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FAAE Committee Report

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FULL GOVERNMENT OF CANADA RESPONSE TO THE FIFTEENTH REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ENTITLED A GLOBAL FIGHT: SUPPORTING EFFORTS TO ADDRESS SEX TRAFFICKING IN SOUTH ASIA

INTRODUCTION

The Government of Canada has carefully reviewed the Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and thanks its members for the opportunity to participate in the hearings leading up to the tabling of this report. The Government of Canada appreciates that the Committee and its Subcommittee on International Human Rights have devoted considerable attention to this important issue. It also thanks the witnesses for their expert testimony which has helped provide a fuller picture of the situation in South Asia. 

The Committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights studied trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation in South Asia and considered ways to combat this crime which the Government of Canada might incorporate in its regional initiatives. The Committee’s Report, tabled on February 15, 2018, made four broad recommendations for the government: promotion of the implementation by South Asian countries of the UN Convention Against Corruption; increased data collection in the region to support investigations and prosecution; making the reduction of vulnerability to trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation a specific goal and priority of Canada’s international assistance and bilateral relations in South Asia; and providing assistance to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to prevent trafficking in persons and to support survivors.

Trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation, is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. It is often described as a modern day form of slavery. This crime is not only intolerable in Canadian society; it must also be uncovered and rooted out in all societies where it occurs. The survivors, who are mostly women and children, are deprived of their normal lives and forced to provide their labour or sexual services, through a variety of coercive practices that generate direct profit for their perpetrators. Exploitation often occurs through intimidation, by force, sexual assault and other threats of violence to themselves or their families. The physical and psychological impacts on the survivors of this form of abuse may be traumatic, deep-seated and long-lasting.

Canada’s existing policies, advocacy and programming frameworks are well positioned to address the root issues that can give rise to trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The Feminist International Assistance Policy commits the Government of Canada to address the high rates of sexual and gender-based violence experienced by women and girls. Trafficking and the exploitation of women and girls is a particularly horrific manifestation of sexual and gender-based violence where Canada can contribute to prevention efforts, support survivors and hold perpetrators to account.

The Government of Canada generally agrees with the recommendations of the Committee’s Report. It proposes to consider them within the wider policy, advocacy and programming actions that the Government of Canada is undertaking. This Response provides a coherent framework of existing policy, advocacy and programming tools, largely at the multilateral level, to help address trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation in India, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan, as well as programming to address underlying issues and sexual and gender-based violence with an emphasis on Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where Canada maintains dedicated international assistance programs. The Government Response also recognizes the importance of working more comprehensively to tackle the underlying issues that can give rise to trafficking in persons – this includes promoting human rights (including sexual and reproductive health rights), strengthening public education and health, supporting labour rights, improving access to economic opportunities for women, and strengthening law enforcement and justice system capacities.The Response further focuses on the need to address data and evidence gaps before proceeding with significant new programming.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Combating corruption in the fight against sex trafficking in South Asia.

That the Government of Canada use all means to encourage South Asian states to implement their obligations under the UN Convention Against Corruption, and to address the impact of corruption on existing national anti-trafficking initiatives.

RESPONSE:  The Government of Canada generally agrees with this recommendation.

Global Affairs Canada is active in international efforts to end trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation, mainly through participation in international fora, provision of support to capacity-building projects, and international assistance. Canada is an active proponent in regional and multilateral processes such as those of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Labour Organization, the Regional Conference on Migration (RCM – Americas), the Global Compact for Migration, the Global Compact for Refugees and the G7 Roma-Lyon Group. In these fora, Canada shares best practices and strategies to combat trafficking in persons, promotes the use of international legal instruments and supports work on emerging trends such as trafficking in persons in global supply chains, along migration routes, in conflict zones or during humanitarian crises. Specifically, Canada notes that Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal are not parties to the Protocol to Prevent, Supress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Government of Canada will continue to use bilateral and multilateral engagement opportunities to advocate for their accession to this important international instrument.

With regard to the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), the Department’s main engagement with the countries addressed by the Report is through the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which meets every two years, and through its subsidiary bodies, comprised of working groups on specialized topics, which generally meet annually.

Canada is committed to tackling corruption in this forum and in others. We do this since corruption, like trafficking in persons, is a crime that does not respect borders. To investigate and interdict corruption across international borders, we also need to ensure that the framework for international legal cooperation is robust and effective. The UN Convention against Corruption provides that baseline and Canada continues to encourage all countries to ratify and implement this instrument. Canada will also continue to advocate that links between corruption and other crimes be explored, including with trafficking in persons, since so much of trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation is aided and abetted by the corruption of those who either profit from, or turn a blind eye to, the plight of women and girls caught in its trap.

