Parents Trafficking Daughters Into Domestic Labor Clash with Human Rights Laws: Law School Study

Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Report Seeks to Shape Debate as Issued is Raised in European Court of Human Rights


Public Affairs, 212-854-2650
New York, May 18, 2010—The United Nations estimates more than six million girls and women are trafficked at any given time for forced labor or prostitution. Compounding that tragedy is the fact that it is often family members who actively exploit the children.
A report entitled Sent Away: The Trafficking of Young Girls and Women within the Family Unit, from the Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, highlights the gravity of the problem at the same time the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is taking up the issue.
“Trafficking by family members has been largely neglected by international tribunals, in large part because it is so difficult to detect,” said Jeannie Chung, ’10, a clinic student working on this report.
Sent Away addresses the involvement of parents and other family members in sending young girls and women into the domestic and sexual slavery labor markets where they are kept out of school and subjected to harsh, degrading conditions. As the report shows, as with other forms of human trafficking, international laws and treaties prohibit this form of trafficking.
In the ECHR case, Osman v Denmark, a 15-year-old Somali girl was trafficked from Denmark  by her father. For four years, she was left unschooled and forced to work without pay as a servant in a Kenyan refugee camp. She now seeks to remain with her mother and siblings in Denmark.
“When people think of trafficking in women and children, they often think of trafficking for the purpose of sex work,” said Jantira Supawong, ’10. “Most people aren’t aware of the pervasive problem of trafficking of young girls for forced and bonded labor.”
According to the U.S. State Department 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, family members are often complicit in trafficking their daughters for the purpose of sex work or forced domestic labor, usually because the family needs money.
As was true for Osman, trafficking disproportionately affects young girls, as families more readily give up daughters to perform domestic work than their sons. This trend stems largely from cultural expectations and stereotypes that girls do not deserve as high a level of education as boys, and that parents can treat their daughters as chattel.
While the London-based AIRE Centre, which represents Osman, and the Columbia Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic view her case as involving intrafamilial trafficking for the purposes of domestic servitude, the Danish Government has been unwilling to recognize it as such.
Instead, Denmark argues Osman willingly left the country per her father’s request to perform domestic work for her grandmother, and then went to the Kenyan refugee camp. As Sent Away emphasizes, however, “whether a child consents to being trafficked is irrelevant, as many treaties recognize that children are vulnerable and often submit to the will of their parents, no matter the circumstances,” said Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic director.
“We are hopeful that this research can serve other child victims of intra-familial trafficking,” said Kinara Flagg, ’11, “and that our report contributes to Ms. Osman’s remaining in Denmark.”
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis and other forms of advocacy. Under the guidance of Professor Suzanne Goldberg, clinic students work on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases, to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.
For more information, please visit: To contact Goldberg: call (212) 854-0411 or email