Let’s talk, let’s act: Mekong Youth Forum

On the final day of the Mekong Youth Forum, a theatrical presentation, designed and performed by the youth delegates, quickly captured the attention of all present.  The first slide on the video presentation running in the background during the drama highlighted why we had all gathered over the past week:  “Up to 200,000 children per year are trafficked in the region.”

With these daunting figures as a backdrop, the youth acted out being physically entrapped in a situation of exploitation and trafficking;  poignantly, one government delegate from each country was asked to come up and help “free” the youth from their situation of being shackled.

Many of those attending committed to redouble their efforts to strengthen prevention and response measures to end all trafficking and promote safe migration in their own countries.

Young people listening to government delegate comments at the end of their presentation.

Over the week, youth delegates from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, finalised their recommendations on combating, mitigating and preventing trafficking and risky migration. Their recommendations highlighted the following:

1)  Victim (survivor) protection:  better monitoring and follow up with survivors and their families; more and better managed transit centres in origin and source areas; more counselling centres; ensuring compensation for survivors or trafficking and exploitation.

2)  Education:  integrating human trafficking and migration as topics in school curricula; fostering a migrant-inclusive atmosphere in schools; provision of scholarships for migrant children and ensuring documentation and proof of education completion for migrant children.

3)  Support systems for migrant children: increase budgets to support and protect migrant children; institutionalise a greater Mekong regional hotline for migrant children; support the development of more migrant centres at the community level; develop  unified guidelines and protocols on protecting migrant children; strengthen networks of volunteers in each country to monitor and collect data on migration and move towards developing a unified database; ensure that one government department in each country is tasked with the protection of migrant children.

4)  Workplace Management: governments should ensure a safe working environment for migrant youth of legal working age with non-discriminatory policies and equal pay and benefits; regular monitoring of places where migrant youth work and opportunities for youth to form labour groups or associations; institutionalise clear recruitment procedures in accordance with country and international laws and agreements.

5)  Crossing Borders and Documentation: young people highlighted that many of their peers (or through first hand knowledge) face exploitation while crossing borders — safe border crossings and proper documentation will serve as a prevention against potential exploitation. Ensure accountability amongst border check point personnel; standardise fees for acquiring proper documentation; governments should provide safe reporting/complaint channels for  migrants.

6)  Awareness Raising and Media:  the media should support responsible coverage of human trafficking and migration issues bearing in mind the confidentiality of survivors and scale up  social networking to disseminate information on trafficking and migration, including more participation from youth. The media can play a role in setting up regional hotlines to promote prevention and response and respect children’s rights and protect the identity of children who are survivors of trafficking.

7)  Youth Participation: take into consideration the establishment/set up of a Youth COMMIT (Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking), which would help institutionalise youth participation in planning, implementation and monitoring of activities and processes; governments should consider providing more budget for youth participation.

8)  Law Enforcement: comprehensive mapping of government officials along borders; set up CCTV systems at border crossing check points; commit to punish perpetrators of trafficking; Mekong cooperation to cut down on the use of fake documentation and investigate those agencies that allow the use of fake documentation; strict enforcement of laws curtailing the number of unregistered agencies that provide false information in both destination and source communities.

In the late afternoon sessions, youth and government delegates discussed the joint recommendations and the feasibility of implementing them in each country context.  As a case in point, the Myanmar delegates made commitments to disseminate information on unscrupulous recruitment agencies, to work with youth and civil society on more capacity building programmes for youth and use radio and other media to raise awareness about trafficking.

For me personally — new to the region but not to the child protection sector — the week was an unprecedented learning opportunity; an opportunity to meet and talk with youth who have first-hand experiences with migration and trafficking, who are leaders that will promote even greater shared leadership with other youth and who are working in their peers best interest.  I was overwhelmed by their energy and drive.

The forum’s tag line of “Let’s talk. Let’s act” sums up the tremendous task that youth, government, indeed, all of us have in front of us. Only then will we be able to significantly reduce the 200,000 trafficked a year figure.  Perhaps our new tag line should be:  Let’s get going!

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