Children treated as commodities

Child trafficking is a major social problem that receives too little attention. Time and again children are treated as goods and are sold for profit. They are then taken to other countries by child traffickers and exploited in many ways.

The children must work under the most unworthy conditions and have no rights at all. They suffer from violence and abuse by the child traffickers. In order to counter this problem, it is necessary to identify victims of child trafficking and to actively help them.


UNICEF estimates that around 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, in both developed and developing countries. Child trafficking within a country occurs in every second European country. As a transit and destination country, Austria is also one of the countries in which children and women are often traded.

According to the UN Human Trafficking Protocol, child and human trafficking is defined as: ‘The recruitment, transport, transfer, accommodation or reception of people (…) for the purpose of exploitation.’ This legal definition has also been adopted by Austria in our national legislation. All girls and boys up to the age of 18 are considered children.

Unfortunately, a lot of children around the world are exploited in many ways: children suddenly appear in criminal domains in order to sell or steal drugs unobtrusively. Children are also repeatedly exploited in the area of begging. They are also often misused as cheap labour. This usually happens in areas such as housekeeping, construction sites, tourism or agriculture. Pornography or prostitution are also common areas of child exploitation. Sadly, many girls will have already experienced sexual abuse by the time they hit puberty. In general, one should bear in mind that any form of exploitation can end with sexual abuse and that boys are also exposed to this risk.

Most child trafficking occurs through the use / threat of violence or other types of coercion, such as fraud, deception or the exploitation of a certain vulnerability. It is always considered child trafficking when a child is involved – regardless of whether the child herself or himself considers themselves a willing participant. In principle, it is irrelevant whether the child has consented. In many cases the child traffickers simply buy the children from their parents and take them to another country. Often the child’s trafficking begins with the wish for a better future or with wanting to flee from violence back home.


 Inhumane working conditions

Children work under extremely conspicuous working conditions. Many must work around the clock in a household or something similar or work overtime time and again. The children do not receive any social security benefits under these circumstances and can therefore, for example, never see a doctor free of charge. The place where the children work can also vary in order not to attract attention. In addition, the child either does not know where they work, or they live at their work site anyway. The child must earn a minimum amount of salary each day, a large proportion of which is distributed to other people. But before any of their earnings is handed back to them, the children have to pay off their debts, travel expenses or anything of the like.

Dubious social environment

Most of the time it becomes apparent in the child’s social environment that their freedom of movement is clearly restricted. The behaviour of the child shows a relationship of dependency to other people. These other people often have previous convictions. It is also conspicuous if the children, accompanied by these other people, flinch when they are touched or display similar fearful behaviour. The website ‘’ from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Labour, Family and Youth offers a checklist to identify victims of child trafficking.

Child: Intimidated or aggressive behaviour

In many cases victims of child trafficking appear very intimidated and not very communicative. Hence, strangers often think that they are not cooperative. In some cases, the children display aggressive behaviour. However, one should always consider this behaviour under the aspect that the children have been intimidated and possibly abused by the child trafficker for a long time. Exposure to violence or constant threats can completely destabilise social behaviour. Unfortunately, little information is often obtained from children who have already been sexually abused. Fear and shame as well as language problems are common reasons that prevent victims of child trafficking from speaking. It often happens that the children’s stories are not entirely consistent or not entirely realistic. In order to avoid these problems, sufficiently qualified translators play an important role in the placement process.

No legal guardians

Child traffickers are usually noticed when entering a destination country because the child is travelling with people who have no parental responsibilities or legal guardianship and only have a written, notarised certificate that entitles them to take the children abroad with them. However, this certificate is not a declaration of custody by the parents, but only serves to give consent to travel with strangers.


In order to protect children, governments must implement international legal norms that include all forms of exploitation. In order to really stop child trafficking, it is necessary that countries work together on an international, national and regional basis and deal with causes such as poverty, discrimination, violence and exclusion. Unfortunately, child trafficking and child abuse will occur repeatedly as long as the issue is not discussed.

It happens far too often that victims of child trafficking are treated like perpetrators themselves and are simply arrested and locked up. However, children must be given access to social benefits, education and health services, regardless of their legal / illegal residence status. The services offered range from providing a guardian for the victim to centres that help abused and exploited children reintegrate into society. The association HOPE FOR THE FUTURE also offers a contact point for victims of human trafficking and helps those affected escape this cruel milieu and start a new life.

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges the contracting states to take appropriate measures to stop the buying and trafficking of children (art. 35). Article 39 stipulates that all measures must be taken to bring about the physical and psychological recovery of the child and their reintegration into society.

Translated by Sophie Kitchen