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  5. Prevention of Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation: Role of Children

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FOCUS June 2011 Volume Vol. 64

Prevention of Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation: Role of Children

Brian Jungwiwattanaporn

Children in the Greater Mekong Sub–region face pressures to migrate within their own countries and across borders as a solution to local poverty. Save the Children’s Cross–border Program is currently engaged in supporting the development of child protection models for children affected by trafficking, migration, and those without legal status. While trafficking prevention requires strong involvement from policy makers, local authorities, and community members, children and their participation within the system are crucial for its effectiveness. Children’s participation in Vietnam forms the foundation of local protection systems while a research in Thailand brings attention to the challenges of supporting children’s participation among working children in migrant communities. Children play a role in the prevention of trafficking and exploitation despite differing local contexts in the Mekong region.

Building Community Protection Systems

Save the Children in Vietnam supports the development of child protection systems to meet the needs of all children facing exploitation including protection from trafficking. The program supports a partnership with local and provincial-level authorities at the Department for Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (DOLISA) which is building community-based child protection systems. Children are actively engaged in this process. In Mong Cai, a small gateway to China in Vietnam’s northern Quang Ninh province, child leaders in local schools and in rural community centers, organize and lead trafficking prevention and awareness activities while collaborating with local authorities on assessing and designing future directions for their work.
Community-based child protection systems involving children operate with different degrees of effectiveness in Vietnam. Within Mong Cai, and its surrounding villages, the systems are well established and act as models for potential replication. Through leadership and support of the Quang Ninh provincial level DOLISA, adult volunteers drawn from community leadership positions in villages form local level Project Management Boards (PMBs) which implement reporting and response systems for child protection along with awareness-raising on risky migration, trafficking, and exploitation. Children are encouraged to form children’s clubs focusing on child protection through trainings and workshops. They interact with PMBs to disseminate information on child protection among their peer groups while PMBs promote child protection messages in community meetings. Protection cases identified either by children or adult volunteers can be addressed through community interventions through discussions with families experiencing protection challenges or if serious can be referred to officials in DOLISA with whom they meet regularly. Communities in Mong Cai have intervened in cases of domestic abuse and have also raised community funds enabling vulnerable children to continue schooling and preventing the risks associated with leaving school early.
Situated on the border between China and Vietnam, Mong Cai has seen its economy develop, marking the small city as a destination and transit point for migrants and traffickers. Many internal migrants are attracted to Mong Cai which hosts several migrant communities from throughout Vietnam. Cross–border trafficking of children and infants remains one of the many challenges being addressed through a protection system. Through the support of local authorities, children are learning to protect themselves and their peers.
Child leaders implement weekly information dissemination sessions for students and young children in village-based community centers. Using a variety of strategies including role play, singing, games, discussions, and question-and-answer sessions they communicate awareness on trafficking and protection. As lead organizers they determine the content for their sessions based on their protection interests, enabling them to explore many subjects of concern for local youth including child abuse, domestic violence, migration, and trafficking. Child leaders are provided with training opportunities to develop their facilitation, communication, and leadership skills along with their knowledge base on trafficking and protection issues. Reflections from child leaders indicate greater confidence and feelings of empowerment. One child leader in Mong Cai has commented “I used to be very shy, but since I joined the activity I became more confident. I have increased my knowledge and skills. I can come back to my community to protect myself and my friends.” These sentiments are reinforced through collaboration with community leaders and local authorities in building the local protection system. Children communicate with adult volunteers in PMBs and local DOLISA officials about the challenges their peers confront. Responses to protection cases can then be developed as the awareness-raising activities of the children become part of the community’s monitoring system.
Child leaders are active participants in workshops organized by DOLISA. Along with adult volunteers they assess program implementation progress, lead discussions, and compose messages for Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) materials that are distributed by local officials. Afforded the status of equal partners, children are recognized for their engagement in prevention work with the realization that child leaders are most appropriate in addressing the concerns of their peers. Adult volunteers and local officials acknowledge that the insights and contributions of children are crucial in challenging the forms of abuse and exploitation children face. Within communities, greater support for children and positive changes within local children has been noted along with reduced rates of trafficking and children leaving school. The PMB of one of Mong Cai’s rural communes remarked that children in their area have greater self – protection knowledge and awareness on social issues which they link to having no reported cases of trafficking during the past three years or cases of dropping out of school which increases a child’s vulnerability. A secondary school student stated “I see changes in my community. Before they had no knowledge of child protection or abuse, but after our dissemination session, they have knowledge to protect themselves and tell their families.” This reduction in child vulnerability can be credited to the active involvement of children, community, and local government in developing a comprehensive approach in addressing protection. Village elders of a rural commune in Mong Cai discuss the advent of children’s clubs raising the issue of protection to local adults and officials. Children monitoring the protection challenges of their community provide the impetus for interventions such as direct support for students to access education and health facilities. Effective participation beyond token leadership has developed over several years of engagement in Mong Cai and is cited as a defining success for prevention efforts. As models for participation are replicated in new communities, supporting child leadership and confronting established attitudes towards children are being led through DOLISA’s efforts.
Child leaders have contributed to building a community-based protection system through their engagement in prevention work and their inputs into local government dialogues. As they look to expand their role within the system they need to strengthen their reporting of cases of trafficking, abuse, or exploitation. There is a referral system to support cases at the local and provincial levels that children can access. As child leaders take roles beyond prevention towards actively monitoring their communities their ability to protect themselves will be enhanced.

