Estimated 17 Million Children Displaced by Violence, Special Rapporteur Tells Third Committee as Delegates Tackle Modern Slavery, Exploitation
Job Loss, Threat of Deportation Prevent Trafficking Victims from Pursuing Justice, Expert Warns
Special Rapporteurs presented reports on human trafficking, internal displacement and modern slavery, with one warning that some 17 million children have been displaced by conflict and violence, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its interactive dialogues today.
One of three mandate holders to present their findings, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, said the human rights of persons subjected to trafficking must be at the centre of all efforts to prevent and combat the practice. Outlining obstacles that prevent victims from using grievance mechanisms, such as job loss and the threat of deportation, she said migration policies in many jurisdictions promptly remove undocumented migrants, without allowing time to identify potential trafficking victims.
In a similar vein, Cecilia Jimenez‑Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said at least 17 million children are estimated to have been displaced by conflict and violence. Countless more have been displaced by disasters, she said, stressing that children often face discrimination based on gender, group affiliation or disability. When internal displacement occurs, family and community structures tend to break down, as do traditional institutions, making displaced children vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and neglect.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegates welcomed the soon to be established High‑level Panel on Internally Displaced Persons, with Mali’s representative asking the Special Rapporteur what kind of cooperation she envisaged having with that body. The United Kingdom’s delegate wondered about issues the High‑level Panel should prioritize, while Switzerland’s representative asked if the High‑level Panel could play a role in gathering data of an improved quality. Ms. Jimenez‑Damary, replying, reassured that the High‑level Panel will focus on solutions.
Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, said that despite its legal abolition worldwide, slavery exists in all regions. The covert nature of child slavery, in particular, means that there is a lack of consistent empirical data on it. Armed groups often recruit children as members of armed forces, for sexual exploitation or for forced labour. Highlighting the issue of forced marriage, which deprives more than 5.6 million children of their childhood — most of them girls in Asian countries and in Sub‑Saharan Africa — she said children are being trafficked internally and across borders, as well as sold into marriage, for example, in the Middle East and from Myanmar to China.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 October to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today (for background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4266).
Interactive Dialogues — Trafficking in Persons
MARIA GRAZIA GIAMMARINARO, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, said the human rights of persons subjected to trafficking must be at the centre of all efforts to prevent and combat the practice. However, many concerns arise regarding access to justice and remediation for victims. She outlined challenges which prevent victims from resorting to grievance mechanisms, including job loss, loss of due payments and wages, and the threat of deportation, especially when their work or residence permit depends on the contract with their employer. This is the consequence of current migration policies in many jurisdictions which promptly remove undocumented migrants, without allowing time to identify potential victims of trafficking. Moreover, judicial procedures are costly and time‑consuming, she said, adding that successful complaints have been filed by organizations with professional and financial resources for judicial proceedings, such as trade unions or non‑governmental organizations.
Transparency legislation passed by Member States such as the United Kingdom, Australia and France have led to greater awareness of the risks of trafficking in supply chains, she observed. However, there is now a need to go beyond minimal reporting obligations and require a higher level of commitment from companies. She went on to outline such measures, including better monitoring and alert mechanisms by companies, which take into account the operations of subsidiaries and subcontractors; reparations for exploited workers; coordination among the private sector, trade unions and civil society; and the inclusion of workers’ voices in social compliance mechanisms.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Italy said better data is needed to implement an evidence‑based approach to recommendations laid out in the report and asked how primary companies in the supply chain can help protect rights of migrant workers, when dealing with illegal activities of subcontractors.
The representative of the Philippines asked about recommendations to address the dire situation of migrant workers who are deprived of the right to movement by employers who retain their passports.
The representative of Greece outlined initiatives taken by his country to combat human trafficking, including a system of identification and referral for victims and presumed victims, and an emphasis on due diligence in the private sector.
The representative of Luxembourg asked how business and financial institutions can use leverage to prevent trafficking.
Several representatives, including of the United Kingdom, Liechtenstein and Ireland raised the issue of access to remedy for victims of human trafficking, and asked about models for remedies, as well as grievance mechanisms that take into account victims’ views. In a similar vein, the representative of the United States asked about promising examples of grievance mechanisms and asked if some types of mechanisms are more effective than others.
The representative of Belarus recalled a declaration adopted after a meeting last month at the General Assembly of the Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the Inter‑Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons, stressing that States must understand how new technologies are being used to sexually exploit women.
A number of representatives, including of Iceland and an observer for the European Union, asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on awareness‑raising campaigns to enable workers to gain knowledge of their rights.
