On 10 October 2007, we joined forces in Athens with our Greek partner, The Smile of the Child, for the first ever U.S./Balkan Forum on Missing & Exploited Children.
The U.S./Balkan Forum brought together representatives from international organizations, governments and NGOs across 10 Balkan countries, as well as the United States, Europe. The agenda was ambitious: to get a detailed picture of the issues surrounding missing and exploited children in the Balkan region, highlighting efforts underway to combat the problem and to look for ways to collaborate across borders.
The following 16-point action plan emerged from the U.S./Balkan Forum:
- We will advocate for the creation of a Balkan Center for Missing and Exploited Children, based in Greece, which will address issues specific to the Balkan region, including child trafficking and child sexual exploitation;
- We will promote the creation of national operational centers in individual countries within the Balkan region. The centers will be patterned after Child Focus of Belgium; FOCUS, The Romanian Center for Missing and Sexually Exploitation Children; the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States; and The Smile of the Child in Greece;
- We will pursue discussions with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs about their proposed assistance with the creation of operational centers in the Balkan region. The Smile of the Child will be instrumental in these discussions. We will also pursue discussions with other interested Ministries of Foreign Affairs and government agencies;
- We will encourage agencies with existing databases to share information gathered about sexually exploited and trafficked children, as well as information regarding the consumers of these illegal enterprises. For example, Interpol’s global channels of communication and databases, including the database on child abuse images, provide resources for sharing information and data;
- We will work with local, national, regional, and international agencies to harmonize the collection of data and statistics on child sexual exploitation, and child trafficking in particular;
- We will undertake to gather improved data and statistics in order to better profile and understand the problems of child sexual exploitation, and child trafficking in particular;
- We will review existing systems and policies, and then use this review to work with government officials and policy leaders in order to improve the coordination and effectiveness of efforts to address these problems. As part of this effort, we will create an online database of nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, and other institutions working to fight trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation throughout the Balkan region;
- We will review laws and policies in the Balkan region with a particular focus on identifying and addressing the gaps and loopholes that hinder effective prosecution of child sexual exploitation, cases, and child trafficking in particular. Once the review and analysis is complete, we will produce a comprehensive report on uniform definitions, standards, laws, and policies;
- We will encourage the adoption of bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements to ensure the safe repatriation of children to their countries of origin, and we will work to stop the process of arbitrary child deportation. To this end, we will advocate for the signing and ratification of the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Cooperation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children;
- We will promote the adoption of formal cooperation agreements between governments, NGOs, law enforcement, and other public agencies, and encourage the appointment of liaison officers between and among these institutions;
- We will work to eliminate the profitability of commercial child sexual exploitation through following the flow of money and shutting the illegal enterprises down. To this end, we will mobilize banking and financial industry leaders in the Balkan region to work with the Financial Coalition against Child Pornography in its efforts to eradicate commercial child pornography;
- We will provide training and technical assistance to law enforcement, staff of newly‐established operational centers, social‐service professionals, and others entrusted with the protection of children. As part of this effort, we will work to raise public awareness of the problem and provide safety and prevention materials to children, parents, and educators;
- We will encourage implementation of existing best practices and model protocols regarding border controls and procedures to interdict child trafficking, and develop additional best practices and model protocols as necessary;
- We will work in a collaborative way to attack the demand for trafficking and sexual exploitation, and expand the legal tools available to hold customers accountable;
- We will work to develop a system for evaluating the services and effectiveness of NGOs working to combat child sexual exploitation; and
- We will work to identify new revenues and resources to enhance and support the vital efforts already under way in the Balkan region.