Ladies and Gentlemen,
It has been one of my priorities since I took up my post here at the Foreign Ministry to strengthen cooperation with international organizations on issues with a global dimension and of global interest, particularly in the case of organizations with a presence in Greece, like UNICEF.
Within this framework, I remind you that just a few days ago we launched an awareness campaign on global refugee crises with the Athens Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The subject of today’s event is different, but no less sensitive: child trafficking.
This is an issue of global dimensions, given that it is closely linked with poverty, underdevelopment and organized crime; problems that are not limited in their impact to just one part of the planet, but have broader repercussions that are felt in our societies, where the safety net and protection of human and children’s rights are stronger than in the developing world.
This is not the first time we have sat together at this table with the President of the Hellenic National Committee for UNICEF, Mr. Lambros Kanellopoulos. Beyond the years of friendship and mutual esteem that bind us, Mr. Kanellopoulos and I have shared many thoughts and concerns on current forms of child exploitation. This has resulted in our joining forces in a joint effort, initiative and collaboration. After my address, he will provide a brief overview of these joint efforts and the results.
This time, without changing our basic orientation, our interest is focussed on the relationship between the international economic crisis and child trafficking in the world.
We started by acknowledging that in times of crisis – particularly crises of this nature – there is increased pressure to exploit vulnerable population groups: children, women and the poor. And children in particular, because where mechanisms for resisting this trend are weakest, the danger is even greater. Firstly, because the children themselves can be taken in by the big promises of trafficking rings. And secondly, because the parents of these children – willing to gamble so that their children might enjoy a better future, one more prosperous than their own – can also be taken in.
In an era when needs are increasing and real income is falling, pressure for cheap goods and services in both the developing and developed world is ever more intense. But cheap goods and services can mean undeclared, uninsured labour on oppressive terms and for miniscule wages bearing no relation to the time and labour involved.
This situation benefits the consumer and customer who finds lower-priced goods and services and is lured into purchasing them. But it also benefits the producer and distributor who sustain – if not increase – consumption and their profit margins.
Widely applied, this model has numerous social repercussions: Limited social reaction and resistance to exploitation of individuals by other individuals, greater tolerance and silence, and, of course, conditions that favour the activities of the rings involved.
But there is a second consequence that is equally heartrending and foreboding: The exploited party – while quite possibly aware of the exploitation they are suffering – is likely to continue to shoulder the victim’s burden in the hope of gaining an income or opportunities they would not have had if they had remained “free”, in abject poverty and with no prospects.
In any case, the global economic crisis blurs the landscape, allowing this phenomenon to continue, if not increase. Not in the form of outright slavery, but in the form of forced labour, where the victims themselves accept it – in a manner of speaking – due to the lack of real choices or ways out of their poverty.
In the case of children, the dangers go beyond their victimization itself. Even if they do not become victims themselves, they gradually become inured to scenes of people exploiting people, with the result that they consider such practices to be simply the fate of some unfortunate people, a “necessary evil”, the only way to survive.
There is no question that perceiving things in this way only perpetuates the problem, facilitating the activities of exploitation rings and leading to the decay of whole societies.
The basic message of the campaign we are launching today is that we – particularly those of us living in the prosperous regions of this world – have a duty to stop this economic crisis from becoming a crisis of values.
In times of economic difficulties, even prosperous economies face problems. But we have to put things into their proper perspective. It is one thing to lack daily nourishment, water and shelter – as is the case for people living on two dollars a day in the developing world – and another for a family to want for a better car. In these cases we are talking about very different needs, and it is this inequity that is increasing the dangers of social tensions, ethnic clashes and unchecked mass migrations.
The campaign we have planned is very much based on the logic of the interdependency of the developed and developing worlds and the logic of the various needs and goods that are taken for granted by some and desperately pursued by others. The protagonists are children who are exploited for labour and for sex, children who beg, children who disappear and are not looked for by anyone simply because no one knows they are lost.
And because these scenes are more common in the lives and memories of some children than they are on film, the campaign’s television spot puts its message across in a comics format.
It is our hope that the style works and that the social message is clear.
The second part of this campaign – which we will refer to only briefly today, and present when it has been completed – is a study by UNICEF on the impact of the international economic crisis on child trafficking in the world. A study that we hope we can use as a tool – during the current crisis and in any future crises that may occur – in the globalized economic environment in which we live.
I would like to thank you for your presence here today – a difficult mid-summer’s, vacation-time day. Once again, I would like to thank UNICEF for their collaboration, as well as the Foreign Ministry’s International Development Cooperation Department, which for years now has consistently co-funded actions and programmes aimed at combating trafficking within and beyond our borders.
And I will close with an appeal to the media representatives here with us today and to all those who take the campaign materials with them: The success of an endeavour such as this requires your active participation and assistance in promoting it.