Meanwhile, representatives of States with lots of migrant laborers outlined initiatives taken to combat exploitative practices. The representatives of Bahrain and Qatar said they have abolished the kafala system, and described steps taken to enhance workers protection, including better inspections and wage protections.
Ms. GIAMMARINARO, responding to the Philippines’ question on exploitative practices, agreed that one of the main problems to tackle is the situation of workers who are prevented from accessing justice, as they are at the mercy of employers. She welcomed the abolition of the kafala system by States such as Bahrain, but noted that continued monitoring is necessary, as abolished practices often continue to be a reality in the field.
On cooperation between the private sector and the Government, she said States must go beyond action plans and legislation and be more precise in the requirements expected from the private sector. While companies are reporting action taken, risk assessment and especially remediation tools remain very weak.
Examples of good practices include Bangladesh’s accord on safety and conditions of workers, including a remediation tool after the Rana Plaza tragedy. “However, open questions remain,” she said, adding that it is “possible and desirable” for companies to disclose lists of their subcontractors, although they are reluctant to do so. Still, discussions are underway, and the international community and stakeholders should push to ensure progress.
On remediation, she said that when there is failure to comply, civil liability and joint liability of all companies is necessary. However, even when companies comply, and terminate contracts, they must take responsibility of the destiny of workers, who are the only ones bearing the bad consequences of such outcomes. In addition, protection and assistance measures must be disconnected from criminal proceedings so that measures are effective.
Also speaking were the representatives of China, Germany, Mexico and Indonesia.
Contemporary Forms of Slavery
URMILA BHOOLA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, presented her third report (document A/74/179), recalling her visits to 10 countries over the last six years. “Slavery continues to exist in all regions in spite of its legal abolition worldwide,” she said. The covert nature of child slavery means that there is a lack of consistent empirical data on it, except on child marriage, child labour and forced labour. Although child labour is not child slavery as such, the nature of the work may result in child slavery, she said, noting that in least developed countries, one in four children are reportedly subjected to child labour, which is considered detrimental to their health.
According to the 2016 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, 4.3 million children aged below 18 years are in forced labour, she said, including 1 million in commercial sexual exploitation — predominantly girls — and 300,000 in forced labour by State authorities. Children are victims of slavery in many ways: Armed groups often recruit them as members of armed forces, for sexual exploitation or for forced labour. Forced displacement and disruption of communities, among other factors, render affected children particularly vulnerable to exploitation. She highlighted the issue of forced marriage, which deprives more than 5.6 million children of their childhood, most of them girls in Asian countries and in Sub‑Saharan Africa, stressing that children are being trafficked internally and across borders, as well as sold into marriage, for example, in the Middle East and from Myanmar to China.
Describing the multiple causes perpetuating child slavery — poverty, lack of access to education, ethnic and class discrimination, harmful cultural and religious traditions, discrimination against women and girls, the pressure caused by conflict and environmental degradation and weak law enforcement — she said the lack of access to education is also largely associated with child labour. Restrictive immigration laws encourage risky migration and create opportunities for traffickers, heightening children’s vulnerability to slavery and exploitation. Child slavery perpetuates poverty, ill health and illiteracy. If progress towards ending it continues at the rate seen between 2012 and 2016, 121 million children will remain in such conditions by 2025. Ending all forms of child slavery by 2030, and child labour within only five years, requires the global community to criminalize all forms of slavery and prosecute perpetrators. Access to decent work must be ensured, for example, by extending minimal wage protections to the informal sector, and businesses must not engage in the practice. Data must also be collected on the various forms of child slavery at the national level and the root causes addressed, including through comprehensive awareness‑raising.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the United Kingdom said the fact that 121 million children could remain in work that deprives them of their childhood by 2025 underlines the urgency of the situation. He asked about ways the international community can collaborate to ensure the most effective interventions. Meanwhile, the representative of the United States stressed the need to ensure that every child can thrive within a protective, loving family, including orphans, victims of human trafficking and those affected by AIDS or HIV. She requested recommendations for preventing slavery. The representative of Australia said eliminating child slavery requires systematic responses across and between Governments, businesses and civil societies, stressing the gendered nature of modern slavery which disproportionately affects girls and women. The representative of China highlighted the importance of ending all forms of slavery. She called for coordination and provision of both technical and financial support to build capacities.
