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The President of the Republic of Finland: Speeches and Interviews

The President of the Republic of Finland
Speeches, 6/2/2003

Contribution by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at a conference of experts dealing with child trafficking in the Baltic Sea region "Stop Child Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery" in Helsinki on 2.6.2003

The peoples of the world have together pledged to make the rights of the child the focus of very special attention. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most-widely adopted conventions of all.

It is self-evident to all of us that children need special protection because they are so vulnerable. We adults must remember that children themselves are not able to ensure that their rights are implemented. That is a task for us grown-ups. The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that children’s needs must always be accorded priority in both national and international decision making. Nevertheless, this emphatic international protection has not prevented violations of children’s rights from being constant and common in practice. These matters featured centrally at the Children’s Summit in New York in spring 2002. I want to thank you, distinguished conference participants, for having grasped the issue of child trafficking, which is one of the most serious violations of the rights of children.

Marginalisation of women and wrong attitudes to gender roles expose women and children to the danger of falling victim to human trafficking. At the same time and partly for the same reasons, women and children are also more likely to suffer physical abuse and discrimination in the various stages of human trafficking. By far the greatest part of human trafficking is associated with prostitution and other aspects of the sex trade. Thus violation of women’s rights is in part both a cause of child trafficking and a consequence of it.

A question often asked is how many children fall victim to trafficking here in our own Baltic Sea Region. To be frank, we do not know exactly. Researchers trying to compile data have had to face harassment, intimidation and threats. The people engaged in child trafficking are determined to persist in their illegal and immoral activities. Nor are those who exploit children any more willing to tell about their own actions. It would be really important to get a clear picture of this criminal activity so that we can take more effective action against it. Even one child falling victim to traffickers and being sexually exploited for commercial gain is too much. We know that adults are guilty for having children become victims of trafficking. It is overwhelmingly men who buy sex, and the great majority of those who are sold for sex are women and children.

It has not proved possible to stop child trafficking through bans and prohibitions, for which reason attempts have been made to tackle its underlying causes as well. That is not easy, either, because both opinions and economic and social structures change only very slowly and after a lot of hard and tenacious work.

The main focus has been on children. We have examined what makes a child vulnerable to the sex trade – poverty, broken families, lack of education, abuse and violence at home, and so on. Protecting children from these things is good of course, but we must not close our eyes to the fact that the real cause of the sex trade is a demand for sex with minors, not poverty. Poverty only makes it possible to find a victim. We must pay more attention to the users.

What then causes this demand in the Baltic Sea Region? According to the Programme for the Prevention of Prostitution and Violence Against Women 1998-2002 and the recent report on the Ministry of the Interior’s EU-STOP-funded project “Minors in the Sex Trade”, those who exploit minors in Finland’s adjacent areas are both citizens of the countries in question and often also male tourists from Finland and all of the other countries in the Baltic Sea Region.

What this information does not tell us is why any person can behave in this way. In 1999 it became a criminal offence in Finland to buy sex from a minor, irrespective of what country it was done in. Finland can already point to a number of precedent cases in which persons who bought sex abroad have been convicted for it here. Successful implementation of this law, which transcends the territorial limits of our country, calls for determined international cooperation on the part of the police, public prosecutors and the social welfare and health authorities. There is a need for awareness-enhancing campaigns to improve understanding of equality and of the mechanisms of exploitation.

It has been brought to my attention that an international working group comprising representatives of 18 countries and several international organisations is preparing a Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Wellbeing to tackle health and social problems in our northern region and take concerted actions to promote healthy and socially rewarding lifestyles especially among the youth. All sectors of our societies need to be involved and mobilised in this endeavour. I wish success to this joint effort.

Finland supports the widest-possible ratification and implementation of the UN Convention Against Organised Crime, the so-called Palermo Treaty and its additional protocol against human trafficking. The Treaty is historic, because it is the first document to spell out clearly that states are obliged to intervene in specifically demand. In Finland, a government bill to adopt and implement the Convention will be introduced in the Parliament next year. Our country has signed the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and we hope it will soon be ratified.

In Finland we are currently examining also the up-to-dateness of our national legislation. I would dare to guess that public opinion is very strict when it comes to prostitution and especially trafficking in children. Here, naturally, account must be taken of other countries’ experiences and international development. In February this year, our Parliament enacted public order legislation which criminalises the creation of a disturbance when purchasing sex services or offering them against payment in a public place. Whether there is a need to extend the scope of criminal penalties to include purchasing sex services in a way that demeans human dignity is now under consideration.

Human trafficking is a difficult opponent. We must combine our strength. We need effective collective action everywhere: on the global, regional, national and local levels. That is essential if we want to prevent child trafficking, prosecute those who commit crimes and guarantee the rights of the women and child victims of human trafficking. It is likewise essential if we want to reduce poverty, income differences, illiteracy or gender discrimination. We need courage on the part of political decision makers and cooperation between authorities. But we also need the support of civil society in order to be able to change people’s views and get them to grow to mature responsibility. Children’s rights are not a commodity.

I hope we can add effectiveness to our wide-ranging cooperation here in the Baltic Sea Region. I also want to urge all of us to make sure that action against child trafficking is strengthened in Europe the USA and Canada. I hope that we shall be the first to take part in global action to eliminate this modern-day slavery.

With globalisation, people’s mobility from country to country has increased. Human trafficking has grown at the same time. We in the International Labour Organisation’s World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, which I co-chair along with President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, have also deliberated matters connected with the mobility of people. One central matter is the position of victims of human trafficking. A victim can easily be doubly wronged when and if he or she is treated as an illegal immigrant. That is why it is especially important always to look after the victim’s rights and strive for just solutions.

I thank you for your valuable work and I am prepared to support your efforts.

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Updated 4/14/2008

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