This module is a resource for lecturers  




Various Modules of the University Module Series on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants examine smuggling of migrants (Modules 1-5), trafficking in persons (Modules 6-10) and the overlap and distinction between each crime type (Module 11). This Module focuses on children as a specific, and particularly vulnerable, subset of smuggled migrants and victims of trafficking. Children account for a growing proportion of smuggled migrants and trafficked persons around the world. Flows of smuggled migrants include significant and increasing numbers of children, both unaccompanied and accompanied by their parents or other family members. Trafficked children, meanwhile, account for approximately one third of all detected victims of trafficking globally (UNODC 2018). For further reading, please also see the University Module Series on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, particularly Module 12 on Violence against Children and Module 13 on Justice for Children.

Children are especially vulnerable to the risks of trafficking, as well as the dangers and abuses migrants are often exposed to during the smuggling process. The particular vulnerability of individual children, and the risks they encounter, vary according to numerous factors. Relevant factors include: the child's age, developmental stage, gender, and sexual orientation; whether the child is accompanied by family members; whether the child has a disability or underlying health condition; whether the child has a history of prior violence, abuse, or trauma; and whether the child belongs to a minority or vulnerable group. In recognition of their special protection needs, international law grants children a level of protection beyond that granted to adults. The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children both acknowledge the special needs of children. The most important part of the international framework protecting children is, however, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prescribes a set of rights owed to all children without discrimination and regardless of their status as an irregular migrant, smuggled migrant or victim of trafficking. Many domestic jurisdictions have implemented laws and measures ensuring that all children, including those smuggled and trafficked, receive a greater level of protection, consistent with their international legal obligations.

This Module provides an overview of children as smuggled migrants and victims of trafficking. First, it gives a summary of each phenomenon, including levels and patterns. It does so in the context of child migration more generally; all smuggled children and a significant proportion of trafficked children fall within the broader issue of children on the move. The fact that children are also trafficked without crossing borders is also noted.

The Module then proceeds to examine the protection of smuggled and trafficked children under international law. It examines the extent to which the Protocols against Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons address children, before setting out important rights contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some important international guidance and good practice is also referred to. Following this, the Module looks at how domestic jurisdictions should respond to the smuggling and trafficking of children, by giving an overview of important elements of such responses. The Module concludes by briefly considering situations where children are accused of smuggling and trafficking conduct and thus may be at risk of being subjected to the criminalization provisions of the Protocols. In this context, the non-criminalization principle is re-emphasized (see also Module 8) and some broader principles of specialized child justice are highlighted.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand levels and patterns of smuggling and trafficking of children, in the context of broader migration patterns
  • Analyse the causes of smuggling and trafficking of children and the special vulnerability of children
  • Identify the rights and protections granted to smuggled and trafficked children by the relevant international legal framework, in particular the Protocols and the binding Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Understand the elements of a best practice domestic response to protect smuggled and trafficked children, including:
    • Identification and age assessment
    • Best interests assessments and determinations
    • Guardianship
    • Child protection systems
    • Children in criminal proceedings
    • Durable solutions
  • Understand some of the issues that arise when children themselves are accused of committing smuggling and trafficking offences.
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