For the 30 young people that gathered in Bangkok last week for the Mekong Youth Forum on Human Trafficking (MYF), the issues were both familiar and well worth fighting for.
Shortly after a delegate from Laos finishes briefing on repatriation services available to trafficking victims in his country, the group breaks for hot cocoa and begins singing, under the Cambodian delegation's direction, "See, See Banana". The song, which is catchy, nonsensical, and involves hand motions, will become an almost-anthem, revisited several times during the course of the week (so, too, will the issue of repatriation services).
It's not often an anti-trafficking forum takes pause for nonsense, nor that it be governed - like this one - by a set of rules (so simple, but so practical!) that are penned in magic marker and posted on the wall: Do not disrespect others, Do not throw things around the room, Do not waste food, etc.
Ten minutes later, though, proceedings resume. The group moves on to serious discussion of issues like migration and the plight of stateless people, after being called to order, in typical course, with a drumbeat and the week's battle cry - "Mekong Youth Forum!"
Policy on human trafficking may strike many as heavy stuff for the 12-19 tween and teen crowd. Yet for the 30 young people that gathered in Bangkok last week for the Mekong Youth Forum on Human Trafficking (MYF), the issuesare both familiar and well worth fighting for.
Culled from vulnerable areas of the six countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS-Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam), the youth came to the forum - the second of its kind - in an effort to make their voices heard and combat trafficking in the region.
Much of this effort centred around the 30 recommendations delegates drafted during the week and submitted in a meeting Thursday with senior officials from the six countries' human trafficking taskforces. The recommendations, finalised by the youth on Friday, after Thursday's dialogue, will be considered and incorporated into discussion at the GMS meeting in Beijing this December. The youth also met with select officials from the six governments for less formal discussion on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Though the forum, supported this year by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Save the Children UK, World Vision, and the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the GMS (UNIAP), had its first incarnation in 2004, this year's was the first in which youth were given an opportunity to directly engage with the government (World Vision and UNIAP are also new sponsors). Over half of the 2.5 million trafficking victims worldwide come from Asia, many from the young adult demographic represented at the MYF.
Allan Dow, Communications Officer with the ILO's Mekong Project to Combat Trafficking in Children and Women, says that while there are no reliable numbers for trafficking-related child labour in the region, there are indicators - NGO reports, the number of undocumented migrants, and the number of children seen in shelters - that indicate trafficking-related practices like sexual and labour exploitation are on the rise. Dow notes that in the region chief problems are boys and men being trafficked into fishing industries, exploititve conditions involved in domestic service, and sexual exploitation.
Adapted from: Erika Fry. "Tomorrow's Advocates." Bangkok Post 8 September 2007.
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