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III. Obligations Arising from the Human Rights of Particular Groups

1.4 Protection from exploitation in the illicit drug trade

Children have the right to protection from exploitation, including in the illicit drug trade. States shall take appropriate measures to protect children from exploitation in the illicit drug trade through preventative and remedial measures.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Prioritise addressing the root causes of involvement in the drug trade, including poverty and social marginalisation.

ii. Clearly define exploitation, ensuring that children’s participation in the rural cultivation of illicit drug crops through tradition or poverty is not wrongly treated as exploitation without specific evidence of such exploitation taking place.

iii. Avoid treating as criminals children who have been exploited in the drug trade.

Commentary:

The protection of children from exploitation in the drug trade is addressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.[665] It is also addressed in the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances,[666] as well as in the UN General Assembly Special Session 2016 Outcome Document.[667] Every UN Member State has treaty obligations relating to this issue, as the one State that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child has ratified the ILO Convention and the drug control convention. It should be noted, however, that because children’s involvement in the drug trade remains poorly researched and understood, there is less human rights guidance on this aspect of the protection of children from drugs. It is an area in need of considerable development.

The ILO Convention is clear on the need to impose penalties on those who exploit children, an idea that is supported by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, while there are many children who are exploited in the drug trade, not all forms of child involvement can or should be so categorised. States should agree on an appropriate definition of exploitation that clearly identifies vulnerable children and those who exploit them. Parents and other family members should not automatically be seen as criminals or punished for their children’s involvement in the rural cultivation of illicit drug crops. Additionally, children who are exploited in the drug trade or involved through poverty or tradition should not be treated as criminals.

The ILO Convention deals with preventative and development policy interventions to reduce children’s involvement in the worst forms of child labour.[668] The Convention’s provisions focus on root causes and reintegration. Whether children are involved in rural drug production through poverty, tradition, or their role on family land, or are involved in the drug trade due to their own drug dependence or homelessness, the protection of children from involvement in the illicit drug trade should be read alongside these provisions.

Relationship to the UN drug control conventions
The 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances refers to the protection of children as an aim of the treaty.[669] It stresses that offences involving the exploitation or ‘victimization’ of children are to be treated as ‘particularly serious’. Such provisions lend themselves to harmonious interpretation with associated concomitant obligations on the rights of the child.[670]

  • 665. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 33; International Labour Organization, Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, C182 (1999).

  • 666. ^

    Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1582 UNTS 95 (1988), preamble, art. 3(5).

  • 667. ^

    UN General Assembly, Resolution S-30/1: Our Joint Commitment to Effectively Addressing and Countering the World Drug Problem, UN Doc. A/RES/S-30/1 (2016), para. 4(f).

  • 668. ^

    International Labour Organization, Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, C182 (1999), art. 7.

  • 669. ^

    Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1582 UNTS 95 (1988), preamble.

  • 670. ^

    Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1582 UNTS 95 (1988), art. 3(5).

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