Challenges to Children’s Participation in Environments of Exploitation

Recently Save the Children and the Columbia Group for Children in Adversity conducted a research along the border of Thailand and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to test a new mobility assessment tool for migrant children. Economic inequalities, cultural and linguistic similarities, and a long, porous border have encouraged many Laotians to seek work in Thailand. With a strong sense of obligation to support their families, children travel to Thailand, often unaccompanied in search of temporary work. Easy access across the border has made both formal and informal crossing point locations key transit and destination areas for children seeking employment. While preliminary research results are being reviewed, the methodology highlighted several challenges in utilizing child participation to prevent trafficking.
Vulnerability for children seeking work across borders begins at home. Labor agents and brokers, friends, and families may all encourage migration to work that leads to situations of trafficking and exploitation for some children. Save the Children works with local non-governmental organization (NGO) partners and child leaders to raise awareness on safe migration and trafficking in areas of origin through the building of children’s clubs focused on child protection and community activities. Creative arts are being employed in trainings and events to build awareness on trafficking and develop the communications skills of child leaders. Prevention efforts impact communities positively, but they do not ensure safe migration, and many children leave to find work in Thai border communities.
During the research, children were found to be engaged in a variety of work. Children worked in restaurants, hotels, and small stores with several children employed in the sex services industry at karaoke bars. Many children lacked freedom of movement with employers not allowing them to leave their place of work. This problem was compounded by their status as unregistered migrants that increased the hesitation of employers and the children to engage with researchers. Children often slept at their work place, limiting their engagement with other migrant children in their community and creating feelings of social isolation. Children employed in karaoke bars often had the most freedom of movement and social relationships with migrants outside their place of work. Organizing undocumented children who face restrictive movement and finding suitable methods and outlets for participation and training development are considerations that need to be addressed.
Although children did not participate in the research design, migrant children organized through a local NGO were provided with training on research skills. These children had migrated previously with families and were enrolled in Thai schools. As members of a children’s club they seek to build the capacity of their peers to protect themselves against trafficking. They were employed as researchers and to seek out potential interviews for the research team. However, although migrants themselves, they had few contacts with recent migrant arrivals. A lack of communication with newer migrants and working children poses a challenge in developing stronger participation of recent migrants in existing structures for children. The social status of working children, and their place of employment, also placed a barrier between interactions of established and newer migrants. While migrant children leaders are engaged in trafficking prevention and protection, reaching the most vulnerable segments of working migrant children through their peers needs support.

