GP in a Nutshell

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Austria is considered mainly a country of destination and transit for trafficked children; public debate has often focused on exploitation of children through begging and petty crimes, but cases of trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation have been reported as well. A far-reaching legal, political and institutional framework (Action Plans, Task Force on Human Trafficking/Working Group on Child Trafficking) has been adopted and a support network for adults (mostly women) has been established; however – not least because of the decentralised child protection structure in Austria – no comprehensive, nation-wide referral mechanism for assistance to trafficked children has been set up yet.

Focal points for unaccompanied, including trafficked children – the case of Tyrol

Due to the Austrian federalist state structure, matters of child welfare/protection mainly lie with the nine provinces (L?nder), and practice has shown already in the context of child asylum-seekers that no consistent approach has been taken by the L?nder, in terms of applicable standards, but also the scope of legal guardianship in case of unaccompanied/separated children. Controversy exists also in relation to trafficked children; however, based on existing Focal points for unaccompanied children, those bodies in the provinces of Lower Austria and Tyrol have taken over full guardianship (and not e.g. only legal representation) in individual cases of trafficked children as well – the latter example of Tyrol being described here in more detail.

Main strengths of this practice include:

  • Clear rights-based approach, gender sensitivity addressed, strong effort for child participatory approach aiming at trusted relationship; highly replicable.
  • Active participation inter alia both in Anti-Trafficking Task force and child refugee networks.
  • Well connected to local network of institutions allowing for access to comprehensive care services.

Remaining challenges include:

  • Limited capacities, still based on strong individual engagement.
  • Lack of formalised referral mechanism (would also strengthen funding for focal point), lack of dedicated shelter for trafficking victims.

Child trafficking-focused services and cross-border cooperation – the case of Vienna (Drehscheibe Vienna municipal crisis centre)

The “Drehscheibe” institution can be seen as another example for a dedicated focal point on unaccompanied children, which due to its location in the Vienna capital has gained particular relevance and prominence in Austrian efforts against child trafficking. Following increasing numbers of children arriving in Austria and seen begging in the streets or getting in conflict with the law, the Vienna municipality set up this institution in 2002 as a crisis centre specifically for unaccompanied children. Capacities for longer-term stay in Austria remain very limited and the focus continues to lie on return of children, but from the beginning the Drehscheibe sought cross-border cooperation with child protection services abroad to ensure safe return of children.

Main strengths of this practice include:

  • Strong expertise in the field developed, access to wide range of services possible.
  • Well-established contacts with child protection actors (state/non-state) across (mainly South/Eastern) Europe, including cooperation agreements.

Remaining challenges include:

  • Services are mostly responsive to reported cases/capacities for outreach work lacking (thus, mostly dealing with cases of children in conflict with law/reported by police); dedicated funding for institution varies.
  • In principle, competence for Vienna municipality only (although in practice sometimes dealing with children from other provinces as well).
  • Focus on return of children (less on other durable solutions).
  • Children going into hiding/leaving institution/refusing services.
  • Creating sustainable safe return conditions in countries of origin, lack of monitoring.

Key messages

  1. National referral mechanism is needed, which establishes cooperation among actors beyond Vienna, and which offers a formalised framework of cooperation across all provinces for clear responsibilities, resources, consistent standards and capacity building.
  2. Cross-border cooperation (state/non-state) in child trafficking cases needs to be strengthened (formalised agreements,  role of IOM, monitoring).
  3. Need for outreach work for more comprehensive identification of trafficked children.