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Children are especially vulnerable for forms of human trafficking

A homeless child can be exposed to many forms of abuse. Selam, who was orphaned when her mother died, learned this quickly. Together with her mother, Selam had been begging on the streets of a big East African city. In the evenings, Selam used to fall asleep covered in her moth-er’s scarf. Now, with her mother gone, Selam was lonely and defenceless.

Six-year-old Selam was quickly noticed on the streets. A man who everyone called the Boss ap-proached Selam, offered her some tea and promised to take care of her. He took Selam to a small yard behind a metal shed to meet other children. The Boss said that the children could sleep outside under a tarpaulin. He promised to protect them so that no one would hurt them at night. In exchange for protection, the children had to make him money. The Boss told Selam to go beg with the other children.

Selam, who missed her mother, manage to get only a few coins. The other children had raised more money, and some of them had even stolen a couple of wallets. The Boss was always stand-ing in the background, keeping an eye on the children. When the children returned to the yard, the Boss collected and counted their cash. When it was Selam’s turn, he stopped and slapped her in the face and scolded Selam for being lazy. The Boss said that Selam would not get any food before she learned to beg properly. If Selam looked a little hungrier, she would be able to raise more money.

The story and the characters are fictitious, but the story is based on one or more real-life cases.

Children are dependent on adults

Children are not able to take care of themselves and defend their rights in the same way as adults. Because children often are very dependent on adults, they are an easy target for abusers.

Aikuisein-tehtävä-on-suojella-lastaChildren may become victims of sex trafficking, labour trafficking, forced begging, forced criminality and other forms of human trafficking as much as adults. Children are an easy target for abusers because they are vulnerable and dependent on adults.

The story above illustrates how children, particularly those who do not have a guardian, are vulnerable to abuse. Children are used in begging all around the world because a begging child appeals to our feelings more effectively than an adult. Children are also taught to commit crimes and may be trafficked to different countries to steal for their abusers. Such children and adolescents are sometimes found in the Nordic countries, too.

Child’s consent to abuse is not valid

Some children and adolescents may agree to prostitute themselves or take on hard work that is not suitable for children.  Even if a child consents to this type of exploitation, their consent is never valid, and exploiting a minor in this way is always a crime. Buying sex from a minor is always a crime.

Trafficking children for prostitution

Underage boys and girls are in risk of becoming victims of trafficking related to sexual exploitation both in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Clients are willing to pay more money for a girl if she is a virgin.  

tyttö-niitylla-auringossaChildren who become victims of sex trafficking can be taken from their parents by abduction or deception. A child’s parent or other guardian may also sell the child deliberately to a procurer, exchange the child for a loan or even become the child’s procurer.

Several countries are known for sex tourism, also for the so called child sex tourism. In some holiday destinations in Southeast Asia, for example, children are being exploited in sex tourism, the youngest victims being only 8–10 years old. In Finland, a campaign called Too Bad to Be True has been launched to increase tourists’ awareness of child trafficking and to give advice on how to recognise child trafficking and react to suspicious situations.

Sexual abuse of children online

Online sexual abuse of children may take place on regular discussion forums or on hidden web-sites on the so called dark web. Children may be deceived or manipulated into performing sexual acts in front of a webcam. The child does not usually know that his or her pictures and videos are sold to a large audience.

If a child sends nudes, for example, the pictures can be used to blackmail him or her to perform acts that are even more sexual. Children may also be required to perform sexual acts on other children.

There have been cases in the Western countries where an abuser has paid money to an adult in another country for recruiting children to be abused in front of a webcam. These victims have sometimes been abused in extremely cruel ways.

More information about online sexual abuse of children and how it can be recognised can be found on the website of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (in Finnish).

Illegal adoption and child marriages

Illegal adoption is a form of human trafficking that only targets children. Children who become victims of illegal adoption often come from poor countries, whereas the adoptive parents usually live in wealthier parts of the world. A child can become a victim of illegal adoption for example by abduction.  The hopeless situation of the child’s parents may be exploited, and sometimes parents can be offered money in exchange for the child. Parents may be deceived, mislead or threatened in order to get them to put their child up for adoption. The parents may also have agreed to put their child up for adoption to settle their debts.

When it comes to child marriages, particularly girls are in risk of becoming victims of forced mar-riage, as many victims are underage when they get married. When married, the child is often sub-jected to sexual abuse, violence and forced labour.

Bacha bazi, or the dancer boys

Nelivuotias-töissä-öisellä-kadullaThe forms of sexual abuse of children vary between cultures. One form of sex trafficking that affects underage boys especially in Afghanistan and Iran is the practice of bacha bazi, where boys are made to perform as dancers. In bacha bazi, young boys are dressed as women and made to dance for grown men. The tradition is often linked to violence and sexual abuse.

A typical abuser has some type of power over the child, which makes abuse possible. The victim cannot talk about the abuse to anyone, because homosexuality is considered forbidden in these societies. In worst case, the boy who has fallen victim to abuse is the one who gets punished.

Use of child soldiers

Children are in risk of being used as child soldiers especially in conflict zones. In these zones, various military groups may coerce children into joining them. Armed groups may abduct children or threaten their or their families’ lives to make them participate in hostilities. Armed groups may also take advantage of the children’s vulnerable position by promising them a better life if they become soldiers.

Children can be used for example in battle, in suicide attacks or as messengers. Especially boys are in risk of being forced to become child soldiers.

Abuse of children has far-reaching consequences

Becoming a victim of human trafficking has far-reaching consequences for a child. Many of the children who have become victims of trafficking are extremely traumatised because of the abuse, and this has profound effects on their development.

Becoming a victim of human trafficking endangers the child’s health in other ways as well. Abused children may be affected by sexually transmitted diseases, physical stress or dangerous environments. If a girl gets pregnant because of sexual abuse at a very young age, the pregnancy can be a serious risk to her life.

Children who become victims of trafficking are often left without any education. Victims of child trafficking have usually grown up in unsafe environments without the care that is needed for well-balanced development.