Ending the Trafficking of Children

Child trafficking, perpetuated by poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, lack of resources and weak policies, has become a growing concern in the state of Malawi.

Trafficking can take on many forms including labor exploitation, sexual exploitation, trafficking for organs, and exploitation through illegal activities, trafficking for adoption purposes and traffic related to early and forced marriages.

Regardless of which form it takes, child trafficking is considered by many to be a modern form of slavery.

It jeopardizes the education and development of children and fuels the vicious cycle of exploitation and poverty in the state of Malawi.

According to a report done by the University of Malawi’s Centre for Social Research, between 500 and 1,500 women and children are estimated to be victims of trafficking every year in Malawi.

Eye of the Child commissioned Millennium Centre for Research and Development (MCRD) to carry out a study on child trafficking in 2008.

According to this report, poverty, cheap labor and lack of parental support were thought to be the most prominent factors perpetuating child trafficking.

It was also discovered that 30% of victims are under the age of 13 while 70% are teenagers.

Despite the growing severity of the problem, Malawi, like other African countries, was lacking any strong legal structure to stop or punish offenders.

Of the 58 cases of child trafficking that were reported in this study, only 31% of the traffickers went to court. Of these 18 cases that were brought to court only 9 traffickers were convicted and sentenced. Clearly, reform was necessary.

A vague mention of child trafficking exists in the Child Care and Protection Act, however, this is the only reference to trafficking in Malawi legislation and it is too weak to truly protect children.

While it recognizes child trafficking as a punishable offense, the legislation provides no instruction on how to identify a victim and gives no protocol in regards to services that must be provided for victims.

Far from comprehensive, the law does little to address the growing problem of child trafficking.

Eye of the Child recognized this gap and knew policy change was needed if this practice was going to be eliminated.

However, when they approached the Minister about dedicating more government attention to combating this issue, his response was that there were not enough resources to create any new programs.

As a response, Eye of the Child founded the Malawi Network against Child Trafficking, or M-NACT, in 2007.

The goal was to create a unified front of stakeholders that would pool resources and work together to eliminate child trafficking.

Eye of the Child hoped that through the success of this network, they could eventually elicit federal support.

While M-NACT also focuses a large amount of energy on advocacy, like the rest of Eye of the Child, this particular program also relies on services that directly impact the lives of children.

The program focuses in six main areas: coordination, prevention and social mobilization, rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration, training and capacity building, and research and advocacy.

This six-pronged approach is not unique to child trafficking for it mirrors Eye of the Child’s model as a whole.

The organization builds awareness and mobilizes communities while simultaneously providing services for the victims and M-NACT is an illustrative example of this overarching philosophy on a smaller scale.

The first step in M-NACT’s plan to eliminate child trafficking involves coordination, partnership and monitoring.

Eye of the Child frequently works with other stakeholders in their projects and this becomes especially crucial in regards to the illegal transfer of children.

Child trafficking networks are complex and many cross borders so in order to effectively combat this it becomes imperative to expand and unite an even larger network of stakeholders.

Through M-NACT, Eye of the Child has allied themselves with Technical Working Group, Norwegian Church Aid, and Malawi Human Rights Commission, just to name a few. The different organizations convene annually for a meeting that discusses the most important issues at stake and to develop effective solutions for these issues. This collaboration is an important prerequisite to the network’s loftier goals.

M-NACT collects relevant information from all members, consolidates reports on annual activities and documents best practices.

Another important facet of M-NACT’s approach is prevention and social mobilization and an emphasis is given to both child participation and public education – two key components of Eye of the Child’s overall model. Here, a focus is given to the community and the goal is to build public awareness and organize the grassroots in a way that encourages participation from all the individuals with any level of local accountability.

Through M-NACT, Eye of the Child organized a series of youth open days, with the theme of child trafficking as well as held highway street sensitization campaigns.

The organization educates children in primary and secondary schools on the dangers of trafficking in addition to raising awareness among faith leaders.

This work on the community level is necessary if M-NACT wants any of their other efforts to have a lasting impact.

This emphasis is at the heart of Eye of the Child’s model and without building support and raising awareness the grassroots, the organization would have no framework from which to leverage its other efforts.

Once a solid foundation of collaboration and mobilization have been built, M-NACT needs to shift some of its focus onto building capacity within communities, and providing services that directly address issues of child trafficking.

