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This sections contains a database of documents on child trafficking. Users can research by title, author, editor/organization, type, topic, keywords, geographic descriptors and year of publication.
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Type of document: News
Topic: Evaluation
Geographic descriptors: Yemen
Language: English
Source: www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/5dde8e4137c3567c18fcd97571d639b4.htm
Date of publication: 08 December 2005
Long Abstract: YEMEN: Fears over increasing child trafficking

08 Dec 2005 09:01:08 GMT Source: IRIN

SANA, 8 December (IRIN) - "I was astonished when I saw a four-year old girl picked up by the police at the Saudi border," said Haitham al-Jubairi, director of social affairs and labour in the Hajja governorate, 120 km north of the capital, Sana.

He recounted how the girl's two "travelling companions" were arrested before his eyes after they were found to be trafficking children. They had made a deal with the girl's stepfather to take her to Saudi Arabia, where she could be used to beg for money. There are no reliable figures available on the numbers of children trafficked out of Yemen each year, but there are countless reports of children crossing into oil-rich Saudi Arabia – with or without the consent of their parents – to find opportunities to make money.

"The exact figure is difficult to ascertain because it's a clandestine business and the children don't go through official border checkpoints," said Naseem Ur-Rehman, communications coordinator with UNICEF in Sana. The lack of reliable data is compounded by the fact that Yemen does not have reliable systems for birth registration and the issuance of identity cards for children.

Remarkably, about 82 percent of child trafficking occurs with the consent of the child's parents, according to UNICEF. In almost 60 percent of cases, however, it is against the will of the child involved. In early 2004, Saudi authorities handed over 9,815 children to Yemeni authorities. Many of them had been found begging or were lost.

According to Ur-Rehman, the phenomenon must be confronted before it gets worse. "If we don't do anything about the problem today, it will become very serious," she said. She added that the children who managed to return to Yemen "often set examples for other children, who then also begin thinking about going and working outside". Most aid workers concede that crushing poverty is the overriding reason for the hazardous practice.

"Child trafficking is one of the consequences of people suffering from poverty," said Minister of Human Rights Amat al-Aleem al-Soswa at a recent conference addressing the issue. "If families were better off, parents wouldn't let their children go to places where they will be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation". "If we want a radical solution to this problem," she added, "we should fight poverty".

According to the latest World Bank report, 42 percent of Yemen's 19.7 million people live on less than US $2 per day, while unemployment rates for 2003 stood at 37 percent. The UN World Food Programme further notes that almost 8 percent of the Yemeni population experiences severe food insecurity. Trafficking of children is made tempting by the fact that three of the poorest governorates in the west of Yemen – Hajja, Hodiedah and Mahweet – lie close to the Saudi border. These areas generally suffer from high unemployment, poor living conditions, the inexistence of infrastructure and a lack of public services such as healthcare, water and electricity. Dangers of the trade Over a quarter of the children who have been deported back to Yemen by Saudi authorities say they faced hunger and physical violence while abroad. Some 65 percent of them ended up living on the streets or sleeping in mosques or abandoned buildings during the course of their travels, according to UNICEF.

Some found jobs cleaning cars or washing dishes, while a large number was forced to beg. Those who do find jobs are often unpaid, or forced to hand over their meager pay to their traffickers.

Children's biggest worry is being caught by Saudi border guards who often put them in jails with adult prisoners where they can face further abuse. In an effort to alleviate the problem, the Yemeni government, in cooperation with UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation, set up a reception centre this year at the Haradh border area, 400 km to the west of Sana, to receive the returnees. Since its launch in May, the centre has received 320 children, according to al-Jubairi.

Before the establishment of the centre, trafficked children had nowhere to go after being deported, and generally ended up in orphanages or on the street, according to UNICEF. "Now they are received, rehabilitated and given some education," said Ur-Rehman. Parents are also contacted by the social affairs and labour ministry and asked to collect their child – but only after signing an agreement pledging not to risk their lives again.

Legal action

Occasionally, if parents are found to have been particularly negligent, they are prosecuted, according to the ministry. Traffickers, if found, are always arrested and prosecuted, officials say.

The court of Hajja, for example, recently sentenced the parents of 13 children to a year in jail, while traffickers receive sentences of between three and five years in prison each. Social workers note that stiffer penalties serve to deter the practice noticeably. "It has tremendously reduced trafficking to Saudi Arabia," said al-Jubairi. "The number of children we're receiving at the centre is going down by 80 per cent."

In the meantime, a local state-run radio is broadcasting programmes for families aimed at raising awareness of the issue. Following recent debates on the subject, the Yemeni cabinet also announced its intention to present legislation to parliament aimed at criminalising the trafficking of children and determining suitable penalties for those responsible, said al-Jubairi.

But aid workers say not enough is being done to combat the illegal trade, which violates international law on child trafficking as well as illegal immigration. Despite Yemen's ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991, national law does not contain specific provisions on the sale of children, child prostitution and child trafficking, according to UNICEF. Aid workers note that the criminalisation of such practices is a key first step in combating them.

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