Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

Migrant children at risk of trafficking and exploitation as current protection systems fail them – UN experts

Anti-Trafficking Day

27 July 2017

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons - Sunday 30 July 2017

GENEVA (27 July 2017) – Current systems designed to protect migrant children are failing, leaving many at risk of trafficking, sale and other forms of exploitation, two United Nations human rights experts have warned.

“The mechanisms designed to protect children caught up in conflict or humanitarian crises are largely ineffective and do little to prevent the precarious situation these children find themselves in,” said Special Rapporteurs Maria Grazia Giammarinaro and Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, speaking ahead of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Sunday 30 July.

“So many children have died in conflict zones and along their perilous journey,” they said.

The experts warned that all children fleeing conflict, especially those traveling alone, are vulnerable to abuse of different kinds: sexual and labour exploitation including as a consequence of trafficking, being sold and being coerced into marriage, in their homes, communities, society or in places where migrants and/or refugees reside – including reception centres, refugee camps or informal settlements at source, transit and destination countries.

“We call on all States to step up their efforts to protect children on the move from trafficking, sale and other forms of exploitation,” they urged. “Children are disproportionately affected by conflicts and disasters, and those who have been separated from their families are particularly vulnerable.”

Boys as well as girls risk sexual exploitation, although the risks remain higher for girls, the experts noted.

“Current efforts to protect children are being hampered, among others by inaccurate identification of trafficked, sold or otherwise exploited children by insufficiently trained frontline workers and challenges in determining children’s ages and parentage,” they said.

“There is also limited capacity in camps to host children in specialized and separated facilities and lack of coordination between different actors working with them,” the experts said, based on the preliminary result of research they will present to the UN General Assembly in October 2017.

The two experts noted that, in spite of some promising practices, the systems now in use do not systematically consider the specific needs and the best interests of children, especially of separated or unaccompanied children who at times share their living spaces with adults in areas or camps that lack basic amenities.

“Many of these children are sexually exploited, providing additional evidence for the failure of existing protection system. Poverty is also forcing children to find dangerous ways to survive, they said.

“When children with little or no money live in limbo for long periods, they seek ways to earn money, either to survive where they are, or to enable them to continue their journeys.”

“Seeking such work puts them at greater risk of trafficking, sale and other forms of exploitation.”

The experts criticized States which continue to lock up migrant children, privileging rigid immigration policies above child protection policies. “The detention of children in irregular immigration situation can never be in their best interests as it constitutes a violation of their rights and is particularly detrimental to their wellbeing,” they said.

Regardless of the context, the stressed, States have the legal responsibility to identify, protect and provide family-based or family-like assistance to child victims of trafficking, sale and other forms of exploitation, or those at risk of exploitation in all circumstances - including in conflict and humanitarian crises.

“Assistance and protection measures should be child- and gender sensitive,” the human rights experts explained.

“Cooperation between host countries, international organizations and civil society organizations must also be strengthened to ensure the identification and protection of child victims and those at risk of exploitation,” the Special Rapporteurs concluded.

Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro (Italy) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014.

Ms. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (Netherlands) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2014.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further inquiries and media requests, please contact Selma Vadala  (+41 22 917 91 08 / [email protected] and [email protected] )

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Section (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]

Concerned about the world we live in? Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today. #Standup4humanrights and visit the web page at