Trafficking refers to the cross-border or internal, recruitment, transportation, harbouring, transfer or receipt of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour, servitude, removal of organs or any similar exploitative purpose. It may or may not involve force, coercion or deception because children are not able to give informed consent to their exploitation. All child victims of trafficking are made highly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation because they are removed from familiar support structures, such as their families and communities.
Poverty, gender inequalities, lack of education and discrimination against ethnic minorities are key contributing factors to trafficking, whilst war or armed conflict, domestic abuse, materialism and demand for children for sex, all contribute to this complex problem. Some children are kidnapped or lured by promises of education, a new skill or a ‘good job’; others leave their countries and communities willingly in the hopes of a better life.
There are no exact estimates on the number of children who are trafficked. This is because the practice is hidden and difficult to assess and because there is no common methodology for counting trafficking victims. Trafficking can occur across borders or within a country. In international trafficking, it benefits traffickers to keep their victims in a foreign environment where they are vulnerable to local immigration laws for having entered a country illegally, or are at a disadvantage because of their ignorance of the law, culture and language of that country. The trafficking of children within a country is less common than cross-border trafficking, although it does occur from rural to urban areas. However, children who have been trafficked across borders may continue to be trafficked within the destination country to avoid detection.
Cross border trafficking can be categorised by countries of origin, countries of destination and transit countries (a waypoint into another country or region). Some countries can fall under all three categories. Guatemala, for example, can be considered a country of origin, as children have been trafficked to Mexico or the United States. It is also a country of destination for some children from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua; and it is a transit country for children from neighbouring Central American countries who are being trafficked to the United States.
ECPAT advocates for the adoption of effective anti-trafficking legislation that criminalises the traffickers rather than the victims. Based on a child-rights approach, ECPAT supports programmes that, address the root causes of child trafficking, develop measures for improved implementation of laws against child trafficking, and provide quality assistance to child victims. ECPAT also works with law enforcement on training activities for personnel at different levels (police officers, prosecutors, judges etc.), coordinates the information from the ECPAT global network to help identify traffickers and offers linkages to ensure assistance and support for child victims. ECPAT projects to prevent trafficking include situational analysis studies; awareness raising campaigns targeting communities, potential victims and the public to address overall demand; education for children and vocational training and income generating opportunities for older vulnerable adolescents or victims of trafficking; establishment of children support groups and other child and youth led awareness and advocacy initiatives; and the creation of help-lines that provide information to potential migrants (children and adults) about the risks connected with migration.