In our research, first, we will examine what has been done, from the global perspective, to solve the problem of slavery and the exploitation of children by international organizations. Then we will consider the reasons why it appeared to be extremely difficult to combat the problems and why the organizations’ efforts did not reach the expected results; we will talk about the role of the enforcement. We will further talk over the phenomenon of slavery and the response of global community to it. Then our discussion will be aimed at sexual exploitation of children and efforts to cure this ‘cancer’ of the society both in the developing and developed countries. We will consider the nature, reasons and the consequences of this problem. This consideration will give us a picture why the legal measures intended to stop child sexual exploitation have thus failed to accomplish their intended results. Then we will come to some ideas which will show how the social problems of child slavery and sexual exploitation of children could be solved more effectively.
Slavery and child exploitation are primary issues in international relations today; the subject embraces many controversies, including state sovereignty, economic development, trade globalization, international labor rights, cultural sovereignty, poverty, racism, and inequality. Indeed, evolving international human rights laws support the claim that every society has an obligation to respect every human being within its control, especially children. Unfortunately, the legal measures adopted by such international law organizations such as the United Nations to combat child slavery and the sexual exploitation of children have failed to achieve marked success in attacking the problems.
Much has been done to solve the problem of slavery and the sexual exploitation of children. In December 1999, the United States approved the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The Convention was meant to protect children under the age of eighteen and defines the worst forms of child labor as slavery, prostitution, and any work likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. The Convention required ratifying countries to take immediate and effective measures to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child exploitation by designing and implementing programs for enforcement, monitoring, sanctions, prevention, and child removal, rehabilitation and social integration (Arden 36-37).
More significantly, the Convention declared that some of the worst forms of child exploitation were covered by other international instruments such as the Forced Labor Convention of 1930 and the 1956 United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Because the prohibition of slavery has been a rule of customary international law for over a century, as well as an authoritative norm prevailing over all other forms of international law, many of the child labor practices, carried out around the globe, were also prohibited by customary international law (Arden 38).
Making steps towards children rights development, in November 1989, the United Nations General Assembly also accepted a landmark international instrument: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”). The CRC is the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history – it has been ratified by every country in the world except two. Under the provisions of the CRC, any labor that interferes with a child’s right to participation in family life is prohibited as harmful. By recognizing children’s rights, the Convention established the prohibition of child labor (McElduff & Veiga 41-43).
Because of its near-universal reception by the society of nations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child had to bring awareness to children’s rights by establishing obligations for the proscription of child labor. Currently, the CRC requires states to provide effective remedies and stronger monitoring of child labor. The creation of a body of international human rights law is the role of the United Nations, and the Charter’s employment provisions clearly apply to child laborers. When child laborers are prevented from achieving economic and social development, the principles of United Nations Charter have been offended.
Generally, widespread international concern for working children has compelled foreign governments to protect children through legislation. Unfortunately, lacking adequate enforcement and supervision, some child labor laws were found practically powerless. For example, in some developing countries, laws protecting children are promulgated but not enforced, primarily because child labor is already a structural part of the economy. Likewise, in the poorest countries, families put their children to work out of necessity. The children’s insufficient earnings help provide basic food and medicine for themselves and younger sisters and brothers. The sentiment that the children need to work to survive is reflected by foreign labor inspectorates’ reluctance to discourage the practice of child labor when it is discovered.
Additionally, foreign labor ministries are usually understaffed and lack resources to combat the problem of child slavery and the sexual exploitation of children. Inspectors are poorly trained, and their low pay makes them easily corruptible. Unfortunately, when inspectors do attempt to enforce child labor laws, they are often faced with public indifference, hostility from powerful economic interest groups, and parents’ reluctance to cooperate. Furthermore, enforcement is often impeded because employers regularly receive advance warning of visits by inspectors, who are usually residents of the area. When violations are reported and charges are brought, judicial responses are often slow and inadequate (Daniels 29-31). Despite the recent proliferation of human rights conventions, current legislation, and international labor agreements that address labor problems, child exploitation practices continue to flourish throughout the world. United Nations instruments and developments had to convert child abuse into violations of international law. But lacking adequate enforcement makes them powerless.
The conditions under which some children work constitute slavery and are universally condemned. Slavery is not merely a historical concept or bad memory; to children that labor under compulsion, slavery is alive and well. For example, the Indian carpet making industry compels nearly 300,000 children under age thirteen to work in bondage or under conditions that approximate slavery. Employers find it easier to enslave children than adults because children are inherently weaker and more easily manipulated through scare tactics and discipline (Ehrenberg 17). As with the classic slavery model, the fear of punishment keeps children working up to eleven hours a day, seven days a week and minor mistakes are severely punished. The children in the Indian carpet industry are often beaten into submission, branded with red hot irons, and even hung from trees upside down to gain their compliance. It is clear that the lack of choice on behalf of child laborers and the threatening tactics of some employers are equivalent to slavery – a practice that has been universally condemned.
Further, the enslavement of children is easy because children lack political strength. Employers know they risk little by violating children’s rights because the children’s own domestic governments have historically ignored their plight. However, this form of exploitation is equivalent to slavery, and as such; it is prohibited by customary international law. The prohibition of slavery is a peremptory norm and universally proscribed. As all nations have an interest in preventing slavery, all of mankind has a duty to seek out and punish its practitioners (Mill 112-114).
The growing trend towards global economic integration has created a need for more labor protections, especially for children. Despite corporate codes of conduct, trade accords aimed at labor abuses, and the efforts of international organizations like ILO and UNICEF, achieving global labor reform is extremely difficult. Where legislation and international agreements are concerned, stronger enforcement mechanisms are essential to reduce or help eliminate the problem of child labor (Mill 115). Unfortunately, child labor laws and treaty accords are found virtually useless because of enforcement difficulties. Most international laws are expensive and difficult to enforce; yet these efforts do not provoke the same intense cynicism as that aimed at child labor reform. Lacking a strong lobby, the problems associated with the enforcement of child labor laws will not be adequately addressed through treaties and additional legislation. Without the political and economic resources of the corporate lobby, the incidence of exploitative child labor will not be diminished.
As the response to the fact of children exploitation, there has been considerable movement in the international community towards elevating child labor practices to the level of customary international law. Due to the emerging patterns of accepted practice and expectation – as evidenced by judicial opinions, human rights conventions, United Nations declarations, and secondary materials – the prohibition of child labor arguably has attained the status of customary international law. Indeed, the worst forms of child abuse as child slavery and the sexual exploitation are therefore crimes against humanity. That is, child labor is a breach of those obligations that are owed to humanity. As customary international law, child labor prohibitions are universal, obligatory, and binding on all nations and individuals (Ehrenberg 21-22).
Among the worst forms of child exploitation, besides labor exploitation, is also sexual one. Over the past decade, the U.S. has publicly recognized the severity of the problem of child sexual exploitation on a global level and has undertaken measures designed to help solve the problem. In 1994, President Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, better known as the Crime Bill. The legislation included a provision, referred to as the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act, which made it a criminal offense to travel abroad for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with a minor.
In June 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Sex Tourism Prohibition Improvement Act of 2002, declaring the bill would “close significant loopholes” in the existing law. Certain provisions included in this bill became law in April 2003, when President George W. Bush signed the Protect Act. In addition, in December 2002, the U.S. became the forty-second country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000, the Optional Protocol is the first instrument of international law to provide a framework for the criminalization of the actions of child sex abusers on a global level (Hernes 28-36).
Through its legislative efforts and support for the Optional Protocol, the U.S. has taken steps to acknowledge the gravity of the global problem of child sexual exploitation, as well as the complicity of U.S. citizens in its maintenance. However, recognition of the severity of the problem, although an important development, is only the first step in the process of addressing child sexual exploitation in a meaningful and effective way. Since its passage in 1994, the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act has resulted in few actual prosecutions of U.S. nationals who traveled abroad for the purpose of committing sex crimes against minors. Other countries, some with comparable extra-territorial legislation and some with more comprehensive laws, have encountered, as it was already mentioned, low levels of enforcement (Hernes 37-39).
Although the breadth of the child sex industry is difficult to measure, reasons why children are drawn into it are more easily discernable. Money is almost always at the root of the problem. Most children who are coerced or lured into the sex industry come from extremely poor, rural areas, where one daughter’s earnings as a prostitute could support an entire family. Some children are knowingly sold into prostitution by their parents, while others are duped into separating from their families based on the false promises of recruiters who offer aid in securing legitimate employment for the child only to market that child into the sex industry for personal profit. Significant numbers of children are abducted either forcibly or based on false promises, trafficked across national lines, and coerced into engaging in sexual activity for the profit of others (Nelson 25-27).
