Article 35: Sale, trafficking and abduction


States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.


What does article 35 say?

Article 35 requires all States to take appropriate measures to prevent the abduction, sale or traffic of children. It is a positive obligation, which means that States must take deliberate steps to prevent such crimes from occurring, rather than only reacting once such crimes have taken place.  

The fulfilment of other Convention rights is important for article 35, for example the right to be free from violence (article 19), the right to free from exploitation in general (articles 34 and 36) and the right to protection from dangerous work (article 32).

Why is this right important?

Children may be trafficked for a number of different reasons including labour exploitation, domestic work, sexual exploitation, military conscription, marriage, illicit adoption, sport (for example, camel jockeys), begging and for their organs. Needless to say, trafficked children may experience extreme hardships, violence, exploitation and/or sexual abuse.

Trafficking was first defined in international law by the ‘Palermo Protocol’, or, to give it its full title, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000).  Article 3 of the Protocol defines trafficking as:

"...the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

What are the problems?

States can sometimes confuse trafficking in children with the sale of children, prohibiting the former but not the latter. While these practices overlap, they are not the same. For example, a child can be trafficked without being sold, as trafficking requires only the physical transfer of a child and needs neither a buyer nor a seller.

It is almost impossible to find reliable and accurate statistics on children trafficked every year because it is a hidden problem. At best, we can only estimate. The figure generally quoted is one provided by the International Labour Organisation in 2002: 1.2 million per year (Every Child Counts, New Global estimate on Child Labour). However, this figure is outdated and may underestimate the problem.

It is even more difficult to estimate the scale of trafficking because of difficulties in definition across States, in spite of Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol.

What should States do about it?

According to the Asian Migrant Centre ( understanding the migration/trafficking distinction is key:

"It must be emphasised that migration is the general phenomenon, and trafficking is only a mode of migration. Over-emphasising trafficking and taking it out of context (in relation to migration) is strategically counter-productive in the fight for human rights because: (a)trafficking puts migration in a crime control, crime prevention context, rather than talking about migrants’ human rights first, and then talking about trafficking in the context of human rights; and (b) trafficking is being used by governments as a vehicle to develop more restrictive approaches to migration in general." 

Stronger border controls under the pretext of preventing trafficking can actually render children more reliant on third parties to get them across the border, and therefore more vulnerable to rights violations associated with both migration and trafficking. 

Talk of child trafficking has also sometimes led to the reproduction of racist stereotypes. For example, Roma communities in Europe are often cited as both victims and perpetrators of child trafficking (O’Connell Davidson and Farrow, 2007: 36:

ECPAT argues that States must adopt effective anti-trafficking legislation that criminalises the traffickers rather than the victims. O’Connell Davidson and Farrow (2007: 56) also list a number of ways in which child rights agencies may address the problems of trafficking and migration, including recognising that “migration per se is not inherently bad for children”, and that the role of government is to address conditions under which children are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, while also acknowledging children’s capacity for migratory agency. The authors argue that organisations should not talk about migration in ways that can be used to justify repressive political measures and contribute to the vulnerability of children and their relatives.

This page forms part of a guide to children's rights as set out in the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The guide explains what these rights mean, why they are important and what should States do to guarantee them.