U.N. Official Urges Ukraine To Strengthen Efforts To Combat Children Trafficking

KIEV, Ukraine -- A visiting United Nations official on Friday urged Ukraine to strengthen efforts to combat child trafficking, which he said remained a major problem for the ex-Soviet nation.

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"I remain concerned at the low rate of prosecution and sentencing of traffickers, authors of child pornography and other crimes against children," said Juan Miguel Petit, a U.N. official in charge of the world body's efforts to stop child prostitution, child pornography and other crimes against children.

Petit said that the government should strengthen its efforts to combat the problems. Its recommendations included creating a separate juvenile justice system, naming a special ombudsman on children's rights and setting up a national commission to protect children rights.

Ukraine remains a primary source for men, women and children trafficked to Europe, the Middle East and Russia for sexual exploitation and forced labor, according to international experts.

Low salaries and high unemployment force thousands of Ukrainians to seek employment abroad, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, they say.

The International Organization for Migration says it has provided assistance to about 3,000 Ukrainians who were victims of trafficking since 2000, but estimates that that number is only a small portion of the victims. Petit said that 10 percent of these victims were children.

He also said that statistics on human trafficking in Ukraine — and elsewhere — belie the true scope of the problem. "It is a huge figure, but it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Petit.

Yuriy Pavlenko, head of a state agency in charge of combating human trafficking said that 103 criminal probes into alleged children trafficking were opened since 2003.

Source: AP