Children’s Rights and Modern Slavery: Bridging a Gap in Literature and Practice

by | Sep 19, 2023

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About Naomi Lott and Pamela Vargas Gorena and Katarina Schwarz

Naomi Lott - Lecturer in Law, UCL; John Fell Research Fellow, University of Oxford; Rights Lab Visiting Fellow in Law, Survivor Support and Children’s Rights, University of Nottingham. Dr Naomi Lott’s primary research interests are in the field of children's rights, with a particular focus on children's economic, social and cultural rights, and particularly the right to play. Naomi completed a PhD at the University of Nottingham on the child's right to play, examining the right from conception through to implementation. Naomi has conducted research on modern slavery and children's rights in conjunction with the United Nations University, Delta 8.7, the ILO and IOM, and the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham. Naomi has recently completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford, and has published her work on the right to play in The Right of the Child to Play: From Conception to Implementation (Routledge, 2023). Pamela Vargas-Gorena is a Research Fellow in Human Rights and Anti-slavery Law at the University of Nottingham. Her research focuses on mapping global anti-slavery legislation in order to understand trends, successes and failures. She is a former Chief Legal Adviser of the Cabinet Office in her home country, Bolivia.  As a former Director of a Non-Profit working with vulnerable children and head of various government departments, she has contributed and advised on the development of laws, policies and programmes at central and local levels. Her research background includes comparative law and jurisprudence as well as the assessment of government law, policies, and capacities. She holds an MSc in Public Policy from the University of Bristol, LLM in Constitutional Law and a LLM in Administrative Law from Latin American universities. Katarina Schwarz - Rights Lab Associate Director (Law and Policy Programme) and Associate Professor of Antislavery Law and Policy. Dr Katarina Schwarz leads the Rights Lab’s Law and Policy Programme. Her research interrogates the law and policy frameworks operating at the global, regional, and domestic level to determine the elements of effective anti-slavery governance and map trends, successes, and failures in this area. This includes work developing and analysing the Antislavery in Domestic Legislation Database—the world’s first comprehensive database of the domestic legislation and international obligations of all 193 UN Member States with regard to slavery and related forms of exploitation.

Modern slavery is a children’s rights issue. Children’s rights are implicated before, during, and after exploitation. Yet, academic literature on modern slavery and exploitation rarely addresses children’s rights.

A systematic evidence review, for a project funded by the ILO and IOM ‘Research to Action’ scheme, examined academic literature at the intersection of two historically separate fields – modern slavery, and children’s rights – published between 2000 and 2022. It revealed a significant paucity of meaningful engagement across the two fields. The review identified 7,267 records that related in some way to modern slavery or children’s rights, with an increase in such literature published within this timeframe (18 records in 2000, and 119 in 2021). However, only 345 records were progressed for further analysis largely due to a lack of engagement with both fields. This shows that although modern slavery is a children’s rights issue, academic literature is neglecting to address children’s rights. This has significant implications for the development of legislation, policy, rehabilitation and prevention programmes, and practice. It is also revealing of a breach of children’s rights. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that children’s voices are heard in relation to all matters affecting them. Children’s voices should therefore be informing practices that intend to prevent, end, or lessen the impacts of modern slavery. If this was so, it would not be possible to discuss modern slavery, and in particular the modern slavery of children, without addressing topics relating to children’s rights.