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  • 1. Psychosocial aspects of the Involvement of children in Judicial Proceedings Child Trafficking An Michels

2. Introduction: Overview of the presentation

  • Children as victims of trafficking
      • relationship between vulnerability and consequences of trafficking for children
  • Psychological impact of trafficking on children
      • Trauma and its consequences
      • Psychosocial Needs of child victims
  • Child victims as witnesses
      • Rights of children as witnesses
      • Key elements for protection, support and prevention of re-traumatisation of child witnesses
      • Credibility of child witnesses - appropriate questioning in Court

3. A. Children as victims of trafficking

  • Interconnected vulnerability factors determine risk for children:

Poverty Lack of education Dysfunctional family Disability Violence Discrimination Institutionalisation Child labour Abuse 4. Combination and interaction of factors

  • Increased risk to become a victim of trafficking, in its different forms
  • But also increased impact of trafficking experience
    • few coping mechanisms, increased victimisation
    • decreases chances for successful reintegration
    • trauma can be reinforced by previous traumatic experiences
  • Important to understand vulnerability:
    • To identify psychosocial needs of children
    • To tailor protective measures for child witnesses
    • To prevent re-trafficking

5. Violence and trauma as a vulnerability factor

  • Many child victims have history of abuse before recruitment:
    • They often lack skills to cope with stress, to confront pressure and violence, to be assertive.
    • They often lack skills to distinguish between genuine caring and abusive relationships.
    • They often lack skills to protect themselves from a repetition of the abuse.

6. B. Psychological impact of traffickingon children

  • Understanding impact is crucial
    • To be able to decide on appropriate protective and re-integrative measures
    • To understand reactions of child victims and the difficulties they might experience as witnesses
    • To judge the credibility of the testimony of child witnesses


  • Trafficking experience has very often a severe impact on physical and psychological well-being of the child.
    • Because of impact of poor living conditions, forced labour, sexual exploitation, violence and abuse.
    • Because of separation from family and/or attachment figures, deception.
    • Because of stigmatisation and difficulty to reintegrate.

8. Psychological impact

  • Trauma as a consequence of trafficking
    • Child victims, especially victims of sexual exploitation, go very often through a series of traumatic events that:
      • Are perceived as life threatening
      • Make the child feel powerless, extremely anxious and out of control


  • Traumatic events are so overwhelming
    • That the normal coping mechanisms of the child fail
    • That information processing (perception, memorisation and recalling of events) is disrupted
      • A traumatic memory consists of images, sensations, fragments
      • A normal memory consists mainly of a story of what happened
  • Previous traumatic experiences reinforce trauma of trafficking

10. Signs of trauma: development of behavioural, cognitive and emotional problems

  • Depending on developmental stage:
  • Age 0-5:
    • increased crying, being frightened, clinginess, failure to grow, nightmares, sleeplessness
  • Age 6-12:
    • Aggressive or sexualised play, afraid to sleep, nightmares, bed wetting, refusing to talk, regression (acting like a baby), headaches, stomach aches
  • Age 13-19:
    • Refusing to talk about feelings, fantasies of revenge, depression, eating disorders

11. Other psychological problems that might occur as a result of trafficking

  • Problems with attachment, loss of basic trust
    • Can block reintegration in the family and community
  • Aggressive behaviour, disturbance of moral development and value system, substance abuse
    • Can lead to delinquent behaviour
  • Feelings of shame and guilt, low self-esteem
    • Can hamper future development, also impacts on collaboration with law enforcement officials

12. Development of survival and defence mechanisms

  • Memory suppression
    • Forgetting the emotional stress experienced during traumatic events is a way to keep the pain away
    • Importance of triggers
  • Dissociation
    • as if it was someone else, apathy, indifference
  • Denial
    • Minimising or denying the reality of the events
  • Survival mechanisms can impact oninvolvement of child victim as witness

13. What do children need to recover from trafficking?

  • Basic conditions for recovery
    • Safety : physical and psychological safety are a crucial condition to start process of recovery
      • need for individual assessment of the child before decisions concerning his future are made
      • Need for protective measures
    • Time : trauma does not heal spontaneously, even with intensive support a child will need time to recover
      • Need for access to multidisciplinary and intensive support adapted to the childs level of development
    • Respectfor the child and its rights
      • Need to hear child views, understanding of the psychological impact of trafficking

14. C.Child victims as witnesses

  • Child victims are particularly vulnerable and need special protection, assistance and support appropriate to their age, level of maturity and unique needs in order to prevent further hardship and trauma that may result from their participation in the criminal justice process
  • UN guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime

15. UN (ECOSOC) guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime

  • Right to be treated with dignity and compassion
    • Taking into account childrens personal situation and immediate needs, age, gender, level of maturity, wishes and feelings
    • All interactions should be conducted in a child-sensitive and empathic manner in a suitable environment.
  • Right to be protected from discrimination
    • Implies taking account of the different nature of particular offences, such as sexual assault
    • Implies that age should not be a barrier to the childs right to be treated as a capable witness


  • Right to be informed
    • Of availability of health, psychological and social services
    • Of progress and disposition of a case
    • Of availability of protective measures
  • Right to express views and concerns and to be heard
    • Ensure that children are enabled to express freely, and in their own manner, their views and concerns regarding their involvement in the justice process, the manner in which they prefer to provide testimony, their safety
    • Ensure that children are involved in the decision to be a witness and have time and information to take this decision
  • Right to effective assistance
    • Implies support commencing at the initial report and continuing until these services are no longer required


  • Right to privacy
    • Measures should be taken to exclude public and media from the courtroom
  • Right to safety
    • Measures to protect the child from risk before