Trafficking in children

Minors, that is, children and adolescents younger than 18, may become victims of the same forms of human trafficking as adults. They may be exploited in prostitution, in other sexual activity, in forced labour, in criminal activity, or in begging. A child may be forced into marriage or used as a child soldier. These ar also forms of human trafficking.

Some children or young people may agree to practice prostitution or take on hard work that is not suitable for children. Even if a child somehow seems to consent to this type of exploitation, their consent is never valid, and exploiting a minor in this way is always a crime. 

According to a report on the forms of child trafficking in Finland, trafficking in minors takes place in Finland, too, but it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised.

Children and young people without a safe home or guardian, young people addicted to drugs or alcohol, and underage, unaccompanied migrants or asylum seekers in a foreign country are especially vulnerable to exploitation.  However, children from all backgrounds can face attempts to groom or otherwise lure them into exploitative situations. 

Offenders take advantage of the victim’s vulnerability, trust or dependability, and choose as their victims persons who they think they can control. 

Abuse of a minor is never, in any circumstances, the victim’s fault. The responsibility always lies with the abuser. 

Exploitation of children in prostitution

It is important to see that a minor is never ‘a prostitute’ or ‘a sex worker’, but it is always a question of sexual exploitation of a minor. Buying sex from a minor is always a crime, even if he or she consents to it.

Underage boys and girls are at risk of becoming victims of exploitation in prostitution both in Finland and elsewhere in the world.  

A minor can be exploited in prostitution by organised criminals, a person in his/her social network, a person he or she is dating, or even his or her parent or guardian.  A minor may have consented to take part in the activity, but he or she may also have been forced or pressured into it. 

Several countries are known for sex tourism. In some holiday destinations in Southeast Asia, for example, children are being exploited in sex tourism, the youngest victims being only 8–10 years old. In Finland, a website called Fair tourism (in Finnish) helps tourists to recognise this kind of child trafficking and gives advice on how to react to suspicious situations. Buying sex from a minor is exploitation and a crime – even when done abroad.

Other forms of sexual abuse of a minor and online sexual abuse

Using minors in pornographic material or in an organized performances that is sexually offensive is also a form of human trafficking. In Finland, a person was convicted of human trafficking in a case where a minor had been exploited as a striptease performer.

It is important to realise that exploitation can also take place entirely online.

Online sexual abuse of children may take place on regular discussion forums or on hidden websites on the so-called dark web. Children may be deceived or manipulated into performing sexual acts in front of a webcam. The child does not usually know that his or her pictures and videos are sold or shared to a large audience.

If a child sends nudes, for example, the pictures can be used to blackmail him or her to perform acts that are even more sexual, or to meet the abuser IRL, in real life.

In some cases the abuser has paid money to an adult in another country for recruiting children to be abused in front of a webcam. These victims may have been abused in extremely cruel ways.

You can report child sexual abuse material (CSAM) that you see on the internet via an online service The Child Protection and Finnish Hotline Nettivihje

Forced marriage

Forcing a minor to marry is, as such, seen as a violation of human dignity. In practice, a child that is forced to marry will also become a victim of sexual exploitation, as the child will be expected to ‘perform his or her marital duties’.

In Finland, the authorities often identify a forced marriage when intervening in domestic violence, but even in these situations the indicators of forced marriage may remain unrecognised. 

Finnish authorities have detected cases where a minor was taken abroad to marry, cases where a minor was brought to Finland to marry, cases where a minor arrived in Finland together with his or her spouse, and cases where the marriage had been contracted abroad when one of the spouses was still underage and was continued after the family arrived in Finland and the spouse turned 18. 

Forced marriages and similar situations of forced circumstances can also take place among Finnish people.  These situations may be related to tight or closed religious communities, for example.

Exploitation in criminal activity and in begging

Exploitation of a person in criminal activity means that a person is coerced or compelled into committing criminal acts. These can be pickpocketing, shoplifting, robberies, burglaries and selling or smuggling drugs.

Minors who do not have a safe guardian or home, even if the situation is temporary, are especially vulnerable to this kind of exploitation. Young substance abusers may be pressured or forced to do crimes to pay off drug or alcohol debts or to obtain alcohol or drugs for themselves or others.

A minor may be coerced into committing crimes also for the reason that children under 15 years of age cannot be held legally responsible.

Underage migrants and asylum seekers who are in the country without a parent or guardian may seek security and closeness from criminal gangs, who will then exploit them in criminal activity. The abuser may use violence or threaten the victim.

Exploitation in begging is considered human trafficking when the victim is used in begging but someone else gets the financial benefit.

Exploitation of minors in forced labour

Kuvituskuva. Lapsi raitapaidassa ja likaisissa housuissa kantaa kahta likaista ämpäriä työmaalla. Jalassa sandaalit. Lapsi näkyy vain vyötäröstä alaspäin.

The exploitation of minors in forced labour is very rarely detected in Finland. A young person who is in a vulnerable situation without other possibilities and works unpaid in poor conditions may be a victim of exploitation in forced labour. Working should not interfere with school attendance, or be harmful to the health or development of the child.

Unpaid internships are not considered forced labour, but if a young person is abused or controlled or his or her vulnerable position is taken advantage of, it may be a case similar to human trafficking.

The exploitation of children in forced labour is regrettably common across the world. It is known that many children work on farms, factories, construction sites and as home help.

Use of child soldiers

Children are in risk of being used as child soldiers especially in conflict zones. In these zones, various military groups may coerce children into joining them. Armed groups may abduct children or threaten their or their families’ lives to make them participate in hostilities. Armed groups may also take advantage of the children’s vulnerable position by promising them a better life if they become soldiers.

Children can be used for example in battle, in suicide attacks or as messengers. Especially boys are in risk of being forced to become child soldiers.

Useat maat tunnetaan seksiturismista. Joissakin valtioissa, erityisesti suosituissa lomakohteissa seksiturismin tiedetään kohdistuvan lapsiin – myös hyvin nuoriin lapsiin. Reilu matkailu -sivusto ohjaa matkailijoita tunnistamaan tällaisen lapsiin kohdistuvan ihmiskaupan ja antaa ohjeita, kuinka tilanteissa tulisi toimia. Seksin ostaminen alaikäiseltä on rikos myös ulkomailla.