|The best interests of the child must be a 'primary consideration' for all legal procedures involving survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse. Most often, this involves protecting their identity and privacy.|
Commercial sexual exploitation of children—such as the sale of children, child prostitution, child sex tourism and child pornography—are prevalent all over the world. An estimated one million children (mainly girls but also a significant number of boys) enter the multi-billion dollar commercial sex trade every year, suffering degradation and life-threatening risk.
Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child say that governments should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse and take all measures possible to ensure that they are not abducted, sold or trafficked. The Convention’s Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography supplements the Convention by providing States with detailed requirements to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. It also protects children from being sold for non-sexual purposes—such as other forms of forced labour, illegal adoption and organ donation.
The Protocol provides definitions for the offences of ‘sale of children’, ‘child prostitution’ and ‘child pornography’. It also creates obligations on governments to criminalize and punish the activities related to these offences. It requires punishment not only for those offering or delivering children for the purposes of sexual exploitation, transfer of organs or children for profit or forced labour, but also for anyone accepting the child for these activities.
The Protocol also protects the rights and interests of child victims. Governments must provide legal and other support services to child victims. This obligation includes considering the best interests of the child in any interactions with the criminal justice system. Children must also be supported with necessary medical, psychological, logistical and financial support to aid their rehabilitation and reintegration. As a complement to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, interpretation of the Optional Protocol’s text must always be guided by the principles of non-discrimination, best interests of the child and child participation.
The value of international cooperation and public education are also stressed in the Protocol. International cooperation is important as a means of combating these often transnational activities. Public awareness, information and education campaigns also help protect children from these serious violations of their rights.
After receiving the first 10 ratifications needed for its entry into force, the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography became legally binding on 18 January 2002. Today, more than 100 countries have signed and ratified this Protocol. For more information on the process of ratification or accession, click on ‘Using the Convention to protect children’ on the left menu.