The United Nations Children's Fund is calling on governments in Europe and Central Asia to ratify three international treaties that the organization says are vital to efforts to combat trafficking in children. UNICEF's call comes ahead of a conference on child exploitation to be held in Hungary next week.
Representatives from 52 countries of Europe and Central Asia will meet in Budapest to prepare for the second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, which takes place in Yokahama, Japan next month. The government representatives, joined by officials from intergovernmental and private humanitarian groups, are meeting in Budapest to develop a strategy to combat sexual exploitation. The strategy will then be presented at the Yokohama meeting.
UNICEF's communications adviser, June Kane, says sexual exploitation of children will be a key issue at the conference.
"We found that, as some countries have managed to deal to some extent with the problem, children have been moved to other countries. And children now are being moved across borders to be exploited," she said. "The other big issue that we know we still have to deal with is the whole question of demand. We have been doing a lot of work to protect children, but we really have not got our act together in terms of actually doing something about the people who buy sex from children, that is, the client."
UNICEF officials say it is hard to get an exact figure on the number of people involved in the child sex trade, but it estimates that every day, more than one million children around the world are sold for sexual purposes. Ms. Kane says the problem is especially serious in Central and Eastern Europe.
"The nature of the transitional societies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the open borders in the West has meant that there are increasing numbers of children being trafficked from East to West for sexual purposes. And, in fact, organized crime is moving in on this is a big way."
UNICEF says poor, uneducated children from this region are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. It says children are under pressure to earn money. Many are enticed by opportunities for a better life offered in rich Western countries. UNICEF says this may make the children more vulnerable to pimps seeking to recruit them for the sex trade.