International Bulletin - Spring 1997
Working to Halt Sex Traffic in Children
The diverse forms of pedophilia were the focal point of the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation. held in Stockholm from August 27 to 31, 1996. Organized by the Swedish government in conjunction with UNICEF, the NGO group ECAPT (End Children's Prostitution in Asian Tourism) and the NGO group for the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the congress was the first of its kind to invite all countries to learn about the diverse forms of this exploitation and ways of combating and preventing it. Delegates from 119 countries and about 500 NGOs participated.
There are no definitive figures as to how many children are involved in the world's sex industry. Although collection of reliable data is extremely difficult - and sometimes dangerous because of the illegal nature of the sex industry - reasonably consistent estimates of the number of children involved in the sex trade have been obtained through observation, extrapolation of small studies and demographics analysis. Most sources estimate that in Asia alone, where NGOs and other organizations have been working for more than a decade to combat commercial sexual exploitation, an estimated 1 million children are sold, lured, abducted or recruited into the sex industry annually. This commercial exploitation is believed to exist everywhere in the world, with "markets" developing wherever there is "consumer" demand. The problem, for example, is steadily growing worse in Eastern Europe.
"To understand how the business is organized," says Marianne Höök, a Swedish participant in the UNESCO delegation, "it is very important to listen to the pedophiles." She explains that "the kids are often too traumatized to say anything of what they have been through." Höök has just retired after six years working as an education specialist in UNESCO's office in New Delhi, which serves as a base for activities in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
While emphasizing UNESCO's task of cooperating with parties at all levels, from other UN agencies to governments, NGOs and local communities in promoting preventative education, Höök says that "it is also very important to care about the girls and boys - returning from prostitution."
"These children are traumatized and have to be taken care of through specialized psychiatric treatment. Each child has to get an individually designed education depending on his or her age and state of health. Most of the girls from Nepal who return from prostitution are infected with HIV and AIDS." One recent UNICEF-funded study found that 50 to 65 per cent of commercial sex workers reported being forced into the sex business, Of these, an alarming 86 per cent were deceived or sold into the trade by people they knew.
A survey by Youth with a Mission, a Phnom Penh-based NGO reported on Sray a 16-year-old Cambodian girl who was sold to a brothel by a family friend. She tried to run away but was caught and beaten with a stick. For the next 10 weeks, she was locked in a room where she served three to nine clients a day. She has developed several sexually transmitted diseases and describes sex as agonizingly painful. In only three months , she has lost both the desire and will to try to escape.
To prepare for the World Congress in Stockholm, and seeking strategies to combat the problem in East Asia, representatives from Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam participated in a four-day workshop in Phnom Penh in December 1995. Organized by UNICEF, the workshop was attend by 60 representatives from NGOs, UNICEF, multilateral agencies and governments. During the workshop, several participants visited an area known for prostitution near Phnom Penh. Groups of Vietnamese girls and young women had gathered in front of small, neon-lit brothels to wait for customers. One 15-year-old girl said that she had arrived by bus from Ho Minh City two months earlier. She said her father , a farmer, had used his rice crop to pay for medical bills. To help him, she had come to Cambodia to earn money in the only way she knew.
Her story highlights the fact that even when girls are recruited willingly and with full knowledge, their choice is ultimately conditioned by economic or cultural factors such as poverty, neglect, low self-esteem and very often an exaggerated notion of filial duty.
Many girls in the sex industry are recruited with the support of parents, relatives, teachers or community leaders. In return, the girls' families often receive a large advance that can buy food, medicine and other necessities; better-off families use the money to buy new refrigerators, motor bikes or houses. For the young girls who are sold, however, the funds buy only a hazardous and humiliating job as a bonded laborer with a debt that is never repaid. One of the cruel ironies may be that the value of girls, so long disregarded in many communities, is increasing in some places because of their proven worth as economic commodities - not as human beings. Through discussions and workshops, participants agreed that laws, raids and rescue operations cannot take place without equal attention to prevention, rehabilitation, education and long-term strategies to strengthen families and communities.
Sources: First Call for Children, UNICEF New York, and UNESCO sources
Last Modified: June 05, 2010