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Anti-child trafficking projects: Seven criteria to define 'good practice'

2010-02-23

Mike Dottridge, you are launching today your last report In pursuit of good practice in responses to child trafficking and you are describing the different experiences from Latin America, Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia. What are the main findings of the report?
Mike Dottridge: “I think there are three things to mention in particular. The first is a rather sideways interest in the way that the media reports about children who are trafficked have such a major impact and sometimes really distort what’s happening… Sometimes end up doing more damage than good, particularly when newspapers have published photographs of children that have been trafficked or revealed details about where they come from and so on… So a lot of bad side effects from media reports.

In Southeast Europe, the project led by Terre des hommes introduced a special system for analyzing particularly newspaper reports about children who have been trafficked. A sort of grading system that looks very specifically at the structure of newspaper articles, finding a way of measuring how objective they are, particularly looking whether photographs were used, how children were represented, whether the comments made by children themselves were taken into account. It’s really at the international level I would say that’s a real first. So that’s been something very interesting to see and of course then to follow up by trying to influence journalists and finding as usual that journalists are pleased to improve the quality of their reporting but the editors, the newspapers owners and so on are much more difficult to influence.
A second really important impact of this recent project has concerned some guidelines which were published already seven years ago by Unicef. This a set of guidelines for the protection of the rights of child victims of trafficking which were produced especially in Southeast Europe originally, which were hailed as very important but which in many countries were then put on a shelve and left. The last three years has seen, in the three countries involved in this project, efforts very much to take those Guidelines off the shelf and to take them to social workers or other people that are frontline workers in contact with children who have been trafficked, so that the standards for assisting and protecting those children are raised and they are genuinely protected, because unfortunately again in the past there have been ways used of trying to help children that have been so poor that they have actually done more harm than good.

The third aspect of this project I think it’s worth mentioning is that we had to look very hard at what is ‘good practice’ in an anti-child trafficking initiative. And we were not only looking at Southeast Europe but also in parts of Latin America and parts of Southeast Asia… So there really had to be some criteria that made sense at an international level. We came up with seven criteria – I won’t go into all the details – but it amounts to a sort of score card. I think that’s something that we have been lacking in the past; a lot of people have talked about good practice in ways of protecting children, and sometimes that’s used so loosely as to just imply that everything ‘my’ organization does is good and others aren’t quite as good.
Now we’ve tried to introduce a quite objective scoring system: have we understood why a particular method was successful or unsuccessful? Is it replicable? And if so what are the conditions in which it could be replicated in a different country or a different setting? And then very specifically what are its effects not only on the children who were supposed to benefit but on others close to them? Have we been able to check the side effects, the adverse effects? And that was the biggest challenge, that’s the thing is the most difficult to really do.
So those are just three aspects of what I think has been a very interesting experience both in Southeast Europe and the two other regions affected by this three-year project.”
What are the main recommendations of the report?
Mike Dottridge: “Well, the report ends with ten recommendations, some of them addressed to quite a wide audience of specialist organizations which design or finance initiatives to stop young people being trafficked. Some of them are more specific to Terre des hommes and its partners.
The very general one is a recommendation that says it is vital before any initiative to either prevent child trafficking or to assist children who have been trafficked, it is vital to collect information about the general patterns of child trafficking, child exploitation and abuse in the area concerned. Because those specifics are really important to inform any new initiatives. And one of the mistakes we have seen in some other areas outside of the framework of this project is well intentioned people going in and talking about child trafficking when they have failed to identify what is happening under their noses.
A second very general one is, in the context of protecting and assisting children who have already been trafficked, what we could see is a very specific experience in Philippines in East Asia, that children who have been trafficked were consulted there in quite a formal way when the Guidelines on the protection of the rights of children who have been trafficked were being adapted to the Philippines. That was very important out the principle, but also because definitively the guidelines became more useful for trafficked children once the views of some of them have been taken into account.
And then finally the very general level, it was a specific recommendation for Terre des hommes, but actually it applies to all of the organizations who are working in this field of child trafficking. It is important to develop appropriate methods for detecting both adverse effects and other unplanned side effects of activities to stop child trafficking, whether they are specifically experienced by children or by others in their communities. It’s clear to me that most initiatives are very positive, but sometimes where focusing too narrowly and not seeing that for example we are tarring some members of the community unjustifiably with an accusation of child trafficking or child abuse or something of that sort. And it is really important to take stock of those adverse effects of some anti trafficking projects.”
And more generally, as specialized on child trafficking for the past ten years, how do you see this phenomenon evolving?
Mike Dottridge: “A huge amount has been talked about on the issue of human trafficking in general, child trafficking in particular, a lot of money invested and it is quite difficult to see the tangible, practical results in some areas. At the international level, some bad things have been done, some lessons have now been learnt, so that’s positive. In some regions, there is a better understanding of what’s happening, thanks mainly to research often by non-governmental organizations, rather than thanks to police work. Because in some areas organizations were muddling cases of child trafficking and other situations in which children migrate to work. So there is a little bit more clarity.
In Europe there is still a remarkable level of confusion both about what cases constitute trafficking – particularly when children should be indentified as victims of trafficking – and how to tackle the problem. One reason that could be an ongoing confusion is because not nearly enough attention was being given to protecting children that were trafficked. So although Unicef drew up guidelines already six years ago, those are absent in every country in the European Union, even in most of the Council of Europe’s countries, in terms of practice. So there are some signs of improvement now thanks to a convention adopted by the Council of Europe back in 2005, which is now in force, which has put much more emphasis on the importance of protecting people who have been trafficked so that they are not re-trafficked, so that they are able to look after themselves again and restart their lives in a proper setting.
But, as I say, still a lot of confusion, we are still seeing for example children from Roma minorities particularly coming form Southeast Europe who are meeting a whole range of different policy responses in different countries in Western Europe. And I do rather scratch my head and wonder why, in a Europe which is supposed to be joined up and supposed to have a lot of coordination from Brussels and other places, why there seems to be such uncoordinated response… They are signs, I am happy to say that it’s improving, but, my goodness, the improvements have been infinitely slower than we all expected six or seven years ago.”