Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility

World Day Against Child Labour – 12 June 2021

12th June was the official World Day Against Child Labour. Children around the world are routinely engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work that are not harmful to them. However, they are classified as child labourers when they are either too young to work, or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development.

The World Day Against Child Labour was first launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in order to bring awareness to the global issue of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. This year’s World Day was the first since the universal ratification of the ILO’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. It 2021 is also the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

As part of the observances, ILO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have released global estimated and trends on child labour.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the report reflects on how it threatens to reverse years of progress in tackling the problem of child labour and assesses how the pace of progress towards ending child labour is likely to be affected by the continuing pandemic and the economic crisis that has accompanied it.

For more on the World Day Against Child Labour, please see here, whilst you can find the ILO and UNICEF report here.

Millions more cases of FGM, Child Marriage and Gender Based Violence due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Child marriage constitutes forced marriage, FGM constitutes organ removal, and both acts are considered exploitation under the umbrella of Modern Slavery

By exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and subjecting more potential victims into vulnerable status, Coronavirus has uprooted much progress made towards protecting women’s rights around the world. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) deems 19 medical practices rooted in gender inequality a violation of human rights, including practices such as breast ironing and virginity testing. Their 2020 report Against My Will focuses on female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons as three widespread practices that constitute a “silent and endemic crisis“. These acts involve exploitation and fall under the umbrella modern slavery or violate fundamental human rights of female victims. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an exponential increase in gender based violence and the breakdown of critical sexual health services which deprive women of their reproductive health rights. 


FGM involves surgical manipulation of a girls body in a way that diminishes their ability to achieve equal rights as men. It is a targeted act to subjugate and control a woman’s sexuality, thereby violating their right to equality and exposing them to extreme health risks. Despite most countries in the world deeming the practice illegal, FGM is rooted in the choice of a girls family or community, and goes ahead within this private sphere often without the knowledge of the state. This means it usually takes place in unsterile, black market conditions posing higher risk of infection and other complications such as haemorrhage, sepsis and even death. Mental and physiological repercussions include depression, irreversible loss of sexual pleasure and potentially sexual function. UN treaty bodies and international health organisations reject medicalisation of FGM to achieve safer sterile conditions because it would make the health professionals complicit in human rights violations. The UNFPA estimates the Coronavirus led disruption to preventative programs will lead to 2 million more cases of FGM between 2020 – 2030. 

Child Marriage 

Rates of child marriage have begun to rise as a result of the delay to preventative programs and the extreme economic hardship that vulnerable families are are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. UNFPA predicts an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020 – 2030 that could have been prevented by intervention services disrupted by the pandemic. Deepening poverty incentivises parents to marry off their daughters at a young age, to avoid the cost of their living. Although most countries follow the international Child Rights Convention and thereby establish a minimum age of consent between 16 and 21, the majority of countries allow parental consent to override age restrictions of their children to marry. Governments have a duty to end the harm to children, whereby effective laws need to be supported by economic and social restructuring to promote the equal rights and opportunities of vulnerable girls. 

Sex Selection & Reproductive Health Rights 

A preference for boy babies over girl babies leads to prenatal sex selection in favour of boys, or girl babies being neglected in infancy. 140 million females are ‘missing’ in the world population due to extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons, most significantly in China and India. Whilst in some cases this results in direct physical harm to baby girls, this mentality of systemic gender bias manifests in the ongoing issues of female subjugation later in their lives, such as through child marriage or domestic violence.  During the Coronavirus pandemic, there are restricted means to regulate such abuses. Due to overrun health systems, women’s reproductive health rights and sexual health are being neglected in both contexts of the developing world and developed world. The distribution of contraceptives have been severely disrupted due to supply chain issues. UNFPA assessed service disruptions in minimum lockdown cases (of three months) predicting 13 million women being unable to access contraception, leading to 325,000 unintended pregnancies. Malta, for example, has recorded 12 unintended pregnancies per day since lockdown. This in turn, will increase cases of neglect and murder of baby girls, due to an inability to access abortion practices during the pandemic. 

Coronavirus lockdown: Gender based violence 

Coronavirus lockdown posed an unprecedented necessity for families to stay indoors, that has led to increased gender based domestic violence and exploitation. Crisis centres, justice officials and domestic violence hotlines received increased reports during the lockdown period, indicating an increase in total acts of violence, whilst women and girls were forced to stay indoors with their abusers. Increased stresses caused by the pandemic has, and will continue to exacerbate tensions between families, causing violent outbreaks. Furthermore rates of abuse have increased due to disruptions to support programs such as open victim shelters, safe houses and intervention services. UNFPA predicts six months of lockdown would result in up to 31 million additional cases of gender based violence.

