Writes Myrsini, LUDCI.eu Editorial team
According to the United Nations, Child trafficking or “trafficking in children” is a situation where persons under the age of 18 are forcefully or fraudulently recruited, transported, and traded for the specific purpose of exploitation. The trafficking of children has existed for many years and continues to spread across all cultures and continents. A global leviathan, child trafficking has continued to violate the rights of children and young people to play, learn, access healthcare, and grow in a normal family setup.
- Globally, 1 in 4 victims of human trafficking are children
- More than two-thirds of Child trafficking are for the provision of labor or services
- There are an estimated 168 million child laborers across the globe
- Child trafficking occurs everywhere
The victims are traumatically disengaged from their families and communities, often ending up in prostitution, alms begging, domestic servitude, and other exploitative forms of work. Thankfully, there is a new, strong will to fight Child trafficking and bring it to a halt.
Law enforcement agencies fighting Child trafficking: Key milestones and efforts to-date
Over the years, international and regional agencies have cracked down on the operations of child traffickers in a bid to prevent, protect, and prosecute traffickers. We will examine some of the efforts of some renowned authorities who are dedicated to combating Child trafficking in various locations.
Notable achievements to-date
For over 100 years, INTERPOL has dismantled criminal syndicates around the world, especially those involved in the smuggling and exploitation of children. In January 2020, 46 minors were saved from forced begging and sexual exploitation. INTERPOL police in Niger rescued 232 victims of human trafficking, during an inspired operation targeting organised crime rings in West Africa. Operation Sarraounia, dispatched over 100 officers during the mission and arrested 18 individuals for human trafficking and the violation of children.
In February 2020, another INTERPOL-led operation codenamed “Maharlika III” completed a coordinated move involving the law enforcement authorities of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines (BIMP) to arrest 180 individuals for various crimes, such as terrorism, human trafficking, and the possession of illegal firearms and substances.
The Indonesia wing of the operation identified 17 children (5 girls and 12 boys), aged 10-15. “The results of Operation Maharlika III confirm the strategic importance of securing travel routes used by terrorists and criminals in the BIMP, even during a global health crisis,” said Karel Pelan, Assistant Director of INTERPOL’s counter-terrorism unit.
Technological innovations in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics lead INTERPOL’s “futurecasting” drive to combating Child trafficking. In July 2018, The Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics of the UN Interregional Crime and Research Institute (UNICRI) convened to explore opportunities and challenges of using AI and robotics in law enforcement.
At the conference, several private sector stakeholders discussed and demonstrated technological possibilities ranging from unmanned patrol vehicles, facial recognition, behavior-prediction, response optimisation, and virtual autopsy to support and optimise INTERPOL’s activities and gain insights on potential issues. “Initiatives such as this will help us prepare for potential future forms of crime and capitalize on technological advancements to develop new and effective tools for law enforcement,” said Irakli Beridze of the UNCRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence.
Notable Achievements to-date
Operation GARGAMEL – a joint operation between Belgian investigators and Europol’s Victim Identification and Taskforce – identified 70 child victims and 30 suspects involved in a major online sexual abuse investigation in March 2020.
The operation identified the victims and suspects after 9 million pictures and videos of the abuse of thousands of children we discovered during a house raid. Since then, four suspects from the child abuse ring – with connections to 40 countries worldwide – have been convicted by a Belgian court. Some suspects linked to the syndicate in other countries have been prosecuted with a suspect sentenced to 15 years in prison in Australia.
The complex nature of Child trafficking necessitates the need to promote the systemic use of financial investigations. According to Europol, 98.9% of estimated criminal profits are not recovered and remain at the coffers of criminals. This led them to launch the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) in June 2020, which has 65 international financial experts and analysts.
This financial moderation effort will effectively disrupt and deter traffickers as law enforcement will be more equipped to trail the money as a crucial aspect of their investigative efforts to confiscate illicit profits.
The Croatian Presidency of the Council of European Union, on the day of the Centre’s inauguration, said: “The Croatian Presidency has coordinated the efforts towards the adoption of the Council Conclusions on enhancing financial investigation to fight serious and organised crime, calling on Europol to create a dedicated structure to support the cooperation among law enforcement authorities in the fight against fraud, money laundering, corruption, and counterfeiting, while systematically promoting the recovery of criminal assets across the EU and beyond.”
CEPOL is the European Police College in constant cooperation with EUROPOL in their bid to forestall the operations of child traffickers by organizing tutoring for police officers in EU member states. One such initiative was the #CEPOLwebinar held on 17th December 2019, in conjunction with EUROPOL and customs officials to discuss modalities for the war against trafficking and synthetic drug production.
Similarly, a seminar which aimed at helping law enforcement officers involved in the investigation of Child trafficking and child interviewing was held by the college in conjunction with the Spanish Government.
In June 2015, CEPOL contributed to a training conference organised by the Swedish National Police Academy to improve the multidisciplinary approach to tackling trafficking in human beings for labor inspectors. The symposium involved keynote speakers from Europol, FRA, IOM, and the Belgian Social Inspectorate.
CEPOL has successfully leveraged social media to create public awareness to help law enforcement arrest traffickers. It remains to be seen how effectively they will use lockdowns across the region to sensitise people through social media features like Facebook live watch, Instagram Live Streaming, and LinkedIn lives as they stay at home.
The FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force liaise with nearly every FBI office to work closely with state and local law enforcement agents and non-profit organizations to combat human trafficking.
In February 2020, the Task Force announced the result of its sex trafficking heist in ensemble collaboration with Miami Dade Police Department’s Super Bowl LIV Human Trafficking Committee, the U.S Attorney’s Office, and numerous federal, municipal, and local agencies. During the period of January 25 to February 2, 2020, three individuals were apprehended on federal sex trafficking charges involving 4 juveniles.
They attributed their latest victory to strong liaisons with the Miami Dade Police Department; the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida; Miami Dade State Attorney’s office; Broward County Human Trafficking Task Force; Homeland Security; Diplomatic Security Services, Health, and Human Services among others.
In the financial year ending 2018, the FBI oversaw over 640 human trafficking cases and arrested more than 2400 suspects. The efforts led to 410 human trafficking convictions and 422 sentencings during the review period.
FBI’s Project Safe Childhood department coordinated multiple authorities to identify and rescue child victims, with one of its efforts leading to the indictment of 19 defendants with sex trafficking offenses against minors in the Southern District of New York. Other Recent recoveries of Child Victims include Operation Independence Day (2019), and Operation Cross Country IX (2015).
The FBI has scored high-profile successes in solving cold cases using new investigative techniques. Erstwhile Associate Deputy FBI Director Paul Abate said that the law enforcement authority is a pioneer of innovation in its field.
Particularly, Investigative Genealogy, which has helped in solving cold cases of over 30 years old, has been put at the front burner recently. During surveillance, the bureau can obtain new DNA samples and process them through the CODIS – the FBI’s genetic databank. The Golden State Killer, who murdered, raped, and burgled throughout California in the ‘70’s and ‘80s was captured in June 2020 using this advanced form of forensic genetics. They also have access to the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) System, which enables them to process 232 million records from nearly 7400 criminal justice agencies.
Child trafficking is a major international concern, which requires collaborative efforts between governmental and non-governmental agencies to establish partnerships with one another to rescue victims and prosecute perpetrators. Still, the challenges of law enforcement remain uniform across all agencies and include loss of data, loss of location of criminal infrastructure, issues with national legislative frameworks, impediments to international cooperation, and public awareness.
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