The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has urged the Governments of West and Central Africa to take action to protect children from human trafficking, which not only harms innocent lives but also efforts to secure peace in countries recovering from conflict.
How can West Africa build a peaceful and prosperous future if its youth is being exploited, recycled, and scarred for life?” asked Antonio Maria Costa addressing an international meeting on trafficking in children and armed conflict, which began yesterday in the Ivorian city of Abidjan.
While human trafficking is a global problem, he noted that West and Central Africa are particularly vulnerable to this crime given the large pool of “lost children” in the two regions, including orphans, child soldiers and those living in poverty and fear. “Children are particularly vulnerable in conflict and post-conflict situations, especially when separated from the rest of their family,” Mr. Costa noted.
Girls are twice as vulnerable: as victims of rape and sexual harassment perpetrated by armed groups, and also because they are seldom involved in programmes for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration or provided with special rehabilitation programmes.
Mr. Costa urged action to support and rehabilitate girls victimized by conflict, including redressing injustices committed against them in times of war. “We must deepen the knowledge base on the plight of girls in conflict situations to ensure that prevention and intervention become more effective.”
Given the vulnerability of internally displaced persons and refugees, Mr. Costa called for extra efforts to ensure that safe havens do not become recruiting grounds for traffickers. “I urge aid agencies to be on the look out for predators, and host countries to provide sufficient security.”
He appealed to all those doing business in Africa to ensure that their supply chains and employment practices do not support human trafficking, and urged consumers to use their purchasing power more forcefully. “Do you really want to eat chocolate, drive on tires, or wear diamonds dripping with the blood and sweat of slave labour?”
He noted that another reason West and Central Africa are vulnerable to human trafficking is because of the low risks involved. “There is little threat of law enforcement, especially in countries weakened by conflict or corruption,” Mr. Costa said. “In some countries, anti-trafficking legislation is weak or non-existent.”
The Executive Director called on governments in the two regions to carry out the UN anti-trafficking Protocol which includes measures to criminalize human trafficking, prosecute perpetrators and protect victims.