East Asia and the Pacific prepare for the third World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children
By Karen Emmons
At age 14, “Joy” emphatically thinks of herself as an activist. She also doesn’t wince about being a victim. Although the details are not necessary, she says. She talks instead of what she’s doing to help protect other young people.
For the past 15 months, Joy has lived in a Manila shelter for young victims of sexual exploitation. There she gets counseling, schooling and opportunities to perform in theatre productions she and others like her have written for campaigns in schools and communities.
“We show the rights of children and we’re tackling different issues,” she says while in Bangkok, having taken her first airplane ride to join with 14 other teenagers and a multitude of adults in a regional consultation organized by ECPAT International, UNICEF and the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (along with ten other international and regional agencies).
The meeting is a two-day East Asia and Pacific review of progress and unflagging challenges toward the protection of young people as preparation for the third World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Adolescents in Rio de Janeiro in November.
As a participant, Joy encapsulates many signs of the times.
First, she is a clear reminder that the problem thrives – 14 years after the first World Congress in Stockholm brought world leaders, the United Nations and child-rights workers together to discuss the issue. (She wasn’t even born yet when the Convention on the Rights of the Child was conceived to protect people like her from abuse.)
Second, Joy stands tall, empowered and confronted with many options and opportunities, thanks to services available to rescue her and restore life to some kind of acceptable normalcy.
Third, she and other young people have been brought into the formal discussions of the problem and what can be done and into the drive to make communities also aware of what can be done.
But sitting in the consultation meetings, she had to hear about the expanding dimensions of the problem and abuses not around at the time of the previous World Congresses: that of Internet child pornography and networks for physically reaching children to abuse them. She also had to hear how other young people have been creators of pornography.
That she had to hear how consumers of sexually exploited children in this region are predominantly locals or Asians from within the region – a completely different understanding from a decade thanks to considerable research – perhaps was hardly pleasant despite the clarity the information brings.
“Progress has been made but the fact is that East Asia and the Pacific continue to be hot spots where large numbers of children are exploited,” admitted Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF EAPRO Regional Director to Joy and the other participants at the close of the preparatory meeting.
“The region’s governments need to take their anti-exploitation efforts to another level and push through much tougher anti-child sex measures,” said Ms. Rao Singh.
Her comments came on the tail wind of the numerous time-bound goals and targets to mitigate the problems of child prostitution and other sexual exploitation, trafficking and cyber crimes against young people that the consultation participants agreed upon as the region’s contribution to the declarations to be made during the forthcoming third World Congress.
The targets include setting up child sex offender registries and laws criminalizing child pornography and Internet filtering services in each country.