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FOCUS June 2006 Volume 44

Protecting Children Against Trafficking: Southeast Asian Guidelines

Nobuki Fujimoto

* Nobuki Fujimoto is a staff of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

Combating the trafficking of children within Southeast Asia requires a systematic inter-country approach. Governments and their partners (non-governmental organizations and international institutions) in this subregion have to maintain a common framework of action that draws both from international human rights instruments and national anti-trafficking experiences. The development of such framework provides an opportunity for government and non-governmental institutions to mutually learn from their respective experiences

Southeast Asian context

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEN) adopted in November 2004 in Vientiane the ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children.[1] The Declaration recognizes "the urgent need for a comprehensive regional approach to prevent and to combat trafficking in persons, particularly women and children." It also recognizes that "a successful campaign against the scourge of trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, requires continuing dialogue, exchange of information and cooperation among ASEAN." The Declaration therefore declared to undertake the following measures:

  1. To establish a regional focal network to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, in the ASEAN region;
  2. To adopt measures to protect the integrity of their respective passports, official travel documents, identity and other official travel documents from fraud;
  3. To undertake regular exchange of views, information sharing on relevant migratory flows, trends and pattern, strengthening of border controls and monitoring mechanisms, and the enactment of applicable and necessary legislations;
  4. To intensify cooperation among our respective immigration and other law enforcement authorities;
  5. To distinguish victims of trafficking in persons from the perpetrators, and identify the countries of origin and nationalities of such victims and thereafter ensure that such victims are treated humanely and provided with such essential medical and other forms of assistance deemed appropriate by the respective receiving/recipient country, including prompt repatriation to their respective countries of origin;
  6. To undertake actions to respect and safeguard the dignity and human rights of genuine victims of trafficking in persons;
  7. To undertake coercive actions/measures against individual and/or syndicate engaged in trafficking in persons and shall offer one another the widest possible assistance to punish such activities; and
  8. To take measures to strengthen regional and international cooperation to prevent and combat trafficking in persons.

To be able to undertake these measures, however, the governments in Southeast Asia need practical guidelines

NGO Initiative

Asia ACTs against Child Trafficking (Asia ACTs),[2] a regional campaign network to fight child trafficking in Southeast Asia, facilitated the drafting of Proposed Guidelines for the Protection of the Rights of Trafficked Children, also known as the Bohol Document in a workshop in 2004.[3]

Asia ACTs followed this up with the Regional Seminar-Workshop on the Southeast Asian Guidelines for the Protection of the Rights of Children Victims of Trafficking in Bangkok on 20-24 March 2006

Fifty-five NGO (mostly Asia ACTs members) and government representatives from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma/Myanmar attended the seminar- workshop. There were also observers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan, and the Netherlands

They reviewed a number of relevant international human rights documents including the United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000), and the Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Trafficking (2000) of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. They also reviewed 'The Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action',[4] adopted during the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in 1996 and The Yokohama Global Commitment 2001,[5] adopted during the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in 2001.[6]

The review extended to ASEAN documents such as The ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children.[7]

NGO representatives presented country experiences on combating the trafficking of children. The participants from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia also explained the process of developing country-level guidelines

Developing common guidelines

The participants referred to UNICEF's guidelines for Southeastern Europe (May 2003) and the Bohol Declaration in developing guidelines. This resulted in 'The Proposed Guidelines for the Protection of the Rights of Trafficked Children in Southeast Asia' (Proposed Guidelines). The Proposed Guidelines comprehensively provide the steps that states, in particular, should take to solve the problems of trafficked children, in addition to the role of NGO service providers

The Proposed Guidelines defines child trafficking as follows:

recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation, within or outside a country, which shall include but not be limited to child prostitution, child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, child labour, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, removal and sale of organs, use in illicit/illegal activities and participation in armed conflict. For the purposes of these guidelines, the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child by means of adoption or marriage for the purpose of exploitation shall be likewise considered child trafficking.

The Proposed Guidelines also stress that the consent of the child or the person exercising custody over the child to trafficking or any of its elements is irrelevant and does not exempt the offender from, or lessen his/her, liability for committing acts that constitute or promote child trafficking

The general principles, which should be considered at all stages of care and protection of trafficked children, include the rights of the child against discrimination based on status, nationality, race, color, sex, language, faith, religion, ethnic or social origin, disability, etc, and to information and confidentiality; the best interest of the child; respect for the views of the child; and state responsibility

The Proposed Guidelines provide concrete measures on detection and identification of child-victims, initial contact with them, system of referral, coordination and cooperation, interim care and protection, social case management of trafficked children, access to justice, care and protection for social welfare service providers, and capacity building of communities and persons working with trafficked children

The Proposed Guidelines also provide that the State should give "legal protection and/or free legal assistance" to a " social welfare service provider for an act done in good faith as part of his/her function to provide assistance to a trafficked child" in case the former is sued by a trafficker. Such legal support may include legal counselling, preparation of legal documents, filing of action in courts, and legal representation in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings. This measure is meant to protect service providers from being harassed by traffickers

In the system of referral, coordination and cooperation, there is a regional mechanism component to be based on a regional agreement that defines a system of referral and specific areas for coordination and cooperation, including designating their own liaison officer/office who shall be responsible for cross-border linkage and referral to the appropriate office for immediate response to cases of cross-border trafficking. It also mentions that as a component of national mechanism, states should develop a national arrangement that will define the roles and functions of each government agency in relation to child trafficking and a system of referral and areas for coordination and cooperation

Challenge to address

While the Proposed Guidelines contain many important elements in protecting the rights of trafficked children in Southeast Asia, they still need further development. The main issue should be on their implementation at the national and regional levels once adopted by governments

Part of the process of developing the Proposed Guidelines should be the dissemination of information and lobby of state actors by ASIA ACTs and member-NGOs. They may collaborate with the Working Group for the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism in this regard. The latter has also started working on human rights education with the holding of the Roundtable Discussion on "Engaging ASEAN Governments on Human Rights Education" on 23-25 March 2006 in Bangkok, in coordination with the Asia-Pacific Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education (ARRC). This meeting was held in response to the request by ASEAN senior officials for help in implementing the human rights education component of the Vientiane Action Program.[8]

For further information, please contact: Ms. Ma. Amihan V. Abueva, Asia Acts Against Child Trafficking (Asia ACTs), Rm. 322 Philippine Social Science Center, Commonwealth Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City. Metro Manila, Philippines; ph (632) 929-0822; fax (632) 929-0820; e- mail: asiaacts@tri-isys.com www.stopchildtrafficking.info

Endnotes

1. See www.aseansec.org/16794.htm

2. See www.stopchildtrafficking.info/

3. The workshop was held in Bohol, Philippines in August 2004

4. See www.ecpat.net/eng/Ecpat_inter/projects/monitor-ing/agenda_for_action.pdf

5. See www.ecpat.net/eng/Ecpat_inter/projects/

6. Ms. Anjanette Saguisag, Project Officer, UNICEF Philippines introduced the documents

7. Mr. Robert Larga, Senior State Counsel, Department of Justice, Philippines presented the documents

8. For more details, visit www.aseanmech.org and also FOCUS Asia-Pacific Newsletter, No. 43 (arch 2006) at www.hurights.or.g.jp/asia-pacific/043/08.hmtl


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