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Thank you, Chair.
I am speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries Montenegro* and Albania[*], and the EFTA country Norway, member of the European Economic Area, as well as Georgia align themselves with this statement.
Eradication of child labour constitutes a priority of EU human rights action. We support the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as ILO Conventions 138 on minimum age and 182 on worst forms of child labour. We reiterate our strong commitment towards guaranteeing the fundamental human rights of every child, as defined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development target to end child labour in all its forms by 2025.
This year, as we mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 20th anniversary of the International Labour Organisation Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour – representing the cornerstone of international protection of children's rights – the need to see more results towards eliminating child labour is even more blatant.
Lao and the EU have a close and constructive relationship, based on substantial development cooperation, support to the national reform agenda and a commitment to open markets by granting preferential access to the EU market via the ‘Everything but Arms’ scheme, which is conditional to the respect of fundamental human and labour rights principles including the fight against child labour and abuse.
Trafficking and sexual exploitation of children constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour. According to Lao’s national Violence against Children Survey, carried out by the National Statistics Bureau in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and UNICEF, 1 in 8 girls and 1 in 14 boys are sexually abused as a child. Adolescents make up a significant proportion of female sex workers in Lao: 27 per cent of female sex workers are reported selling sex at their first sexual experience at a mean age of 17 years. Furthermore cases of trafficked, exploited and sexually abused children grow with increasingly open borders. Some of the victims of trafficking, particularly women and girls, are reportedly as young as 11 years old. Trafficking victims are often migrants, mostly coming from rural areas, forced out of the country due to poverty and a lack of educational opportunities. Trafficking cases usually involve children and young people who are either exploited in the commercial sex industry or forced into factory, agricultural or construction labour. There are also a number of cases of girls sold abroad as brides.
We are deeply concerned that a large number of cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in Lao still does not lead to a conviction owing to traditional out-of-court settlements at the village level and the failure of the judicial authorities to enforce the law. We urge the Government to ensure the proper implementation of the Anti-Human Trafficking Law and to undertake the necessary measures so that all perpetrators are duly prosecuted, including foreign traffickers and their accomplices among the law enforcement, judiciary and immigrations officials. Only sustained and decisive measures to combat trafficking and exploitation of children, as well as impunity in general, will send a clear message to society that violence is unacceptable and will be punished.
We welcome the Government’s efforts to address with specific awareness-raising measures the travel and tourism sector, which is particularly prone to the risk of sexual exploitation of children. We strongly encourage the government and its competent authorities to carry out regular inspections on hotels, guest houses and other accommodation and entertainment sites as to enforce and monitor their compliance with the relevant regulations put in place. These regulations should be part of comprehensive national time-bound programmes aimed at eliminating sexual exploitation of children and coordinated with regional programmes to combat trafficking in young women and children. Actions to promote responsible business and engagement with the private operators in the travel and tourism sector represent an essential component of effective national policies and should complement enforcement measures.
Finally, we call on the Government in Lao to intensify its efforts as to guarantee the highest possible protection against any form of child labour or any other form of exploitation so that the children of Lao can enjoy a life conducive to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
The EU and its Member States remain committed to their close cooperation and partnership with Lao.
Thank you chair.
[*] Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.