Canada can also be seen as indirectly supporting the implementation of UNCAC with an Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP) 2017 project, valued at $811,000, funding the work of the UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism (IRM). The IRM is a state-expert-based peer review process that makes recommendations on what State Parties to UNCAC should do to strengthen its implementation. These reviews are split into cycles in order to spread the required work over time. First cycle reviews on implementation of UNCAC chapters III (Criminalization and law enforcement), including criminalization of bribery of public officials such as police or customs officers, and IV (International cooperation) have been completed for Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka and reviews for Bhutan and India are underway. Second cycle reviews focusing on chapters II (Preventive measures) and V (Asset recovery) began in 2016. None of the countries covered by the Committee’s Report have completed these second cycle reviews at the time of writing this response. The timing of these reviews is determined by the drawing of lots. As of April 2018, only Sri Lanka and Nepal have begun their second cycle reviews. Maldives is scheduled to begin its review in mid-2018, with the review of the remaining countries subject of the Committee’s report to be launched in mid-2020.

More broadly, the Government of Canada will continue to raise the importance of trafficking in persons – including trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation – through diplomatic channels and advocacy efforts, particularly in South Asian countries where human rights abuses are especially pronounced. This includes bilateral interactions with foreign governments, coordination on advocacy initiatives and information gathering with likeminded missions, engagement with civil society actors working on trafficking in persons and related issues, and advocacy through relevant multilateral forums such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Bali Process and the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process. The Government of Canada also advocates internationally to catalyze resources to end all forms of violence against children, including trafficking in persons. This is a role that the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie has played through her participation on the Founding Board of the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Enhancing data collection and detection capacity to hold perpetrators accountable and protect survivors.

That the Government of Canada provide concrete support to regional efforts to collect evidence and information on the nature of sex trafficking across South Asia, with a focus on enhancing investigations and prosecutions of crimes related to sex trafficking, while protecting victims and survivors.

RESPONSE: The Government of Canada will carefully consider this recommendation as decisions are made on possible funding levels, where applicable.

The framework of the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP) of Global Affairs Canada is well positioned to help assist with the data gap and other similar problems associated with human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, to the extent that funding is apportioned to meet this challenge and the other anti-crime challenges it helps to address.

The ACCBP is committed to implementing capacity-building initiatives to help countries that require assistance in their fight against transnational organized crime, including trafficking in persons. Although the ACCBP allows for programming globally, initiatives at present are focused on the Americas. Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling is one of six ACCBP thematic priorities. The ACCBP also administers Canada’s annual voluntary contributions to the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which both work on countering trafficking in persons and corruption.

With a $15 million annual allocation of core funding from the International Assistance Envelope, ACCBP capacity-building assistance is delivered by Canadian government departments and agencies as well as through partnerships with international organizations, close allies and non-governmental organizations. Capacity-building assistance has proved to be a flexible, responsive and cost-effective way to address criminal threats in source and transit countries. The ACCBP has not provided funding for any projects specifically aimed at countering trafficking in persons in the countries listed under the scope of the Committee’s Report. However, to date, some larger counter-transnational crime capacity-building projects funded by the ACCBP in Southeast Asia, including in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar, have included sub-activities focused on trafficking in persons. The terms and conditions of the ACCBP enable funding of projects that aim to combat trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Informed by the findings of the Committee’s Report, ACCBP will remain alert to viable opportunities to advance this aspect of the human trafficking agenda.

Given the contribution of the ACCBP to combatting trafficking in persons globally, Global Affairs Canada also reports on the number of people who are trafficked globally (disaggregated by sex and age) using information contained in the UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.  The Government of Canada continues to support enhancing data collection and collaboration within international organizations charged with the collection and sharing of data concerning the trafficking in persons, as well as capacity-building of South Asian partners when possible, using existing advocacy and multilateral programming channels. Such further data collection, analysis and sharing will be needed to better inform programming decisions to address a largely hidden crime. The RCMP, as Canada's National Police Service, will continue to share information with approved foreign police authorities, in keeping with its mandate to fight transnational crime.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Including the prevention of sex trafficking as a development goal and a priority in bilateral relations in the region.

That the Government of Canada make reducing women and girl’s vulnerability to human trafficking – and commercial sex trafficking in particular – a specific goal in its bilateral relations within the region and a metric through which to evaluate its international assistance policy and programming.

