Abidjan, 26 November 2007 - At an international meeting on trafficking in children and armed conflict taking place from 26-28 November in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, urged governments of West and Central Africa to reduce the vulnerability of children to human trafficking.
Young victims of human trafficking can be found in many countries of the region: children - drugged, coerced, and forced to carry guns almost as big as themselves - become killers, child soldiers on the frontlines of savage conflicts; boys, with stones tied around their ankles, are forced to dive into dangerous waters to untangle nets (like on Lake Volta); girls, caught up in conflict, are forced into sex slavery; children, who should be at school, are working long hours in coco fields or in mines doing back-breaking work for almost nothing.
Mr. Costa warned that this crime has an impact far beyond the trauma suffered by these children, "for how can West Africa build a peaceful and prosperous future if its youth is being exploited, recycled, and scarred for life?"
Since many child soldiers are hooked on drugs, the UN's drugs chief underlined the need for drug treatment as an integral part of post-conflict rehabilitation.
He also stressed that more attention should be given to the plight of girls who are caught up in conflict situations because "they are twice as vulnerable: first, as victims of rape and sexual harassment perpetrated by armed groups; and second because they are seldom involved in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration processes, nor provided with special rehabilitation programmes". He pointed out that this misery is compounded by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases contracted as a result of being victims of human trafficking, leading to further stigmatization, trauma, and disease. "Let's make sure that victims of conflict do not become victims of trafficking", he said.
Noting that internally displaced people and refugees are highly vulnerable, Mr. Costa urged governments to make "extra efforts to ensure that safe havens do not become recruiting grounds for traffickers". He added that "it goes without saying that peacekeepers themselves should abstain from becoming part of the problem. The UN must show zero-tolerance for peacekeepers involved in sexual abuse and exploitation."
Mr. Costa appealed to the private sector in Africa, and doing business in Africa, to ensure that their supply chains and employment practices do not supporting human trafficking, warning that "your reputation is at stake".
He also urged consumers to use their purchasing power more forcefully: "do you really want to eat chocolate, drive on tires, or wear diamonds dripping with the blood and sweat of slave labour?"
To fight human trafficking, Mr. Costa called on all governments of West and Central Africa to implement the UN anti-trafficking Protocol which includes measures designed to criminalize human trafficking, prevent trafficking, prosecute the traffickers, and protect the victims. He also urged them to improve regional cooperation, and collect data on trafficking cases and trends so that policy is evidence-based.
During his visit to Cote d'Ivoire, Mr. Costa met with President Laurent Gbagbo and government ministers, and observed a basketball clinic against child trafficking and child soldiers in the former war-torn region of Bouake.
For the full text of Mr. Costa's speech see www.unodc.org
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