8.5 Roles of NGOs and Programs Implemented
NGOs have played important roles in the achievement of successful policy and implementation and programs to combat trafficking of children into all intolerable forms of business. They have taken the lead and supported initiatives, and their constant demands have motivated and drawn state and public attention to children and women issues of all kinds. When bilateral and multilateral cooperation among the Maekong basin countries are initiated, as developed over time and through experience, one important recent issue of concern and of interest in the cooperation has been to involve NGOs in the work process and as collaborators. Summary of roles which local, regional and international NGOs in the Maekong basin countries undertake and issues in which they have committed to working on and pushing forward include:
(1) Issues to cover and strategies for protection migrant children
1. Foreign children should be under protection of the Rights of Children. Although they are illegal immigrants, a government should provide them shelters before repatriation.
2. Migrant children who are induced, deceived, or abducted by children traffickers should receive emergency care as well as physical and mental rehabilitation. There should be a coordination to search for their families and return them back safely.
3. In case children voluntarily come for hawking and begging business, they should be primarily rehabilitated for mental and physical health. Moreover, there should be multi-level coordination to develop the repatriating process and to prevent their return.
4. Re-integrate children back to their families with the supportive process in both sending and receiving communities. This would be a guarantee that the children will be treated as humans and their rights are protected.
5. Adjust related regulations to eliminate possible obstacles in providing support to the trafficked children.
(2) The role in providing support before repatriation
Shelters supervised by NGOs have been known places which governmental organizations and citizens of a country refer to when trafficked children are rescued from abusive environments in households or at workplaces. The shelters have also provided necessary care for the children to rehabilitate their physical and mental health and well-being before the repatriating process begins.
(3) Coordinate with other NGOs and government agencies.
Coordination, cooperation, and support from government agencies of all levels is essentially needed in the process of rescuing and repatriating trafficked children. The process starts at coordination with judicial police officers for rescuing the children from abusive situations, and lawfully processing the case through Immigration Office, Public Welfare Department for social services, welfare and rehabilitation, and on to waiting for repatriating, finding out relevant information in order to best support each individual trafficked victim, preparing for repatriating expenses, and finally contacting related organizations in a sending country to ensure safe repatriation of a victim. Until recently, governments in the Mekong sub-region are not yet equipped to fully take such demanding responsibility and coordination. It has therefore been the responsibility and coordination NGOs undertake.
Different organizations, both national and international, have provided various types of assistance to countries in the sub-region. UNICEF has supported the development of quality of children’s lives in Myanmar and Lao PDR. World Vision International Foundation has established non-formal education centers for homeless children residing in big cities. The Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (AFBX) supports the government of Myanmar with vocational training projects. Besides financial assistance, the various NGOs have provided to the Mekong basin countries assistance such as:
(a) Prevention of Trafficking in Children. National and international NGOs in the Mekong basin countries have established programs and projects to provide education and vocational training to at risk groups of populations in the country in which an organization is located. The programs are mostly expected to help preventing children from being deceived and trafficked, and decreasing problems related to illegal migration. Many programs are established to generate and secure jobs within the country.
(b) Response to the AIDS Epidemics Many NGOs have programs on AIDS both as daycare facilities for HIV infected persons and outreach activities to provide AIDS prevention education and to promote community-based care. NGO volunteers are mostly well trained and equipped with materials and information on HIV prevention and AIDS care to distribute to their different target populations. Some NGOs work primarily with populations currently living in a particular country where others may provide their services to populations living along border areas or in other places crossing their national borders.
(c) Conducting Research can supply intervention programs and policy development with significant information and understanding regarding trafficking in women and children. Although basic information as well as in-depth data regarding number of children trafficked, complicated issues related to the trafficking, trafficking networks, other forms of trafficking such as overseas friendship / marriage services, conditions of trafficked victims in receiving countries, and impacts on individual victims and their communities upon repatriation have been quite thoroughly researched and NGOs and governments have good amount of quality data, trafficking situations change rapidly. On-going research and completely well informed intervention programs and implementations are therefore needed. NGOs in the sub-region share skills, knowledge and experience in qualitative and quantitative research methodologies with one another and provide necessary technical assistance in research capacity building to one another as well. It is considered bilateral and multilateral technical assistance.
8.6 Points to be Concerned at Subregional Level
Although countries in the Mekong basin have the intention to stop child trafficking, have international and national collaboration, and have successfully convicted some child traffickers and their networks, the trafficking still goes on and traffickers have made significant progress in their business development. Armed police along the sub-region border check-points are generally instructed to put greater priority to drug and weapon smuggling than cross-border transportation of humans. The issue in comparison with drug and weapon smuggling is considered a minor issue.
After all, trafficking in children is in fact a global problem that needs to be first handled on a local and national level with support from bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Theoretically, national policy regarding trafficking in children and child prostitution is convincing and it should at least minimize the problems. Practically, actual law enforcement, program implementation, strong networking, and helpful intervention are not yet in place. Concrete plans of action to protect and combat the problems should be delivered, for example, by the Thai government (1992-1994) where action plans to eliminate child prostitution had been carried out and actually implemented, or the announcement that the extension of compulsory education from six years to nine years was granted, or the attempt to control and decrease the number of beggars in Thailand, or the service in which the Department of Social Welfare had shelter offered to homeless children as primary help before contacting their family.
For most countries in the Maekong basin, recruitment of children under the ages of 15- 18 years old into any occupation is generally considered unlawful, however, with an exception that the children may do so if they have an agreement from their parents or sponsors. The region also share the same overall views that children’s right must be respected and protected and all acts which violate the Rights of a child, physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abuse her, or damage her normal development, should be severely punished.
The Mekong basin countries also share strategies for combating the problem. Mostly, the governments request their local authorities and social units to provide information and education to communities regarding benefits and drawbacks of cross border migration and cooperate with neighbouring countries in complying with strict regulations at border checkpoints. It is extremely important to also closely look into the issue of illegal migration as child victims of trafficking are evidently transported across national borders and usually end up as illegal migrants in another country. Some countries established organizations to focus particularly on migrant children. Some countries increased their attention to migration of children and agreed bilaterally to provide cooperation and assistance to combat the problem. The main purpose of such establishment and cooperation has mainly been to support migrant children in achieving basic human needs and be free from all forms of coercion. The attempt has also been in repatriating the children and reintegrating them back into their own culture and society. Thailand, for example, has set up a task force with its function to draft action plans and implement the plans in order to protect migrant children in Thailand. However, since migration involves at least a sending and a receiving country, it is important for the two countries to discuss issues in illegal migration, admit problems as facts, be non-offensive, and commit to cooperation to solve the problems.
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