As the world observes the annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the theme “Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind” highlights the alarming developments and trends identified by the latest UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons and calls on governments, law enforcement, and civil society to assess and enhance their efforts to strengthen prevention. While efforts to combat trafficking have made progress, there is still a vulnerable group that continues to suffer in silence: children living in institutions. The practice of trafficking within institutions poses a severe threat to children’s rights and denies them the family environment crucial for healthy development.
Many children find themselves in institutions due to poverty, disability, or discrimination, and these institutions are never in the best interest of the children. Profit is the perverse incentive of the institution’s business model. Once confined to institutions, children face exploitation, deprived of necessities like food, clothing and healthcare. Sadly, by contributing to institutions through donations and funding, unknowing individuals inadvertently perpetuate this cycle of exploitation.
Children living in institutions are often isolated from their extended family and wider community, with minimal contact with their families or caregivers. As their relatives and communities lack knowledge of their well-being, the demand for filling up institutions fuels the systematic recruitment of children, commonly known as ‘orphanage trafficking’. This dangerous trend involves recruiting children into residential care institutions solely for profit and exploitation, exacerbating the harmful nature of both trafficking and institutionalisation.
To break this vicious cycle, every child deserves the opportunity to grow up in a loving family. For children confined in institutions, efforts should focus on tracing their family members and providing the support necessary for their care. When reunification is not possible, creating new families through fostering and adoption ensures they can experience the love and safety they deserve.
As an advocate for care reform and the elimination of institutional care, One Child One Family-Hope and Homes for Children South Africa (OCOF HHCSA) is committed to supporting systematic change away from a reactive, rescue-and-remove child protection system to a pro-active, child-in-family-in-community based child protection system. We advocate for a child protection system that increases resilience and change-adaptability of families. We believe in raising awareness about child trafficking and encouraging the government to strengthen policies and national resource management for enhanced prevention, identification of victims, support for survivors, and an end to impunity.
OCOF HHCSA calls upon the government to eliminate institutionalisation of children and strengthen prevention measures against the institutionalisation of children, support vulnerable children in institutions, and transition towards a family and community-based system that prioritises prevention and early intervention programs. Together, we can put an end to the exploitation and injustice suffered by children in institutions and ensure that every child is protected and nurtured within safe and loving families.
Let us recommit to leaving no child behind and creating a future where no child remains a victim of trafficking within institutions.