Writes Zeus, Content writer, Headline Diplomat eMagazine, LUDCI.eu
Every year, thousands of children continue to fall victim to child slavery — a barbaric and grave violation of their human rights. Today, child trafficking and slavery are so commonplace in our society that one may even be contributing to it unknowingly. According to UNICEF, children make up one-third of those who are trafficked globally.
Child slavery has evolved over the years, adapting to the changing circumstances of our tech-driven world. Admittedly, the trafficking of children is usually complex and difficult to track owing to the stealthy it is carried out. Yet, if we value our freedom and seek a better world for our children, we must respond to this heinous crime, fight it, and eradicate it by every possible means.
Usually, child trafficking involves preying on vulnerable children and taking them out of their protective environment for the purpose of exploitation. Those perpetrating this crime use different tricks to deceive and trap their victims and, in some cases, do so with the consent or coercion of the victims’ parents or relatives. By deceitfully promising them marriage, jobs, or a better life, traffickers usually take young children to a place where they are forced into labor or engaged in other illicit activities, such as drug couriering, child soldiering, or commercial sex work.
How austerity has worsened child slavery
Austerity measures have always been a hindrance in tackling child slavery in society. This, for instance, was the case in austerity-hit Greece. As the country was battling its economic crisis, it could not adequately support the hundreds of children who were victims of trafficking. Additionally, the terrible condition of the economy forced many young Greeks into situations of exploitation and slavery.
Meanwhile, even the supposedly rich countries have always had some form of austerity measures in place. This is the case in the United Kingdom where efforts at tackling child trafficking have been significantly affected by cuts to the budgets of local councils who typically take care of child protection against traffickers. As a matter of fact, the UK saw a sharp increase in child slavery since the government began to make cuts in spending on children’s services in the last decade.
For instance, between 2014 and 2018, according to data by the Local Government Association (LGA) in the UK, the reported number of potential child slavery victims rose from 127 to 1152, with children representing about 92% of all referrals made by the association to relevant authorities. And as if this unfortunate cuts to children-protection spending were not bad enough, the UK authorities have continued to deny thousands of child trafficking victims the right to stay in the UK, with many of these vulnerable children facing the risk of being deported by the government.
COVID-19 measures and the increase in child slavery
Apart from affecting public health, the COVID-19 pandemic has also severely affected the global economy. Some governments are not only taking unprecedented measures, prioritizing resources to address the pandemic, but are also rolling out IMF-advised austerity measures to pay up their debts. Millions of people have lost their jobs, while others have had their businesses swept under due to pandemic-related measures. In a cash-crunch world, cuts in spending have become the economic fad in different places. Meanwhile, crimes have continued to increase as funds are being cut. In most cases, these crimes increase not despite the austerity measures but because of it. And some of the measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus have driven these crimes underground making them difficult to track.
As the world grapples with the tempestuous debacle of child trafficking and slavery, austerity measures that resulted from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic have aggravated the trafficking in children, making efforts to fight and eradicate the crime more difficult. And, looking at how things have unfolded, from a human rights perspective, these measures have negatively impacted the social, human, and economic rights of many people. Furthermore, austerity measures have created a fertile ground for child traffickers, making the crime easy to perpetrate, if not even increased.
The austerity measures that are being taken are clearly showing the persistent economic and social inequalities that are often one of the root causes of child trafficking. With the lockdown affecting many poor communities, together with the closure of schools, it is easy to see that many children in these communities will drop out of school even when schools reopen, mostly because many of their parents have lost their means of livelihood in the heat of the pandemic. This will result in more poverty, thereby increasing the vulnerability of these children and their likelihood of ending in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers.
There has also been an increase in unemployment and a reduction in income, especially for low-income earners in the informal sector. This means that a high number of people who are already vulnerable are in a more difficult situation. There are already reports of children being forced on the streets by their parents to look for food and income, a situation that increases their risk of being exploited.
Child traffickers adapting their techniques to the new situation
The exploitation, abuse, and trafficking of children increased significantly as austerity measures continue to bite harder. Now, traffickers are making use of new and emerging forms of communication technology to carry out their heinous acts. Changing their pattern of operation, traffickers now produce and disseminate child sexual abuse materials online.
Some traffickers are also presenting themselves as ‘loan merchants’ offering low-interest loans, increasing the possibility of their victims being in debt bondage to these criminals. And those who eventually fall into their trap usually get harassed, coerced, enslaved, and exploited. Many vulnerable young children have become exposed to the risk of severe exploitation this way, as they try to identify means of securing their livelihood.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has impacted the ability of NGOs and other authorities to provide essential services to victims of this crime. Efforts to support victims have particularly been difficult because countries are constantly adjusting their priority because of the pandemic.
Although it appeared to have somewhat gone down at the beginning of the pandemic, child slavery and trafficking have, indeed increased during the present COVID-19 crisis due to some of the economic measures taken by authorities. From all indications, child slavery has, in fact, flourished amidst the prevailing austerity measures. There is a need for an improved international response to child trafficking and commitment to its eradication, and the first step toward this should be providing sufficient funding for the protection of children. Reducing funds for fighting a grave crime such as child slavery, in the name of austerity measure, should not be the world’s priority, even as efforts are being made to reduce the spread of the virus.
There is a need for proper border monitoring between countries. Many borders have been left somewhat open as more law enforcement agents are deployed to arrest lockdown offenders, and this has given traffickers more opportunities to perpetrate their acts. Concerning the disturbing images of children being shared and sold online, there needs to be stronger cooperation between governments, internet companies, civil societies to curb the activities of traffickers online.
Because poverty is one of the chief reasons for child trafficking, governments need to do more for the poor and vulnerable ones in society. Rather than cut what these vulnerable people receive in aid, governments should actually do more. More action also needs to be taken in providing food, clothing, and shelter to the vulnerable in the present economic condition. Overall, austerity measures shouldn’t be made to expose children who are already vulnerable to the risk of being trafficked. These children need more support not cuts in spending.