2030 Target 

Statistics provided by UNFPA along with partners Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Victoria University (Australia) estimates the vast human cost of the pandemic in relation to the rights and health of women and girls. The report includes targets for 2030 to gain back the global progress disrupted by Coronavirus, including: keeping girls in school for as long as possible, engaging men and boys in social change, and investment of $3.4 billion per year dedicated to ending FGM and child marriage. This will alleviate the suffering of approximately 84 million young females over the next decade. Along with the necessity for legal obligations around women’s rights and equality, UNFPA stresses the need for a social and cultural shift to prevent these harmful practices going ahead. Raising awareness within communities, empowering women through education and economic opportunities, and providing effective protective services to vulnerable women are essential to addressing this “silent and endemic crisis”, brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Accountability Needed for Internet Service Providers: Sex Trafficking and the Case of

Backpage’s involvement is reported in 73% of all child trafficking cases received from the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited ChildrenIn an exponentially expanding era of cyber activity, new channels for criminal activity are being facilitated. A particular area of concern is within the use of the Internet for human trafficking and in particular sexual exploitation, in which the US case of has received much international attention.

Earlier this year the notorious website was shutdown by the US Department of Justice. is the world’s second largest classified ad marketplace where 90% of the websites’ revenue is generated from ‘ads’ relating to sexual promotion, including child sexual exploitation and forced prostitution. Based in its Dallas Texas HQ with global operations out of 97 countries with 943 locations, the last reported value of was over half a billion US dollars. It has been the subject of on going concern for US authorities, as Backpage’s involvement is reported in 73% of all child trafficking cases received from the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The United States Senate’s report’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking following the 2 year investigation indicates three major findings:

  1. Backpage has concealed evidence of criminality by systematically editing its ‘adult’ ads. Over the last 10 years and as recently as 2014, Backpage executives have had several methods of formalised ‘deletion of incriminating words and phrases, primarily through a feature called the “Strip Term From Ad Filter.”’ Words removed by both manual and automatic systems included “lolita,” “teenage,” “rape,” “young,” “amber alert,” “little girl,” “teen,” “fresh,” “innocent,” and “school girl.” Through rewording advertisements, the client could submit the ad with the same criminal intention and usage, yet presented with ‘legal’ content.
  2. Backpage is fully aware of the fact that it facilitates illegal prostitution and child sex trafficking. It has refused to respond to complaints and manipulated information sent to NCMEC.
  3. Despite the sale of the website to an anonymous foreign company in 2014, the real owners are James Larkin, Michael Lacey, and Carl Ferrer.

Bradley Myles CEO of Polaris Project made a statement on this case, in which he commented that “shutting down the largest online U.S. marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term. Traffickers will have to rethink their business models and sex buyers will face greater risk.” He highlighted the fact that the multimillion-dollar industry leader cannot claim ‘ignorance’ as to the human trafficking they are facilitating and must be held personally liable.

This response relates to previous attempts to shutdown For example in 2016, the CEO, Carl Ferrer and fellow executives were arrested on ‘pimping related charges’. However, this attempt at prosecution was unsuccessful, protected under the US Constitution and legislation that deemed having no liability for the speech of third parties who posted the ads on their site. The US Communications Decency Act (CDA) 1996 was implemented as an attempt to regulate internet pornography, but under Section 230 has been interpreted to shield operators of Internet services, and thus they are not legally or criminally liable for the content of third parties who use their services. This defence has been used several times to leave operating, despite the obvious facilitation of sex trafficking. To overcome this on going loophole, the Trump administration has amended this legislation through their Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 to put the onus of responsibility onto the website host for information relating to sex trafficking.

The concern over this legislation has primarily been voiced by free speech and internet advocates including the Silicon Valley Internet Association who are lobbying against it, as it has wider implications for their own accountability for illicit content created by users. The CDA legislation is seen as a primal statute for Internet development, which has put pressure on large ‘legitimate’ tech companies including as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. Google has put forward a number of solutions they are contributing, including blocking advertising from their remit and developing technology to help scan for rouge sites. Ultimately, however, these technologies have not been successful in stopping the operation of sex promotion that is currently ‘protected’ by the US constitution, and therefore legal measures need to be adjusted.

In analysis, the core of the issue is transferring the onus of responsibility onto the owner/s of websites that may be used for illegal activity, as they are ultimately benefitting from the exploitation facilitated by their website (whether within or out of their knowledge).  Although the issue is complex and there are no tangible supply chains in an online system, the legislation ruling cyber security must mimic the template of recent Modern Slavery Legislation (e.g. in the UK), where the benefiters (i.e. corporations) must be responsible for human rights abuses in their supply chain in the same way that website facilitators must be held accountable for abuses that are associated with their website’s network.

For the full report United States Senate’s report’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking, read here.