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Defeating Modern Day Slavery - Protecting the most vulnerable children at home and abroad

Defeating Modern Day Slavery

Protecting the most vulnerable children at home and abroad

Yesterday, at the Conservative Party Conference, we hosted a panel discussion: Defeating Modern Day Slavery - Protecting the most vulnerable children at home and abroad. This is the first of a series of events that we will be organising to bring together experts, practitioners and policy makers to discuss the most effective responses to tackling modern slavery in fragile settings and humanitarian contexts.

We were particularly delighted to have Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP on the panel, whose government departments (DFID and the FCO) are leading, with the Home Office, cross-government efforts to protect the most vulnerable from modern slavery in the UK and overseas. Mr Burt was joined by other modern slavery experts from the Walk Free Foundation, the International Organization for Migration, along with Jeremy Lefroy MP and Simon Bishop from Plan International UK.

What is modern slavery?

Modern day slavery is deeply political and social human rights issue that is caused by, and perpetuates, poverty and exclusion. While there is no internationally agreed definition, modern slavery encompasses a number of forms of exploitation that includes, but is not limited to; human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced or bonded labour, domestic servitude and child, early and forced marriage.

Women and girls most affected

Whilst anyone can be forced, coerced or deceived into modern slavery, those most at risk are women and girls. Women and girls make up 71% of victims of forced labour and forced marriage. Girls account for 20 per cent of all victims of trafficking, compared to boys who make up eight per cent, and 15 million girls are married each year before the age of 18. These girls are isolated and hard to reach. Many are routinely abused and exploited and are very vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Aicha in Togo, supported by Plan's anti-trafficking programme
Thousands of young girls, suc as 16 year old Aicha are trafficked from villages in Togo to work as unpaid domestic servants. Aicha is now receiving support as part of an anti-trafficking programme with Plan International

Modern slavery is exacerbated in times of crisis

The conditions associated with conflict and disasters such as displacement, the breakdown of support networks and communities and family separation further increase girls’ vulnerability to modern slavery. As humanitarian situations often amplify pre-existing levels of gender inequality, poverty and human rights violations, including modern slavery, girls are often most affected.

Adolescent girls are often left behind

Despite their increased vulnerabilities in times of crisis, their age and gender often means that adolescent girls are often left behind in the international community’s response. There is currently a lack of knowledge and resources dedicated to addressing the root causes, drivers, and risk factors that make adolescent girls especially vulnerable to modern slavery in emergencies.

Domestic workers meeting to learn about their issues and rights
Girls and women in Islamabad, Pakistan recieve little education so take on low paid domestic work where they have little rights. With Plan International's help the women learn about their rights and have formed a Domestic Workers Union.

So what should we do about this problem?

The answers are not easy, not least because defeating modern slavery requires a long-term, holistic and systemic approach to prevention and response. It requires comprehensive efforts to strengthen legal and policy measures, ensuring that victims are protected and perpetrators prosecuted.

While legal and punitive measures are important tools, the most effective means to address modern slavery will be through strong partnerships that take preventative approaches. Governments, civil society, the private sector and UN agencies must work together to develop programmes that address the root causes, drivers, and risk factors that make girls and boys especially vulnerable.

To do so, programmes must be designed through a life-cycle approach, with gender and age components that link to longer-term programming on social norm change, gender equality, and violence against women and girls.

Strategies that address poverty and unequal gender roles and involve whole community approaches to empowerment and resilience-building, are also critical interventions to prevent and protect children from modern slavery.

Galvanising international action

Achieving this will require additional resources and political will, building on recent progress such as the Call to Action to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that was spearheaded by the UK government at the UN General Assembly last week.

As Plan International UK, we see the forthcoming UK government-hosted Commonwealth Summit as a golden opportunity to catalyse international action on modern slavery.

We are determined to work with the UK and other governments to secure clear, measurable and gender-sensitive commitments in the outcome statement that will set out relevant and critical actions that could be taken by those countries to prevent and respond to modern slavery. The event that we held yesterday was the first step on our journey to achieving this.