RESPONSE:  The Government of Canada generally agrees with this recommendation to reduce women’s and girls’ vulnerability to trafficking in persons, including for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The Government of Canada proposes to pursue this important recommendation primarily by continuing to contribute to addressing the core issues that give rise to the prevalence of trafficking in persons in South Asia, as well as through its comprehensive approach to addressing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

After extensive cross-cutting consultations in the lead up to launching its international assistance policy, the Government of Canada announced its Feminist International Assistance Policy on June 9, 2017. The core action area for the new policy is gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, which includes combatting SGBV. The other action areas (human dignity, growth that works for everyone, environment and climate action, inclusive governance and peace and security) also include actions to address gender inequality, exclusion, vulnerability and SGBV.   

Canada’s international assistance contribute to reducing women’s and girls’ vulnerability to trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the region primarily by working on underlying issues and by addressing SGBV. Poverty, inequality, lack of respect for human rights and accountability, insufficient social protections and lack of opportunity are among the root causes of trafficking in persons, increasing the vulnerability of women, children and youth of being exploited by the perpetrators of this crime. Overall, Canada’s international assistance helps reduce vulnerability by, inter alia: promoting human rights; strengthening public health, education and child protection systems; supporting labour rights, social protections and access to economic opportunities for women; and strengthening law enforcement and justice system capacities.

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy further specifically commits to addressing the high rates of SGBV, which includes trafficking in persons and exploitation. Its comprehensive approach includes prevention efforts, services for survivors and accountability for perpetrators to help end these forms of violence. Addressing SGBV is a key component of Canada’s Her Voice Her Choice Initiative, which was announced in 2017 and commits $650 million over three years to support comprehensive programming on sexual and reproductive health and rights. For example, as part of this initiative, country-specific programming addressing SGBV has been approved for both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This includes an initiative to scale up protection services and coping mechanisms for women and girls in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in response to the on-going Rohingya refugee crisis as the lack of economic and familial support for women and girls in the camps make them extremely vulnerable to human trafficking. In addition, Canada is working with the Government of Bangladesh and civil society partners to promote and protect the rights of women domestic workers in Bangladesh, given the risks they face of violence, exploitation and abuse. 

Canada’s Women’s Voice and Leadership Program further commits $150 million over five years to support local women’s organizations in advancing the empowerment and rights of women and girls. This program will support issues and sectors identified as key priorities by local women’s organizations, which could include addressing SGBV and other women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment issues in ways that could help reduce their vulnerability to trafficking. Countries in the South Asia region where Global Affairs Canada has a development presence are eligible for planned initiatives under this Program. The Department will work with its civil society networks to encourage local women’s organizations advancing gender equality to apply for funding in countries where Women’s Voice and Leadership projects are being implemented.

In addition to addressing SGBV, Canada’s dedicated international assistance programs in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka contribute in other ways to reducing the vulnerability of women and girls to trafficking in persons. For example, both bilateral programs are making investments to support the economic livelihoods of women. In Sri Lanka, programming is providing young women with skills for employment training and supporting women’s access to financial services. In Bangladesh, projects are helping to strengthen labour protection and provide skills training for women. This is complemented by programming aimed at improving access to quality education and health services for women and children. Canada is also helping to address vulnerability to trafficking and SGBV through its institutional support to multilateral organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), all of which are active in the South Asian region. 

With respect to the Committee’s recommendations on metrics, the Government of Canada has selected a number of indicators to track progress on the Feminist International Assistance Policy’s implementation. A key component of the Feminist International Assistance Policy is to contribute to efforts to end the high rates of SGBV experienced by women and girls, which includes combatting trafficking in persons and exploitation; domestic violence; intimate-partner violence; child, early and forced marriage; and female genital mutilation. As a result, Global Affairs Canada is tracking the number of people reached through its projects that help prevent, respond to, and end SGBV. The Department is currently assessing how data – reflecting the different forms of SGBV – will be rolled up to report on this indicator.

A separate mechanism, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), enables missions to support small-scale and short-term projects, including those addressing trafficking in persons and related programming, often in concert with their policy and advocacy work. This is particularly useful in countries where Global Affairs Canada does not have dedicated international assistance programs (e.g. Bhutan, India, Maldives, and Nepal). CFLI is a contribution program that annually disburses $14.7 million in countries which qualify for Official Development Assistance as determined by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. CFLI projects average approximately $25,000 each, to a maximum of $100,000, with the majority of CFLI funding directed toward local civil society organizations. CFLI terms and conditions stipulate that projects must be consistent with Canada’s priorities for international assistance. 

