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Girls for sale: Preventing trafficking within China

An estimated 94 million Chinese farmers migrated for work in 2002. The influx of such huge numbers of rural surplus labourers has created opportunities for those seeking to exploit the most vulnerable, i.e. children and young women. In April 2004, the Chinese authorities and the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) started a new project to prevent trafficking in children and youth for labour exploitation. Hans van de Glind, Chief technical advisor of the project, sent ILO online the following report.

Article | 25 November 2005

GUIZHOU, China (ILO Online) - Far away from the towering skyscrapers of downtown Guangzhou, the province of Guizhou offers what may seem a rural idyll. But the boom economy isn't improving life for everyone in China's remote countryside. It may be idyllic, but it's dirt poor.

Last year, poverty and lack of local job opportunities and the belief of chances in the cities drove an estimated 120 million people to migrate within China, most of them to the country's booming east coast. Though men constitute the majority of the migrant labour force, the percentage of women is quickly rising, especially in the younger age group.

"Many girls leave their rural villages at a rather low age. They drop out of school prematurely, do household chores and get bored with village life. Many try their luck and leave their villages, unprepared, and ill-informed of dangers or possible protection … thus putting themselves at risk of labour and sexual exploitation", explains Hans van de Glind, Chief technical advisor of the ILO Project to Prevent Trafficking in Girls and Young Women for Labour Exploitation within China (CP-TING).

Xiaoqiu, a 17-year-old girl from Guizhou, is one of them. She came to Guangzhou with the wish to make more money. When she had nearly spent all her money but still could not find a job, she reluctantly bought the train ticket to return home.

As she had no money to pay for a hotel, she decided to spent the night on the square at the train station. But a young man who called himself Ouyang Jian persuaded her to come to a hotel telling her that the square was not safe for a young girl at night.

He brought her to the hotel, and after a glass or two, he first robbed Xiaoqiu, and then raped her. The next day her sold her to another man called Luo Tao for RMB 2500 (about US$ 300).

Luo Tao and two other men raped Xiaoqiu, and then forced her to become a prostitute by threatening her with a poisonous injection. A week later, Xiaoqiu found an opportunity to escape. She immediately reported to the police at Guangzhou Railway Station. The police arrested the suspects, and rescued more than ten other girls - the youngest of them was under 15.

Making migration safe

The CP-TING project aims to make migration channels safe for girls that want to leave their rural villages. It focuses on adolescent girls and young women and puts them in contact with decent employers that offer decent jobs. The preventive approach revolves around empowerment and education in sending areas, and job placement services and improved migration frameworks in sending and receiving provinces.

The project operates in three 'sending' provinces in central China (Anhui, Henan and Hunan) which have a combined population of 223 million inhabitants, and two major 'receiving' provinces, Guangdong province (in the Pearl River delta) - which currently hosts 31 million registered migrant workers - and Jiangsu Province (in the Yangtze River delta).

Initial activities revolved around clarifying the understanding of trafficking; that it is not just the kidnapping and selling of babies for adoption and women for marriage purposes, but also involves voluntary but unprepared and ill-informed migration that may turn into trafficking into exploitative work.

Advocacy work to date resulted in integrating 'trafficking' in a manual on safety issues for all children in primary and lower secondary schools of Anhui province, and in a Pan-Pearl River Delta agreement on labour issues among 9 provinces. More than 2,500 cadres of the women's federation in Henan province were trained in 'safe migration management' as alternative to trafficking

A series of massive awareness raising events were organized at the time of International Migrant's Day (18 December), Women's Day (8 March), Children's Day (1st June) and World Day Against Child Labour (12 June) in various provinces. These included speech writing, drawing and calligraphy contests involving thousands of children, events involving government officials that expressed their opinions on effective responses to trafficking, and massive local media attention.

Through a partnership with the All China Women's Federation (ACWF) the CP-TING project has mobilized a range of relevant ministries, at both national level and in five selected provinces, to develop a comprehensive set of interventions to prevent trafficking in girls and young women, monitor progress and document lessons learned.

Employers' and workers' organizations also show commitment to address the issue. The Zhenjiang Women's Federation (in Jiangsu Province) mobilized enterprises to provide funds to support migrant girls below 16, who are at risk of dropping out of school, to complete compulsory education. A company donated RMB 120,000 which was used to sponsor 50 poor girls to continue their education.

So far over 160 pieces of media coverage related to project interventions appeared on TV, radio and in newspapers in China - including government officials that speak out on trafficking, reaching out to millions of readers, viewers and listeners including female migrants workers and government officials.

While progress is being made enormous challenges remain. Within the sending provinces project partners are now preparing for large scale interventions in nine target counties with a population from 300,000 to 1 million. Efforts include putting in place village trafficking 'alarm' networks, reducing premature school drop-out of girls, increasing school enrolment levels for those under 16, and providing training opportunities and/or safe migration possibilities for those aged 16 and above. In receiving cities job placement services and improved access to basic services are under preparation.

The project and its partners will increasingly work on offering policy advice, contributing to the development of agreements on safe migration between sending and receiving provinces, procedures to license and monitor recruitment agencies, and a national policy plan to prevent trafficking.

"Concerted efforts among communities, government agencies, international organizations and a range of ILO departments and programs are necessary if we are to make a difference in the lives of girls at risk of trafficking", concludes Hans van de Glind.