On March 7, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the ratification of a treaty that contains protocols relating to child soldiers and the sale of children. Under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, countries must ensure that children who have been sexually trafficked, exploited, or sexually abused receive services to ensure a complete physical and psychological recovery.
Presiding Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that the “abuse of children is a global problem” and that ratification of this treaty by the United States is necessary to help protect these “vulnerable children.”
To date, 92 governments have signed the protocol and 18 governments have ratified it. Although the protocol operates as an independent multilateral agreement under international law, countries may ratify the protocol without becoming a party to the Convention or being subject to its provisions.
Agreeing with Sen. Boxer, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) stated that the United States “must find a way to help these children” and “we can do it if we put our minds to it.”
Michael Southwick of the Department of State said that an estimated 30 million children worldwide are sexually exploited, prostituted, and trafficked each year. He explained that the protocol requires these offenses to be treated as criminal acts and gives the law enforcement authority to do so. The protocol also “establishes stronger, clearer grounds for jurisdiction and extradition, to better ensure that offenders can be prosecuted regardless of where they are found” and “helps child victims receive the protection and assistance they desperately need.”
Mr. Southwick also noted that although the age of sexual consent is established between ages 13 and 16 in many countries, the protocol would require countries to criminalize activities relating to child prostitution and child pornography without reference to state law or the age of consent.
In her testimony, Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch said that approximately 50,000-100,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States every year. She noted that these children, mostly girls, are poor, abandoned, orphaned, or displaced from their homes, and therefore, the most vulnerable to trafficking. Often, these girls do not have control over their circumstances, are usually deceived about what money they will receive, and are subject to slave-like conditions and serious physical abuse.
John Malcolm of the Department of Justice (DoJ) said that the DoJ supports the ratification of the Optional Protocol because it “will serve to enhance the United States’ position as a leader in the fight against the exploitation and abuse of children worldwide.”