Since 2012, a total of six CFLI projects worth $172,000 have been implemented on trafficking in persons in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, with a focus on: strengthening mechanisms for prosecuting trafficking crimes; preventing intergenerational prostitution and trafficking; providing support to survivors of trafficking in persons; and capacity-building for grassroots human rights defenders and local communities to prevent sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking in persons.  A 2017 project implemented in the Kanchanpur district in Western Nepal addressed issues of human trafficking through an awareness raising campaign, support to survivors, enhancing border monitoring and capacity-building for five village committees. Canadian missions in South Asia also support other projects which intersect with trafficking in persons, including those related to women’s economic and political empowerment, child and early forced marriage, and sexual and gender-based violence. As a decentralized program, the annual selection of projects and the targeting of particular thematic priorities are determined at the mission level, based on an analysis of the local context.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Providing concrete support to NGOs working to eliminate sex trafficking and rehabilitate survivors. 

That the Government of Canada prioritize support for non-governmental organizations working towards preventing sex trafficking and rehabilitating survivors in South Asia in its international assistance programming.  Further, the Government of Canada should encourage those organizations with appropriate expertise to expand programming related to the prevention of sex trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims and survivors.

RESPONSE: The Government of Canada generally agrees with this recommendation.

The Government of Canada currently delivers much of its international assistance through much valued Canadian, international and local NGOs.  In this context, the Government of Canada provides financial and technical support to NGOs working on addressing SGBV, including trafficking in persons for purpose of sexual exploitation where possible. In order to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of its funding, Canada’s support is informed by the specific SGBV priorities identified by local NGOs themselves. The Government of Canada also works closely with its civil society networks to gather information on key human rights issues, including trafficking in persons, to inform its own advocacy approaches. Further, Canada has consistently advocated for civil society space across the region so that activists and organizations, including NGOs, can do their work without intimidation or undue restrictions. This is germane to making the operating environment more conducive for local NGOs working on addressing trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

There are a number of mechanisms through which NGOs are eligible to receive support for their efforts to address SGBV. Global Affairs Canada regularly issues calls for proposals aimed at Canadian NGOs to work in ODA-eligible countries in partnership with local NGOs. For example, the Partnerships for Her Voice Her Choice call for preliminary proposals was launched on March 16, 2018. SGBV was one of the priority areas for this call and South Asian countries were eligible. In addition, the first call for preliminary proposals under the Canadian Small and Medium Organizations for Impact and Innovation Initiative (which will provide $100 million over five years for small and medium-sized Canadian civil society organizations) was launched in November 2017. Under this call, the preliminary proposals were required to contribute to the achievement of the objectives of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and align with at least one of the six action areas of the Policy; proposals in South Asia were encouraged.

The Women’s Voice and Leadership Program (see Response to Recommendation 3) is another mechanism aimed specifically at local civil society organizations. This Program will support issues and sectors identified as key priorities by local women’s rights organizations, which could include trafficking in person for sexual exploitation. The Program will provide financial and technical support to women’s rights organizations to strengthen their advocacy, service delivery, management, networking and financial sustainability. Countries in the South Asia region where Global Affairs Canada has a development presence are eligible for planned initiatives under this Program.

The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (see Response to Recommendation 3) also allows missions in the South Asia region to fund small-scale projects of short duration, including those supporting activities by NGOs to address trafficking in persons and related issues.

Canada’s existing policies, advocacy and programming frameworks are well positioned to address the issues that can give rise to trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation. To help spur meritorious project proposals in South Asia to address the specific issue of trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation as part of these broader efforts, this Government Response will be communicated to Canada’s missions in South Asia with the attendant message for officials to remain vigilant for viable opportunities to engage with local NGOs active in the field on this issue.

Although the Government of Canada agrees that Canada’s international assistance can and should contribute to reducing vulnerability to trafficking in persons, the scale and scope of poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity in the region require resources far beyond what donor countries alone can bring to bear. Most of the heavy lifting to address the issue of trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation, needs to be done by national governments, in conjunction with the country’s own private sector and civil society. This is especially the case with countries less dependent on international assistance. Of the countries of South Asia studied in the Committee’s Report, Canada only has dedicated international assistance programs with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; India terminated its government-to-government aid partnerships in 2006 and Canada does not currently have dedicated international assistance programs in Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal.

CONCLUSION

Trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation, is a heinous crime. It has a devastating impact on survivors, with life-long consequences for their psychological and physical well-being. As the work of the Committee has ably demonstrated, informing the public and shedding more light on a clandestine world is an important first step in the fight to end trafficking in persons.

Clearly more needs to be done to eliminate this largely hidden crime. Governments cannot act alone. Collaboration and referral among key services, from law enforcement to health workers, teachers, employers and social workers, together with dedicated non-governmental organizations, can make a difference. The fight against trafficking in persons will remain a priority for Canada, which will remain alert to viable opportunities to advance this agenda in the countries of South Asia.  Through our bilateral relations, Canada will further advocate that national governments do more to combat human trafficking.