This brings to light the third goal of M-NACT: Rescue, Rehabilitation and Reintegration. In a perfect world, the efforts of Eye of the Child and its partners will eventually eliminate child trafficking and strengthen communities in a way that overcomes this black-market phenomenon. However, Malawi is nowhere near that yet and Malawians need to be given the appropriate resources and services to cope.

They must be educated on how to access these services and empowered in a way that encourages them to seek help when needed.

Eye of the Child has become increasingly aware of families incapable or unwilling to employ help and aims to build up this capacity.

They have been conducting awareness campaigns on available facilities and trying to strengthen the level and breadth of services they provide for children.

Members of this network also engage in child rights monitoring, where they identify vulnerable children before they become victims. Members of M-NACT will identify a vulnerable child in an institution such as an orphanage and remove him/her from the unsafe environment.

Then, they will focus on empowering both the child and his/her community to eliminate temptations of returning to that unsafe environment. The child is reintegrated with his/her family and given the tools necessary to lead a life within their rights of health and safety.

These tools involve cash transfers, where the child’s family is provided sufficient funds for medical bills and food.

They are given packages containing school uniforms, supplies, blankets and fertilizer and farming tools, among other useful items.

The child is also supplied with vocational training and given life skills to promote eventual self-sufficiency.

Eye of the Child also provides family and community counseling sessions, through M-NACT, during the time the child is being reintegrated in his/her community. Then, follow-up and monitoring visits ensure difficulties don’t arise post-reintegration.

All of these services directly impact the lives of children. While Eye of the Child and M-NACT do not have the capacity to provide aid to every child in need, their goal is to act as an example for the government that should ultimately be responsible.

Eventually, these welfare services should be provided by the state of Malawi but in the meantime, M-NACT provides these rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration services to as many children as they are able to save.

Training and capacity building is yet another area of focus for M-NACT with the ultimate goal of developing the capacity, knowledge and skills of service providers in the fight against child trafficking.

Through these programs, individuals from many different levels of society receive both physical materials and education on how to best service victims of child trafficking.

Eye of the Child provides this type of training to police officers, immigration officers, magistrates, NGO staff, the media, faith institutions, community leaders and youth NGOs, with the hopes of building self-sufficient communities.

The more people that are given the tools to support the victims the more powerful community structures become in fighting the problem.

Research and advocacy is another important focus of M-NACT and just like for Eye of the Child as a whole, the emphasis on advocacy forms a bedrock for all other programs and activities.

M-NACT performs research to establish and update statistics on child trafficking.

It then uses this research to lobby for interventions and the enactment of policies and legislation against child trafficking in the state of Malawi.

In 2010, Eye of the Child coordinated a National survey for the Ministry of Gender, Child and Community Development to determine the magnitude and nature of child trafficking in Malawi as well as better document the current legal and policy framework in regards to the issue.

M-NACT then disseminates this research to stakeholders and organizes or attends stakeholder’s advocacy meetings.

A noteworthy example of one of these meetings was organized by Eye of the Child in 2010.

On November 30th, the organization invited stakeholders to an Annual General meeting where they discussed the trafficking of women and children before, after and during the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

At the end of the meeting delegates discussed action for law reform and development, training and capacity building, public education reforms and awareness, victim support, collaboration and future plans for research and advocacy.

M-NACT organizes many more meetings of this sort and uses research and advocacy to build support at the grassroots to change the way Malawi responds to child trafficking.

M-NACT has been successful in not only changing the way Malawians think about child trafficking but also in the way it has directly impacted children’s lives.

In total, 71 children have been rescued from child trafficking. Of these 71 cases, 3 were facing organ removal, 18 were able to escape child marriage, 12 were rescued from sexual abuse and the remaining children were rescued from child labor trafficking.

Eye of the Child hopes that the government will ultimately take responsibility for providing salvation to children like this.

With the creation of a network like M-NACT, EYC has proven to the government that a structure on the ground to combat trafficking is not only feasible, but also already in place. The organization has strategically included the Minister in all important M-NACT decisions and even made him the chair of the board.

This is consistent with their overall model of engaging beneficiaries at every step. He now has so much invested in the organization that he is in full support of its goals.

With his engagement, as well as countless other government officials that were also a part of the strategy, Eye of the Child has support within the government.

All the provisions and programs that have already been established through M-NACT are to be included in a bill that EYC will propose to Parliament.

The structure has already been implemented and internal government actors are in support of these structures.

The final step is concrete policy change and through the successful implementation of EYC’s bottom-up approach, this change is not far off.

In the meantime, the services directly provided through M-NACT are invaluable to victims of child trafficking and are slowly changing the status quo in Malawi.

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