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The exploited child : Despite a tre
Subject: The exploited child : Despite a treaty to protect children, enforcement is hollow and weak
The exploited child : Despite a treaty to protect children, enforcement
is hollow and weak
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1999
The exploited child
Despite a treaty to protect children, enforcement is hollow and weak
John J. Brandon
Twenty years ago, I checked into a hotel room in northern Thailand only
to discover a 14-year-old girl
sitting nervously on the bed. I assumed the hotel's management made a
mistake by giving me the
wrong key to a room that was already occupied. I quickly learned from
the desk clerk that this young
girl "came with the room." When I informed the clerk I was not
interested in having her stay with me, the
desk clerk quipped "the cost of the room is still the same."
This incident occurred 10 years before the inception of the United
Nation's Convention on the Rights of
the Child. The convention stipulates that member states must respect the
rights of the child to be
protected from economic and sexual exploitation and from performing
Although almost every nation in the world is signatory to this
convention, its enforcement has been
hollow and weak and has offered little remedy for the injustices
children throughout the world are
forced to endure.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately
250 million children between the
ages of 5 and 14 work in developing countries.
Almost two-thirds of the world's child workers are in Asian countries.
These children are often made to
work 10 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, in cramped and squalid
conditions in factories, on
construction sites, for domestic service, and in brothels. Under these
circumstances, children are
denied a basic education, their health tends to be poor, and they are
deprived of the chance to lead a
normal family life.
Since the start of the Asian financial crisis two years ago, children
have increasingly become involved
in dangerous and illegal activities.
The sale and trafficking of children across national borders by
organized networks for prostitution and
dangerous work in construction, factories, and domestic service are
worsening. The UN estimates
there are 1 million children in Asia involved in the sex trade, often
under conditions indistinguishable
from slavery. These children suffer extreme physical, psychological, and
emotional abuse, and are
exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Younger and
younger children are being
sought for the sex trade because of the erroneous, yet widespread,
belief that young children are likely
to be "AIDS free."
Compounding the problem, sex tourism and pornography involving young
girls and boys are
flourishing, especially on the Internet.
The number of children involved in drug trafficking is particularly
worrying. More and more children in
Thailand are trafficking amphetamines that are manufactured in Thailand
and Burma (also known as
Adult drug traders make use of children because they can be paid less
and, if they are caught, the
penalty will be lighter for them than for adults.
Children have worked for thousands of years. This may not be a bad thing
as long as children are able
to develop their own skills within the security of their family and
community in a safe, healthy,
environment where there is access to education.
Child labor becomes a serious problem when adult employment is lowest
and children are exploited
because they are the cheapest source of labor. Being more vulnerable
physically, children are more
apt to suffer serious work-related injuries and illnesses than adults
doing the same kind of work.
I sometimes think about what became of that young girl in the hotel room
20 years ago. Today she
would be in her mid-30s.
Perhaps she has been fortunate enough to turn her life around. However,
this woman may never have
escaped the cycle of poverty and exploitation. If she has children, it
is possible they may be suffering
from the same indignities she experienced two decades ago.
International organizations and governments have recognized the problem
of child labor and sexual
On Nov. 6, the US Senate ratified the ILO's "Worst Forms of Child Labor
which was unanimously approved in June by all 174 ILO members. However,
of political will to enforce existing international and domestic laws
If the menace of child labor is to be effectively addressed, people must
empowered at the community level. Because without empowerment at the
level, mechanisms to hold governments accountable to act decisively
labor and sexual exploitation will never develop.
If societies are unable to create the links between empowerment,
health, then millions of other children in Asia and elsewhere are
destined to have
lives that are voiceless, rootless, and futureless.
John J. Brandon, a Southeast Asia specialist, is The Asia Foundation's
assistant director in
Washington. The views expressed here are his own.
The rights of children
The 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of
the Child was Saturday. The
convention has been ratified by 191 countries, but not by the United
The following is a summary of the convention adapted from a Nov. 8
report by Save the Children titled
'Children's Rights: Reality of Rhetoric?' The convention incorporates
the spectrum of human rights -
civil, political, economic, social, and cultural - and sets out ways in
which these should be made
available to children. Among its provisions:
The definition of children as all persons less than 18 years of age,
unless the legal age of
majority in a country is lower.
Basic civil rights and freedoms, including the right to a name and
nationality, freedom of
expression, thought, and association, access to information, and the
right not to be subjected to
The right to live with parents, to be reunited with parents, and, if
that isn't possible, to have
appropriate alternative care.
Rights related to health and welfare, including the rights of
disabled children, the right to health
and health care, social security, child-care services, and an
adequate standard of living.
Rights to education, play, leisure, and participation in cultural
life and the arts.
Special protection measures covering the rights of refugee children
and those caught up in
armed conflicts, children in the juvenile justice system, children
deprived of their liberty, and
children suffering economic, sexual, or other exploitation.
The URL for this page is:
For further information:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child UNICEF