Protecting Girls

Marking the International Day of the Girl Child (October 14), the Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons decries the added vulnerabilities of girls to trafficking during the COVID crisis.

Twenty-five years ago at the Fourth World Conference on Women, the United Nations unanimously adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which has since served as the blueprint for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls.  The inclusion of Section “L”, the Girl Child, as one of the twelve critical areas of concern was an important recognition that there are impediments and challenges in the lives of girls that must be addressed differently from  those faced by women or boys.

Section “L” – “Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl-child” puts forward eight strategic objectives with a series of concrete actions needed to be taken by governments, the UN, and civil society to eliminate obstacles to the full enjoyment of their human rights.  Strategic objective  L.7 (d) says: Eradicate violence against the girl-child stresses the enactment and enforcement of legislation protecting girls from sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child prostitution and child pornography.

In the ensuing twenty-five years, there have been many advances in empowering the lives of girls, especially in expanding education and better health, but violence against girls has changed little or gotten worse. Gender equality between girls and boys and in homes, schools, communities and beyond does not exist in much of the world where a girl’s value is in her labor, her dowry or the price she will bring for sexual exploitation.

According to statistics from the ILO (2017), there are nearly five million victims of forced sexual exploitation and women and girls comprise 99% of that number. There are an additional four million victims of other forms of forced labor, women and girls make up 58% of them.  The UNODC 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons (data collected from 142 member states) states that girls make up 23% of all trafficking victims. Of that number, seventy-two percent are victims of sexual exploitation, twenty-one percent of forced labor and seven percent other types of exploitation.

Human trafficking is one of the most profitable illicit crimes worldwide with an annual estimated  $150 billion business  These statistics are widely considered underestimates. suggests that only about .04% of survivors of human trafficking are identified.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the issues that put girls at risk of being trafficked-poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse and violence, migration, armed conflict -and human trafficking itself in many forms, including through domestic work and online exploitation. At the same time, the UN and national governments have had to divert their often limited resources away from initiatives to identify, prevent and protect against human trafficking and toward the health crisis instead. Many frontline services for victims and survivors of human trafficking are suffering from economic uncertainty and are hindered by dealing with risk factors.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged governments to put women and girls-their rights, inclusion, representation and protection- in the forefront of their actions to tackle and recover from the COVID pandemic. He stated that the pandemic has already reversed decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights and we must prevent “years, even generations, of progress from being lost.”

Human trafficking is a result of the failure of our societies and economies to protect the most vulnerable and enforce rights under national laws (UNODC). On the International Day of the Girl and in these precarious times, let us prioritize the protection of girls from  human trafficking so they have equal opportunity and agency to exercise their capabilities and meet their full potential.