The term vulnerability is commonly used in the debate on child trafficking. Children are often per se considered ‘vulnerable’ and in need of special protection. A systematic conceptual debate on vulnerability for the context of protection from exploitation and trafficking has however not yet taken place although vulnerability is considered a key concept in relation to the prevention of trafficking and the identification of children at risk.

Existing definitions have reached consensus that vulnerability is an aggregate concept composed of a dynamic interaction of risk and resilience. Vulnerability is caused by risk and balanced by resilience, i.e. the capacity to handle the risk. Measures that seek to reduce risks and at the same time strengthen resilience will therefore be well placed to reduce vulnerability. For the context of child exploitation, this implies a need to combine protection measures to minimise risks of exploitation with empowering measures to strengthen resilience and contribute to broad-scale prevention.


Risk and resilience, as the determinants of vulnerability, are neither isolated nor static but need to be understood according to a dynamic ecological model: personal risks and resilience are closely intertwined with risks and resilience deriving from direct and indirect relations, systems and environments that individuals are exposed to and interact with.

IMPACT understands the vulnerability of a child to exploitation and trafficking according to an ecological model where sources of risk and resilience derive from different levels. The ecological model expresses the dynamic relations between different elements and layers of the child’s ecology and their interaction with the person. For policy making, this implies that legal approaches of enacting child rights standards and strengthening the accountability of public authorities need to be combined with developmental and ‘bottom-up’ approaches to strengthen the assets of children and families as well as protective mechanisms at the local level.  Therefore for the purpose of the IMPACT study, child vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking is understood as a multi-sectoral, ecological and rights-based concept. It refers to the limited chances of a child to fully exercise his or her rights as afforded under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Vulnerability depends on the number and severity of infringements or violations that a child is or may be exposed to (the risk) as well as the child’s resilience. Risk and resilience are understood according to an ecological model. They interact at multiple levels and are accumulating: personal risk and resilience are closely intertwined with risk and resilience deriving from relationships, socio-political systems and the environment. Child vulnerability can be caused or exacerbated when the capability of the public administration to implement child rights standards is weak and when it does not succeed to safeguard the human rights of the child in practice. This is understood as structural vulnerability. Structural vulnerability is related to state structures, action or inaction, and can result in the violation of the rights of the child.

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