Child trafficking, labour, and exploitation are now, more than ever, major international concerns that need to be addressed, indicated a panel discussion on children’s rights held last Thursday at McGill.
The evening’s two panelists were Susan Bissel, who works at the New York office of UNICEF, and Nadja Pollaert, the director general of the International Bureau for Children’s Rights.
Bissel began by raising some questions in order to emphasize the injustice that is happening to children. “How can there be an estimated 150 million children worldwide who are engaged in the worst forms of child labour?” she said. “How can it be that 250 million children under the age of five are alive right now and don’t have a birth certificate?”
Bissel followed each question with examples containing graphic details. “Those 150 million child labourers are outraged and urge attention, sweating it out, picking cotton, sexually exploited in brothels, fearing for their lives in diamonds and coal mines or picking rags in a heap of garbage.”
Other examples included sexual violations by corrupt police officers, children in armed combat, and negative social norms such as child marriages.
The UNICEF official believes that we focus on the negative social norms and fail to recognize the good ones. She describes child protection as a grey area that needs to blend with health and education in order to become successful.
“If we create a world where equity is at its core, then we need to approach each and every child holistically,” she said.
Pollaert focused most of her talk on child trafficking, which she believes is a very important subject. She says that nowadays, it is occurring more frequently than ever.
“Trafficking implies the use of force, fraud or coercion,” she said. “It includes the exploitation of the victims. It is also child labour, organ trafficking, and it implies the displacement of the victim.”
Pollaert calls it a type of contemporary slavery, saying that the whole idea of someone illegally entering a country and then achieving freedom upon arrival is a myth.
“Children are bought in because the only way to get into the country is to be smuggled in,” she said. “And then they have to work off the money.”
According to Pollaert, this happens because people don’t have legal access to the countries where they want to work, so they go to seek employment and a better life. Other factors are poverty and lack of education.
Both panelists agreed on the importance of protecting children and ensuring that their rights are never forgotten.
“Child protection transcends national boundaries and renders complicit everyone everywhere, public sector and private sector, rich and poor,” Bissel said.