The primary international instruments that relate to human trafficking of children are the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) and the United Nations
Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (“CTOC”) and their subsequent related
protocols.28 The CRC is a unifying document on international expectations for child welfare,
setting forth, among other things, rights that attach to the child (rather than the parents) to
education, health care, protection, and civil liberties.29 The CRC has been signed by all nations in
the world except for two, one of which is the United States.30 There are many arguments as to
why the United States refuses to sign the CRC,31 but the significance of this refusal is that the
provisions of the CRC are not binding in any way on the United States.
While the CRC fails as a basis for asserting what legal rights U.S. children have for
protection at a federal or state level, the United States has signed and ratified a number of
optional protocols that are relevant to the issue of child trafficking. These include the CRC’s
Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.32 The United States has
also signed the CTOC’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons,
especially Women and Children (often referred to as the “Palermo Protocol”).33 These protocols
identify and outlaw the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as dangerous forms of
child labor, including participation in armed combat and forced labor,34 and provide for protection
of victims, prosecution of traffickers, and prevention of new trafficking incidents.35 Because the
United States has signed and, most importantly, ratified these Optional Protocols, unlike the
CRC, they are as controlling as an internally-generated federal law.36
In addition to these United Nations conventions, the International Labor Organization has
issued conventions against child labor that relate to trafficking. Of these, the Worst Forms of
Child Labour Convention (“Convention 182”),37 which has been ratified by the United States,38
28 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 [hereinafter CRC]; United Nations
Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Nov. 15, 2000, 2225 U.N. T.S. 209 [hereinafter CTOC].
29 See CRC, supra note 28 arts. 1–16, 23–25, 28–29, 32, 39; see HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, UNITED STATES RATIFICATION OF HUMAN
RIGHTS TREATIES 1, 5–6 (2009), available at
30Status of Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3, available at
https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/MTDSG/Volume%20I/Chapter%20IV/IV-11.en.pdf (showing current signatories and parties to
the CRC); HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 29, arts. 1–2, 5–6.
31 Lawrence J. Cohen & Anthony T. DeBenedet, Why is the U.S. Against Children’s Rights?, TIME (Jan. 24, 2012),
32 United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child
Pornography, Mar. 16, 2001, 2171 U.N.T.S. 227 [hereinafter Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children]; United Nations Optional
Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, May 25, 2000, 2173
U.N. T.S. 222 [hereinafter Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict]; HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 29, at 6.
33 Status of Ratification for the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,
Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, U.N. TREATY COLLECTION DATABASE,
https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XVIII-12-a&chapter=18&lang=en (last visited Feb. 4,
34 Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict, supra note 32, at arts. 3–4; Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, supra note
32, at art. 3.
35 Palermo Protocol, supra note 23, at arts. 2, 5–13.
36 Flores v. S. Peru Copper Corp., 414 F.3d 233, 256 (2d Cir. 2003) (“[O]nly States that have ratified a treaty are legally obligated to
uphold the principles embodied in that treaty . . . .”).
37 International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the
Worst Forms of Child Labour art. 3, June 17, 1999, S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-5 [hereinafter ILO Convention 182].
38 International Labor Standards and the ILO, U.S. DEP’T OF LABOR, http://www.dol.gov/ilab/diplomacy/PC-ILO-page2.htm (last
visited Feb. 4, 2015).