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1.2 Million Children Trafficked Yearly, UNICEF Says

Publish Date: 30 Jul 2003

Around 1.2 million children are victims of child trafficking each year around the world, UNICEF says in a new report, End Child Exploitation: Stop The Traffic, released today.

According to the report, Europe is the biggest market for child trafficking.  The children are often brought to the continent to work as domestic or sexual slaves.  West Africa and Eastern Europe are the biggest suppliers, although regions in Asia have also been trafficking children.  Southeast Asia, for instance, accounts for one-third of the domestic and international child trafficking, the report says.

In Europe, 500,000 women and young girls are trafficked each year, especially from former Soviet states, the report says, adding that the price for each woman starts as low as $48.  In total, the child trafficking business generates more than $9 billion each year.

According to the report, thousands of boys as young as 5 are also traded around the world, especially from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates to work as camel jockeys (Jeremy Lovell, Reuters, July 30).

UNICEF's report is to be released in the United Kingdom a day after the police arrested 21 people in connection with the death of a Nigerian boy who was found floating in the Thames River in September 2001.  The arrests were made after more than 200 police officers invaded nine houses in London thought to be immigration safe houses.

The 5-year-old boy is believed to have been trafficked to the United Kingdom from Nigeria. At least 10 of the 21 people arrested may be illegal immigrants from Nigeria, possibly from the same region the boy was from, London Daily Mail reports.

According to the newspaper, the police found an animal skull wrapped in cloth inside a bag in one of the houses.  Police described it as "a bizarre voodoo artifact."  Officials believe the boy may have been killed in a voodoo ritual (Ben Taylor, London Daily Mail, July 30).

Experts have said that the United Kingdom is particularly attractive to child traffickers because of the lack of legislation against it.  "We know Britain is seen as a soft touch for traffickers," said Elizabeth Little of the Refugee Arrivals Project based at London's Heathrow Airport.  "It's really quite hard to detect somebody who is likely to be the victim of trafficking.  And there are so many different routes into the country" (Audrey Gillan, London Guardian, July 30).

During a four-week period in 2001, 250 children arrived in London unaccompanied, according to an analysis of London airports (Taylor, London Daily Mail).

"There may well be hundreds, if not thousands, of children in Britain who have been brought here for exploitation," UNICEF's report says.  "We won't know the true extent of the problem until the necessary mechanisms are in place" (Gillan, London Guardian).

In the report, UNICEF also condemned the announcement made by a British county council that it is planning to close a house designed to protect child victims of trafficking in Britain, which according to London's Daily Telegraph is the only safe house in the country.

The council has said the house is not cost effective. Since its opening in 1995, many children who were sent to the house eventually went missing.  According to the newspaper, the girls were either kidnapped by traffickers or agreed to go with them because of threats against their families, the use of voodoo spells or because they needed to pay back debts (Sandra Laville, London Daily Telegraph, July 30).

The British House of Commons is considering a sexual offenses bill, which would make it illegal to traffic anyone into the United Kingdom for commercial sexual exploitation.  UNICEF wants the government to change the proposed legislation to protect children who are brought into the country for other reasons, and are therefore unprotected.  UNICEF is also lobbying for specialist care, such as training for immigration officers (Kim Sengupta, London Independent, July 30).