Ms. BHOOLA, in response to the representative of the United Kingdom, described the Delta 8.7 platform, which launched the first tranche of “data dashboards” that visualize trends in forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour, in order to facilitate information‑sharing among countries. In addition, Alliance 8.7 is a global partnership in which 15 countries collaborate to address modern slavery, particularly child slavery. Through avenues created at the global level, such as Alliance 8.7, information‑sharing can be accelerated and facilitate strategies to fight modern slavery. Addressing issues raised by the representative of the United States, she pointed to mechanisms already being used in the humanitarian response.
More broadly, she said regional partnerships are crucial, recalling various initiatives, programmes, platforms and partnerships to end child labour. She stressed the importance of conducting and disseminating research, stressing that countries with highest technological advancements should assist those in need of such capacities. Lastly, to the representative of China, she emphasized the need to help communities and cities build resilience and thereby prevent people from being forced into modern slavery. When people are aware of their rights, greater progress can be made, she observed.
Internally Displaced Persons
CECILIA JIMENEZ-DAMARY, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, presenting her report (document A/74/261), said that although the exact number of children living in internal displacement worldwide is unknown, at least 17 million are estimated to have been displaced by conflict and violence. Countless more have been displaced by disasters, she said, citing research showing that forced displacement disproportionately affects children. Internally displaced children may share the same challenges as other displaced people but, because of their age, may be affected in different ways. They often face discrimination based on gender, group affiliation or disability. Displaced children should be encouraged to participate in analyzing their situation, she said, noting that assessing the best interests of the child must include respect for a child’s right to express his or her views freely. There are numerous pragmatic, ethical and sociocultural barriers to children’s participation, and in humanitarian situations, the participation of displaced minors is rarely prioritized.
She said that when internal displacement occurs, family and community structures are likely to break down and traditional institutions tend to disintegrate, making displaced children vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and neglect. Protected safe spaces for internally displaced children, where they can find respite from the psychological stress of war or violence, are essential. Working in a coordinated way through community‑based protection mechanisms is an approach that has proven effective and appropriate in achieving child protection goals. The protective capacity of families and communities, who are the first layers of support, must be supported and strengthened. Strengthening child protection systems requires national and local solutions that fully respect the children’s rights. Describing the funding gap for such activities as “alarming” — especially given the scale of needs and the costs of quality interventions — she said donors and those who provide or support child protection interventions, as well as States providing budget allocations, have a joint responsibility to increase child protection funding substantially and urgently.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several noted the soon‑to‑be established High‑level Panel on Internally Displaced Persons, with the representative of Mali asking the Special Rapporteur what kind of cooperation she envisaged having with the High‑level Panel. An observer for the European Union asked how the High‑level Panel could ensure the protection of the most vulnerable, notably children, as well as about how to mainstream the rights of internally displaced persons across the United Nations system. The representative of the United Kingdom wondered about issues the High‑level Panel should prioritize, while the representative of Switzerland asked if the High‑level Panel could play a role in obtaining data of an improved quality.
In a similar vein, the representative of Armenia underscored the importance of credible data on internally displaced persons, noting the existence of misleading figures presented by Member States to pursue political agendas. The representative of Ukraine described the cause of massive internal displacement and dire humanitarian situation in the Donbass region as the ongoing Russian Federation war being waged against his county. Ukraine is undertaking all possible institutional and legislative efforts relating to the rights of internally displaced persons.
Several delegates pointed to the situation of women and girls who are internally displaced. The representative of Austria, associating herself with the European Union, said children deprived of education for extended periods of time are liable to become even more vulnerable, making a focus on educational programmes all the more important. She asked the Special Rapporteur how structural barriers can be surmounted. The representative of the United States asked what more can be done to highlight the fact that sexual exploitation of internally displaced persons persists.
The representative of Syria said his country’s committee for returns is exerting efforts, with support from friendly countries and the United Nations. There are 1,400 licensed non‑governmental organizations working in Syria.
Ms. JIMENEZ‑DAMARY, replying, said it is important to support the Secretary‑General in his efforts to form the High‑level Panel, which itself will focus on solutions to internal displacement. Obtaining data is also essential. The High‑level Panel should take an evidence‑based approach in order to ensure that data is relevant, coordinated and comprehensive. The High‑level Panel also will need to integrate into its work the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals, and ensure that its consultations with Member States and United Nations agencies include all relevant actors.
More broadly, she welcomed interventions concerning women and girls, saying that no solution is complete if women and girls are ignored in humanitarian and development approaches. Without education, internally displaced children will not have safe and secure futures.
Also speaking were the representatives of Norway, China, Canada and Georgia.