Taking prevention seriously: developing a comprehensive response to child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Author:Todres, Jonathan
 
FREE EXCERPT

ABSTRACT

Millions of children are victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation each year. Governments have responded with a range of measures, focusing primarily on seeking to prosecute perpetrators of these abuses and offering assistance to select victims. These efforts, while important, have done little to reduce the incidence of these forms of child exploitation. This Article asserts that a central reason why efforts to date may not be as effective as hoped is that governments have not oriented their approaches properly toward prioritizing prevention--the ultimate goal--and addressing these problems in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Instead, efforts to date have been piecemeal and oriented toward dealing with exploitation of children after the harm occurs. This Article argues for refocusing efforts toward the development of a comprehensive, prevention-oriented strategy that addresses the root causes of these problems. The Article discusses how certain critical issues--(1) research/data; (2) program design; (3) the dominant principle guiding state responses; (4) stakeholder coordination; and (5) the interrelationship among rights--have been largely ignored in developing responses to child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The Article suggests that, by focusing greater attention on these issues, governments and child advocates can develop more effective responses to the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children, and increase the likelihood that responses to these problems will help prevent such abuse of children.

TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. KEYS TO A COMPREHENSIVE RESPONSE A. Developing Research/Data B. Program Design C. The Dominant Principle Guiding State Responses D. Stakeholder Coordination E. The Interrelationship Among Rights III. COST AND THE SYNERGISTIC NATURE OF COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGIES IV. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

In the past decade, considerable attention and resources have been directed toward addressing the issues of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. (1) Although the international community and various national governments have taken a number of constructive steps, including the adoption of international and regional conventions and major national legislation, (2) it remains unclear how much these measures have benefited children at risk of exploitation. One reason these measures may not be as effective as hoped is that governments have not oriented their approaches properly toward prioritizing prevention--the ultimate goal--and addressing these problems in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Efforts to date have focused on dealing with the aftermath of such exploitation of children by seeking to prosecute traffickers or develop victim assistance programs. (3) These measures, while important, have neglected certain steps essential to preventing child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, such as developing reliable research before enacting legislation or involving all stakeholders in the legislative planning and drafting process, and thus children around the globe remain at risk.

Millions of children are victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation each year. (4) In response to these grave violations of children's rights, the international community has agreed upon a three-pronged mandate that requires governments to (1) criminalize and prosecute all acts of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children; (2) provide assistance to victims of these crimes; and (3) develop successful prevention programs. (5) Instead of choosing prevention as the starting point for developing an effective response to child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, to date most governments have paid the least attention to what is actually the end goal. (6) In fact, in many locales, prevention measures have been nonexistent. (7)

While prevention has taken a backseat, governments have attempted to combat trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children by passing laws prohibiting these abuses and increasing sentences for perpetrators. Numerous countries have made progress in this regard. (8) Some governments also have allocated limited resources for child victims. (9) However, steps to advance criminal law in this area or assist victims, while necessary, have not been situated within a more comprehensive prevention strategy. As a result, the measures taken in those two areas fall short of producing optimal results (e.g., current prosecutions offer minimal deterrence when compared to the incentives for traffickers, (10) and assistance to victims often ends early and fails to address systemic issues, leaving those "assisted" children vulnerable to repeated exploitation). Overall, efforts to date have been oriented toward dealing with the exploitation of children after the harm occurs--that is, by prosecuting perpetrators and by assisting victims. Absent is a comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of the problem with a view to preventing harm to children. (11)

This Article's central claim is that there is a fundamental flaw in the orientation of current efforts to address trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. Rather than approach these harms to children ex ante and comprehensively, current governmental and non-governmental measures are focused on ex post scenarios that fail to tackle prevention and address these abuses of children in a piecemeal fashion.

For example, in some locales, adult entertainment clubs have been identified as avenues through which minors are drawn into the sex trade and exploited. (12) Some governments have tried to reduce the number of minors involved in the sex industry by raising the minimum age for working in such establishments from eighteen to twenty-one years old. (13) On its face, such a step makes sense and offers potential benefits--a fifteen year old girl for whom a false ID card is obtained to show she is eighteen years old is less likely to be able to assert she is twenty-one years old. Thus, such a measure might help remove many young girls from an exploitative environment or even prevent them from entering that environment in the first place. However, such measures are typically taken piecemeal rather than as part of a comprehensive prevention plan. Thus, when such a regulation is not accompanied by a mandate and funding for social services, educational opportunities, job training, and other programs for girls who leave, or might be lured into, the sex industry, the end result is that many of these girls who can no longer work in strip clubs instead end up in underground prostitution rings in greater danger than they would have been exposed to before the ordinance was adopted. (14) This result does not mean that the initial idea of raising the minimum age was misguided, but rather that governments need to better consider and account for the consequences of such a step. That is, such action must be situated within a broader plan to ensure that when the state facilitates the removal of children from bad environments or adopts measures to bar youth from engaging in risky activities, it also addresses underlying systemic issues to ensure that these children actually do end up in a better environment and to prevent exploitation of these children in the future. (15)

This Article asserts that a comprehensive, prevention-oriented approach is critical to achieving real progress in reducing, and ultimately ending, the incidence of child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. That is, continuing to deal only with victimized children after-the-fact is an unwinnable situation, as there are too many exploited children. Instead, intervention efforts must "move upstream" (16) so that we prevent the harm from occurring in the first place.

Focusing on two interrelated but discreet abuses of children, trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, (17) this Article provides an overview of how certain critical issues--(1) research/data; (2) program design; (3) the dominant principle guiding state responses; (4) stakeholder coordination; and (5) the interrelationship among rights--have been largely ignored in developing responses to the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. The Article discusses how attention to these issues can have significant positive effects on laws, policies, or programs designed to prevent the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. Part II takes each of these issues in turn. First, highlighting the dearth of reliable data, Part II details the value of evidence-based research to prevention efforts. It then examines program design, explicating in particular the importance of involving historically marginalized populations and youth in the development of strategies to combat child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Next, the Article explores the question of the dominant principle guiding state responses. Currently, that issue is focused on the debate between whether a law enforcement approach or victim-centered approach is more effective. While acknowledging value in each of those approaches, I submit that ultimately both fall short in that they address these issues only after the harm to children has occurred and thus do not prevent such harm. Instead, I propose that a child-centered approach should be the guiding principle in state responses. Next, the importance of effective coordination among stakeholders is discussed. Finally, Part II examines the impact of the interdependent nature of rights on efforts to combat child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, detailing the particular relevance this issue has to marginalized children. With respect to each of these issues, I also briefly address the challenges involved in incorporating these issues into the fight to eliminate these gross violations of human rights...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP