Alliance 8.7 published the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery in 2017 in which it confirmed there to be approximately 40,000,000 people who were believed to be affected by modern slavery in 2016. There is currently thought to be 152 ,000,000 children suffering from exploitation. Modern slavery is the term referred to when discussing exploitation whereby the victim is unable to say no to what is being demanded of him or her, or cannot leave due to the exploiter threatening them, deceiving them, being violent towards them, using their position of power against them or coercing them. This definition includes exploitation with the private economy sector, including forcing the victim into marriage, child exploitation and sexual exploitation of children and adults for money.
The Covid-19 pandemic is having a real impact on people’s lives and their livelihoods as a result of the effect it has had on the economic and labour market. This is reportedly the worst global crisis since the Second World War. The International Labour Organisation estimates that almost half of the worldwide workforce is at risk. Workers in the informal sector have been hit the hardest, suffering huge limitations on their capacity to earn a living. This has resulted in an increase in people’s vulnerability be exploited. Migrant workers, women and children are in the highest risk categories.
Focusing on child exploitation, the United Nations General Assembly declared that 2021 is to be the year by which child exploitation will be eliminated. Point 8.7 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aims to immediately put in place provisions to end human trafficking, forced labour and modern slavery and to prohibit and eliminate the severest forms of child exploitation, to include recruiting children as soldiers, and to eradicate child labour entirely by 2025
What types of child exploitation fall within the definition of modern slavery?
Exploitation of children by forced labour is “work which deprives children of their childhood in general, their potential and dignity and which is harmful to both their mental and physical health”. It refers to work which is mentally, physically, morally or socially dangerous to children and/or interferes with their schooling by denying them the opportunity to attend school, forcing them to leave school early; or obliging them to combine attending school with unreasonably hard work or long hours.
The severest types of child exploitation, according to the ILO, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), Article 3 are slavery including treating the child as though they were property, selling and/or trafficking, serfdom, debt bondage where the child is given to an exploiter to settle a debt, sexual exploitation of children through prostitution or pornography, forced labour, or using the child for illicit activities such as drug trafficking
Exploitation by organised criminal networks is emerging, such as using children in forced begging. There are street children , those who have run away, and children living in poverty who are used by organised gangs too. Another form of emerging exploitation of children is orphanage trafficking where criminal networks set up orphanages as a front to obtain profits and the children are taken from their family, potentially sexually abused or forced to work or beg. Some may be sold for illegal adoption.
Covid 19 has had a real impact on those who are subjected to human trafficking. There is also the impact of quarantine and the risk of re-victimisation.
There are undocumented migrants living in informal settings with no access to social services or healthcare who are unable to protect their own health and that of their families. More important than the social consequences of Covid 19, since the opportunities to earn money are decreasing, exploited people are no longer able to meet the expectations of their exploiters who are turning to more violent methods to coerce them, especially where the abuse is sexual, where women and girls are the most likely victims.
Due to the quarantine, many victims were trapped in countries where they were exploited without the chance to complete the migration efforts they had embarked on, which is also the case for many youngsters trying to reach their families, caught up in transit countries and being exploited sexually, made to work or engage in criminal pursuits or obliged to partake in organised begging..
What should governments do to address child labour after the pandemic?
The formula used in trafficking against persons is one of protection, prevention and prosecution. When the government is addressing the question of modern slavery after the pandemic, the formula should be reflected in their deliberations. In terms of protection more should be done to identify victims, more support should be made available and more robust systems need to be put in place to protect children.
With regard to prevention, there should be measures in place to increase awareness of children’s rights in our society and the school curriculum should include education about issues such as modern slavery. In respect of prosecution, we need to have more vigorous systems of investigation, there needs to be better training of police officers and sentences that would be more of a deterrent.
Finally, there should also be the introduction of corporate criminal liability where the exploiters are hiding behind a corporation which uses child exploitation in their supply chains.