CEDAW Emphasises Its Concern over Trafficking in Women and Girls

CEDAW Emphasises Its Concern over Trafficking in Women and Girls

[Dr Melanie O’Brien is a Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. She attended the CEDAW session as a delegate of the American Society of International Law.]

The 52nd session of the Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) celebrated 30 years of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (the Convention). During the session, CEDAW considered the state reports of the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guyana, Indonesia, Jamaica, New Zealand, Mexico, and Samoa. The Committee addressed many issues including access to healthcare, access to justice, abortion, education, LGBT concerns, marital and divorce rights, migrant and domestic workers, minority groups (e.g. Roma; rural women), prostitution, and violence against women. However, two issues in particular were emphasised: participation of women in politics, and trafficking of women and girls. The former was the focus of the introductory event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Convention, as well as considered in the state reporting. Trafficking in women and girls received attention through the state reporting, but was also the topic of a special event held on the final day of the public part of the session.

Trafficking is of serious concern to CEDAW, as nearly 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. The majority of perpetrators are male. Sexual exploitation (79%) is by far the most commonly identified form of trafficking in persons, followed by forced labor (18%). [All statistics from the UNODC 2009 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.] Due to the bias against women as victims, CEDAW identifies trafficking in persons (TIP) as a form of gender-based violence. TIP also amounts to organised crime and is a violation of human rights. CEDAW is at the forefront of combating TIP through Article 6 of the Convention, which requires States Parties to “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”. Through this, the Committee is keen to inform states and the UN on national law, implementation of national activities and plan, the existence of shelters for victims, measures to address root causes of TIP, numbers of prosecutions, and training/awareness raising of law enforcement personnel and the judiciary. CEDAW also interacts with civil society, through non-governmental and other organisations, to explore ways and means of helping states address TIP concerns.

Throughout the consideration of state party reports, CEDAW assessed states’ actions in combating and prosecuting TIP, including what safeguards are in place so that victims are not prosecuted, legislation prohibiting TIP, labour regulations, specialised law enforcement teams, and protection of victims through means such as access to justice, healthcare, and shelters. For example, the discussion with the Bulgarian delegation engaged with the Bulgarian public campaign for the prevention of labour exploitation, which is developed and disseminated through print, audio, online, and video materials, including to the Roma population, which is a high risk group for TIP. In 2011, Bulgaria created a National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Persons, and has established a special criminal court dealing specifically with cases committed by organised crime, including TIP. Statistics demonstrate that the number of prosecutions for TIP are increasing in Bulgaria. In the past two years, Bulgaria has coordinated investigations and prosecutions with other European states, resulting in a number of convictions with sentences ranging from 1 year 2 months to 12 years plus substantial fines of up to EUR30,000 (for victims’ compensation).

Another state that received substantial attention to TIP was Jamaica, which is a target state due to its location in the Caribbean, close to North, Central and South America, as well as being an island nation. The delegation admitted that Jamaica has major challenges where TIP is concerned. Prosecution of perpetrators is low, and the number of shelters available for victims is inadequate. The state has appointed a DPP special prosecutor as chief prosecutor for TIP cases, but in many cases, the prosecution is frustrated. This is for a variety of reasons: victims are not willing to testify because of fear of reprisals from perpetrators; arrested perpetrators abscond on bail; defendants changing lawyers to frustrate the process and lengthen the proceedings; and the jury simply finding insufficient evidence to convict. Jamaica is in the process of amending the Evidence Act in order to enable victims to give video depositions and testimony, a change which should overcome the hurdles of insufficient evidence and victims’ fear of reprisals. To address the challenges, the Jamaican government has put together a team at cabinet level to examine TIP and seek additional funding for combating TIP, training police, identifying victims, and prosecuting perpetrators.

The TIP event held at the end of the session highlighted some specific TIP concerns. Dr. Mohamed Mattar pointed out that the Convention’s Article 6 is like an enforcement mechanism for the Palermo Protocol, as the Palermo Protocol has no enforcement mechanism itself.  He also emphasised the importance of relevant ILO conventions, which can help with regulating industries like domestic work, which can in turn help prevent the flow of trafficked persons through effective regulation that discourages illegal employment conditions. Mattar promoted the ‘Five Ps’ that states need to apply: protection, prevention, prosecution, participation, and provision.

Denise Scotto, a US attorney, and Julie Tanner, of Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), drew attention to corporate responsibility with regard to TIP. Scotto honed in on the responsibility of the tourism and travel industries, and the increasing level of interest about TIP and responsible corporate management. Many companies have access to resources greater than the GDP of some states. Other than sex tour companies, businesses at risk of involvement in TIP include media outlets, travel agencies and advertisers. The UN World Tourism Organisation recently developed a Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism. A number of large companies such as Carlson Companies (Radisson, Wyndham), Sabre Holdings, Activity International, Delta, and Real Hospitality Group, are signatories to the code of conduct. Airline Ambassadors International has created a training program for flight attendants to identify victims travelling on aircraft. Major airports are also conducting such training. Scotto recommended that CEDAW and other relevant organisation bodies draw attention about TIP to ministries of sport and tourism, engage with the UN World Tourism Association, and urge states to develop and implement a national action plan as well as laws against sex tourism.

Tanner highlighted the problematic aspect of businesses having complex supply chains with a vast amount of employees and resources, enabling organised criminal conduct under the guise of legitimate business. Companies need to proactively develop human resources policies that specifically address TIP, and integrate this into their business plans. Companies should also disclose publicly the actions that they are taking with regards to combating TIP. There are groups of organisations, such as the Inter-faith Centre on Corporate Responsibility, that work together to hold companies and their portfolio accountable for any instances of TIP, ensuring corporate responsibility. Both Scotto and Tanner emphasised the importance of responsibility around the organisation of major sporting events such as the Olympics. This can be carried out through awareness raising amongst major companies like Coke and McDonald’s; encouraging hotel chains to sign the code of conduct; and encouraging sponsors to train employees, monitor supply chains and adjust hiring practices.

The 52nd session of CEDAW thus demonstrated that TIP, particularly women and girls, remains a significant problem worldwide, with tens of thousands of victims annually. Geographical location is no guarantee against trafficking, with landlocked and island nations susceptible to being source, transit or destination states.  Trafficking can also impact developed and developing nations, be enacted by organised crime groups or through the use of companies. It therefore has the potential to impact any of us through interaction with perpetrators, facilitators or victims. As a result, it will remain high on the agenda of CEDAW to combat, punish, and hopefully eventually eliminate.

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International Human Rights Law, Organizations
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