Children Lead the Way

While cultural and political spaces differ within the Greater Mekong Sub–region, countries as diverse as Cambodia and Myanmar are producing effective community protection models for children. The Children and Life Association, located in Prey Veng, Cambodia, supports a network of child peer educat ors and Yout h Coordination Committees in thirty villages. Utilizing creative arts these groups regularly conduct awareness-raising activities on trafficking prevention and unsafe migration. Child leaders organize children’s clubs to disseminate information on trafficking while providing information on how children can protect themselves. Children report when “labor agents” attempt to recruit their peers and provide information to local child protection networks on the new tactics traffickers use to attract and exploit children. These networks intervene in cases of trafficking and unsafe migration and consider children’s participation an integral part of their structure. The success of Youth Coordination Committees, which consist of experienced child leaders and peer educators, has enabled them to engage with local government structures on the issue of trafficking. The Council Committee for Women and Children (CCWC), a commune- level authority, invites child and youth leaders to officially attend and contribute to their meetings. Young participants provide insights on how to protect children from traffickers which has resulted in the CCWC to agree in adopting new indicators on trafficking and abuse into their work plan. Building the knowledge base of the CCWC on the changing tactics traffickers employ, child rights, and protection mechanisms to prevent and address abuse and exploitation is helping the body engage in child protection at the community level. Youth leaders are lobbying the CCWC to allocate more budget resources for protection from, and prevention of, trafficking while t he CCWC had been encouraged to take an active role in supporting parents to register their children, as a lack of birth registration limits opportunities for children and creates a situation for exploitation.
Save the Children in Myanmar employs organized consultations with children in nine townships across the country. Children’s consultations have been held in Kawkareik in Kayin State, Mawlamyine and Kyeikmayaw in Mon State; Meikhtila, Tharzi, and Kyaukpadaung in the Mandalay Division, Shwe Pyi Thar and Hlaing Tharyar in the Yangon Division, and Muse in Northern Shan State. Children’s groups participate in consultation workshops to highlight the challenges they face within their community, raising issues of exploitation, trafficking prevention, and abuse. Follow-up feedback sessions allow children and local child protection groups to define priorities and determine approaches to prevention activities. Anecdotal reports from Hlaing Thayar relay children taking action on issues of abuse and exploitation through reporting cases to referral systems and acting to raise awareness among vulnerable children in their communities. The actions of children have in turn galvanized parental and community support into addressing the protection, trafficking, and exploitation faced by the young in their villages.


Children’s participation is an effective approach to addressing trafficking prevention and child protection. Children with the knowledge to protect themselves and their peers represent the first line of defence against trafficking. Migrant children leaders who can express the challenges they face provide the insights necessary to make these systems efficient and capable of addressing the needs of all children who face not only trafficking, but abuse, neglect, violence, and exploitation in their daily lives. Supporting the participation of the most vulnerable children, often already in situations of exploitation, remains a challenge. Deepening child involvement within trafficking prevention systems, moving from prevention and awareness-raising to monitoring and reporting on abuses are beginning to occur.
Across the Greater Mekong Sub–region, children collaborate with community systems and authorities to create protection systems. At the national and regional level, children are participants in forums on trafficking and protection, contributing their ideas and recommendations on anti-trafficking policies. Community-based protection models and the voices of migrant children are informing the development of more comprehensive protection systems addressing trafficking, abuse, and exploitation. As trafficking prevention models replicate across communities, overcoming established mindsets on children through demonstrating the effectiveness of their participation will be key in establishing prevention efforts at the local level.

Mr. Brian Jungwiwattanaporn is the Regional Cross-border Programme Information Coordinator, Asia Regional Office of Save the Children UK.

 For further information, please contact: Bri an Jungwiwattanaporn, Save the Children UK, Asia Regional Office, 14th floor Maneeya Center Bldg., 518/5 Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Patumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand; ph (66-2) 6841291, 6520518 to 20 ext 304; emai l : Brian@savethechildren.or.th; www.savethechildren.org.uk

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