key element in the definition of “trafficking of adults”) is not necessary to qualify as “trafficking” the act of exploiting a minor. Even if a child and/or its parents’ consent to prostitution without the use of threat, force, constraint, abduction, or deception, the child remains a victim of trafficking because children are not able to give informed consent to their exploitation. Even if it does not involve any of the means mentioned above, it does not alter or alleviate the seriousness/severity of the act when it involves children. Human trafficking has emerged as an issue of global concern in recent years, facilitated by porous borders and advanced communication technologies. It represents one of the most important illicit trades alongside drug trafficking and arms trafficking. It has become increasingly transnational in scope and highly lucrative, growing to become the third most lucrative illicit trade in the world, behind those of drugs and arms, and the first lucrative illicit trade in Europe. [1] Sexual exploitation represents an important part of human trafficking. The number of child victims is estimated to be more than one million each year. [2]

The processes

Although human trafficking is coordinated by very violent, organized criminal networks, human trafficking can also result from the action of individuals or small criminal groups (for instance, a person recruits, another transports and lastly someone overseas the prostitution). In some cases, victims voluntarily leave their countries in the hope of a better life. Traffickers take advantage of the vulnerability of those who are, or think they are, in situations leaving them no other choice. Abductions, promises of financial support for education as well as promises of hiring are part of the various processes used by criminal groups to recruit their victims.

Smuggling vs. Trafficking

In general, smuggling involves the illegal crossing of borders, entering in another country, and obtaining a financial or material benefit as a result. Smuggling is thus based on the act of crossing a border, which is not the case of trafficking as regards to children, which involves an act (recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons) and a purpose (exploitation). Trafficking can occur across borders or within a country. In the case of international trafficking, traffickers can more easily manipulate and exploit their victims as they may be punished for having entered a country illegally, or are at a disadvantage because of their ignorance of the local laws, culture and language. Children victim of trafficking for sexual purposes, in particular, endure various kinds of violence, and are conditioned to obey through the use of threats either made to themselves or to their families who remain back home. Victims of prostitution in a country where they find themselves to be illegal immigrants, and without knowing anybody, they have little chance of escaping. Furthermore, to maintain a situation of deep isolation, they are regularly moved. 

Trafficking routes

Trafficking routes are most often operated from developing countries to wealthier ones and fluctuate according to the evolution of demand and to national policies aimed at fighting against this scourge. In South East Asia, child trafficking extends throughout Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Some of these children are victims of prostitution in Asian countries, such as Thailand, however many are rerouted towards Europe or the United States. Trafficking towards India from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal or Sri Lanka is also very extensive. In South America, children are brought from Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico to the United States. On the African continent, trafficking routes are also significant. Finally, there are a growing number of forcefully displaced children between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, more particularly from Poland, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Belorussia, and Russia. Children can also be victims of trafficking within a country. This type of trafficking usually occurs from rural areas to urban areas, but also towards famous tourist areas or areas that are mainly occupied by workers working far from home (oilfields, construction sites, harbours, military bases).

Repatriation of child victims

Children victim of transnational trafficking are often treated as delinquents because authorities consider that they have violated immigration laws by illegally entering a territory. While they can be imprisoned before they are sent back to their country, they can also be penalized a second time according to laws and policies of their own country, for having emigrated illegally. Thus, it is necessary to “humanize” law enforcement and immigration policies for child victims of trafficking, as it is imperative to reinforce cooperation and international as well as regional agreements between countries as regards to this issue.

Trafficking of children in France

The vast majority of child victims of trafficking for sexual purposes in France are foreign unaccompanied minors, that is to say children of foreign nationality based in France without a legal representative (father, mother or tutor). It is very hard to have exact estimates on the number of children who are trafficked in France. However, it is estimated that thousands of children are concerned.

Other forms of human trafficking

Children are not always victims of trafficking for sexual purposes. They can also be victims of trafficking by being forced to:

  • Work in factories and sweatshops
  • Transport
  • Beg and commit theft (children then have to give the stolen spoils to the adult who is exploiting them)

The various forms of human trafficking and exploitation are not fragmented, and children can sometimes move from one form of exploitation to another. Like all estimates on illegal and underground activities, quantitative data should be used with caution. Such data can give an overview of the scale of the problem, but estimates can never be fully reliable.


[1] Organisation des Nations Unies, le trafic d’êtres humains est l’activité illégale la plus lucrative d’Europe, 2010 [2] http://www.unicef.org/french/protection/index_exploitation.html
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