Romania: commitment to protect children and adults from economic exploitation, but more needs to be done - UN Expert on slavery

BUCHAREST (17 December 2010)– The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, concluding her visit to Romania, said that “the Government of Romania has demonstrated a genuine commitment to the elimination of worst forms of child labour and forced labour as evidenced by its impressive legislative arsenal to combat those contemporary forms of slavery”.

“The recent revision of the criminal code which establishes as separate offenses many crimes amounting to contemporary forms of slavery while at the same time encompassing a victim centered approach shows that the Government is sensitive to responding to new challenges”. However, the UN Expert stressed that the enforcement of the existing legislation remains insufficient and that programmes to support its implementation are inadequate and need to be further developed.

“The international financial crisis is harshly impacting children, and in particular children leaving in poor agricultural rural areas, Roma children and children working on the streets, increasing their preexisting vulnerabilities to labour or sexual exploitation”. She warned that the considerable achievements in fighting worst forms of child labour might be reversed by the effects of the prevailing economic situation. She further expressed concern that the National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child has been downgraded to a General Directorate for Child Protection.

I believe that elevating the status of the General Directorate for Child Protection by establishing a post of State Secretary which would address in a comprehensive and holistic way all issues affecting children would be a step in the right direction” the UN expert said. Such an institution, working in cooperation with all other existing institutions in the field would be in a position to develop, coordinate and monitor in an efficient way programs and actions on child protection.

Among noteworthy measures already taken, she referred to the existing cooperation between state’s programs and non government organizations aimed at offering a second chance to children who were compelled to drop out of school to help their families survive. “This is a very commendable exemplification of what the government and NGOs can achieve when they work together”, the UN expert said, while adding that it is the Government’s primary responsibility for the delivering of social services and benefits provided for in the legislation.

The UN expert pointed to an emerging phenomenon which might, if not adequately addressed, result in resurgence of a new form of forced labour. “The inflow of economic migrant workers originating from Eastern European countries and Asia on the Romanian labour market has and will continue to increase in the future” the UN expert said. Several cases of foreign migrant workers who were submitted to abusive working conditions have already hit the headlines. The UN expert warned against any relaxation in the protection guaranteed by labour legislation which might lead to violations of worker’s rights, and in particular of those new immigrants who can be easily deceived by false promises. Numerous cases of Romanian workers who went abroad to work and who were similarly deceived by unscrupulous recruiting agencies were also brought to her attention. The UN Expert urged the government to consider the ratification of Convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families and to seek further the cooperation of countries receiving Romanian workers as well as of countries from where migrant workers originate through the conclusion of bilateral agreements so as to ensure them a better protection.

Against such a grim economic background, urgent measures and actions are needed now more than ever, to combat both the worst forms of child labour and a possible resurgence of forced labour. The economic downturn cannot become an excuse for diminished action and cutting of programs. Instead, it offers the opportunity to rethink and reprioritize policies to implement measures that work for people.

Enhancing the human and technical capacities of the labour inspectorate is another area to be addressed to unveil hidden forms of labour exploitation. The privacy of homes and offices should also not constitute an obstacle to protecting the rights of invisible workers, children and adults.

To develop and enhance these vital policies and structural measures requires long term commitment from international institutions and the international community. This will make the achievements tangible and irreversible.

During her visit, Ms. Shahinian met with Government officials, the Romanian Institute for Human Rights, the Ombudsperson, NGOs, and UN agencies present in Romania. She also met with trade union organizations, street children as well as children who had dropped out of school. She visited Bucharest, as well as Slobozia in the Ialomita County where she met with local communities. She is grateful to the Government of Romania for its cooperation in the preparation and conduct of her mission as well as to UN agencies and civil society organizations.

Ms. Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children's rights, gender, migration and human trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery.

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