Conference in Helsinki seeks tools to stop child trafficking

"Trafficking in minors is a gross crime against human rights", US ambassador to Finland Bonnie McElveen-Hunter said at a press conference in Helsinki on Tuesday, 27 March.

Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs is organising in cooperation with the US Embassy, the Swedish Embassy, the Canadian Embassy and the Council of Baltic Sea States a conference "Stop Child Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery" in Helsinki on 1-3 June. The conference is set to gather together authorities and organisations fighting child trafficking and representatives of media from the Baltic region, Canada and the United States.

The conference was initiated by Ambassador McElveen-Hunter, who developed the idea together with her colleague, Swedish Ambassador to Finland Ulf Hjertonsson. Soon also the Canadian Ambassador Adèle Dion came along.

"We focus on trafficking in minors", McElveen-Hunter stressed. "We are searching for best practices in three categories: preventing child trafficking, prosecuting the traffickers and protecting the victims. This is a unique regional approach", the Ambassador underlined.

The aim of the conference is to build a toolkit, a program that covers in detail issues around the phenomenon. This toolkit is intended to affect each country's legislation and to offer inspiration for further cooperation and actions in limiting the trafficking in minors.

Canadian Ambassor Adèle Dion mentioned that child trafficking is increasing, and according to Dion the best way to tackle the issue is to build networks with those who work at a grass-root level - NGOs and municipal authorities for example. Swedish Ambassador Ulf Hjertonsson pointed out that the theme has an important transatlantic connection. "We share our values in child trafficking with the Bush administration", Hjertonsson said.

Johanna Suurpää, who heads the Unit for Human Rights at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, said that the conference coincides well with the Finnish human rights policy. "The idea is not to build heavy structures. This is first and foremost an NGO-based cooperation", Suurpää emphasised. "The approach is pragmatic".

Trafficking, often called modern-day slavery, has not been widely studied. It is difficult to get statistical information on the issue. Estimates say that trafficking involves up to four million people globally. McElveen-Hunter pointed out that trafficking in minors go together with trafficking in drugs and weapons as well. There are also major health issues involved, like the HIV and AIDS.

The conference, to be held at the House of Estates, has also attracted many renowned participants, including Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki. "The Children's Senator" Landon Pearson represents Canada in the conference. Sweden's Deputy Prime Minister Margareta Winberg will be present, and Her Highness, Queen Silvia of Sweden will send her videotaped greeting to the conference as well.

Recordings at the conference(Linkki toiselle web-sivustolle.)