It is difficult to over judge bad consequences of sexual exploitation for children. Although many abusers seek out children believing them to be free of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, children are actually at a greater risk of contracting infections because their body tissue is more fragile than that of adults. Additionally, young prostitutes are less likely to be in a position to enforce the practice of safe sex with uncooperative customers. The U.N. estimates that more than fifty percent of new HIV infections worldwide are occurring in people between the ages of fifteen to twenty-four, and ten percent of infections are being transmitted to children under the age of fifteen. Furthermore, prostituted children experience high rates of other sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, crabs, gonorrhea and syphilis (Hemingway 31-32).
The major reason why it is extremely difficult to combat with child exploitation is that it is big business, generating billions of dollars in income each year for traffickers, pimps, tourism promoters and the owners of brothels, hotels and bars. While many countries have long had youthful prostitutes, the advent of air travel and sophisticated communications technologies has brought new dimensions and scope to the problem. A girl from a remote hill tribe in Thailand may be kidnapped by (or sold by her parents to) a procurer who supplies bars and brothels in the major tourist cities. These establishments eater to the sexual demands of military, personnel on leave, tourists, businessmen or pedophiles from the U.S., Japan and Western Europe (Daniels 35-37). The demands of residents in the developed countries are often met by powerless people in less-developed nations. Just as sweatshop workers are compensated at a small fraction of the price goods are sold for, young sex workers receive a very small part of the price paid by the buyer.
For many sexually exploited children, life is a battleground that involves constant physical and psychological abuse. They are targets for rape, assault, torture, abuse and murder by traffickers, pimps, and customers. They are, more often than not, poorly fed, inadequately sheltered and prime candidates for malnutrition. Not surprisingly, researchers report that children, who are subjected to inappropriate sexual attention at an early age experience acute psychological harm, often resulting in symptoms such as depression, lack of self esteem and posttraumatic stress disorder. Suicide is a common escape for sexually exploited children (Hemingway 34).
Legislation makes it a crime for a citizen to engage in sexual intercourse with a child under the age of sixteen in a foreign country. Evidence admissible in court for the purposes of establishing the age of the victim includes the child’s appearance, medical or scientific opinion and foreign medical records. But again, the accused may be entitled to a complete defense if he or she can convince the jury that the commission of the crime was based on a reasonable belief that the victim was above the age of sixteen. One way to solve the problem is to solidly consider labor exploitation or sex relations with less than sixteen year old person to be a crime, without consideration of reasonability of age belief held by the accused.
For developing countries, the big increase in the sexual exploitation of children is due to a complex of factors. As we already mentioned, impoverished families no longer able to get by on subsistence farming turn to selling their female children to procurers. Lack of educational or job opportunities contribute to families’ decisions to put their daughters on the market. Families are also tricked into letting their children be taken away. They are told their daughters will work at well-paying legitimate businesses that will enable them to help support their families. Once they leave home, these girls may never be heard from again. Those who do not speak the language of the city or country where they wind up are particularly vulnerable and unable to extricate themselves from their situations. This way, it can be noticed that proper education can solves greater part of the problem, from one side decreasing probability of being tricked, from the other giving an opportunity to find a proper job in the future.
Generally, solving the problem of child slavery and the sexual exploitation of children can be found to be more political issue in the pure countries. Corrupted governance is usually interested in keeping people pure and uneducated in order to have power, control and making great amounts of money. And the core of the problem is that it is a part of the economy, which makes the problem difficult to solve.
In conclusion, it can be said that it might not be quite the time to emphasize legal measures for the problem resolution in developing countries where the child exploitation practices are more often practiced. People have to be provided with educational opportunities first to know about their human rights, create new job openings and finally be more competitive at the labor market. It can be more effective way toward the solution. Social awareness, which comes with education, can lead to the needed enforcement and eventually to democracy – condition when legal measures can work for everyone. It might be the way which can give families and their members more choice and possibilities to arrange their well-being and, eventually, create their lives.
Arden, H. Combating the Most Intolerable Forms of Child Labor: A Global Challenge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Daniels, R. Child Exploitation in the Modern World, Review. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2002.
Ehrenberg, D. The Labor Link: Applying the International Political System to Enforce Violations of Child Labor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Hemingway, H. Sexual exploitation of children: consequences. Presswire 20 April 2003: 31-34.
Hernes, H. United States: legal measures against child exploitation. Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 2003.
McElduff, T. & Veiga, J. The Child Labor Deterrence: Convention on the Rights of the Child. Amsterdam: St. Johns Press, 1999.
Mill, R. Child Labor: Targeting the Intolerable. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Nelson, T. Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. USA Today 10 November 2002: 25-27.