2001 BAN: Background Paper on Good Practices and Priorities to Combat Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in Bangladesh
Author: Heissler, K.
As part of preliminary activities leading up to the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, the Government of Bangladesh and the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) hosted a 'South Asia Consultation for the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children' from 4-6 November 2001 in Dhaka, Bangladesh to: assess how countries have implemented the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action from the 1st World Congress held in August 1996; to identify major obstacles and challenges in combating commercial child sexual exploitation; and generate suggestions for overcoming them. In preparation for that meeting, each country in the region was requested to compile and exchange examples of good practices.
Purpose / Objective
The researcher was required to conduct an assessment of selected government, NGO, INGO, and UN agencies' interventions aimed at combating both non-commercial sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children. The study aims to provide an overview and analysis of the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse of children from existing studies, documents and reports, and interviews with administrators and staff of organisations working in this area. The researcher was requested to identify and explain criteria for identifying 'good practices' that is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action of the 1st World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (1996), and other relevant international human rights standards, including ILO Convention No. 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
The report is based on existing materials from a literature review, and interviews and discussions with key individuals working in the area of sexual abuse and exploitation of children undertaken from 1-30 June 2001. The report was finalised after incorporating comments on the first draft and additional information gleaned since that time.
There are some essential criteria in identifying what constitutes a 'good practice' in combating child sexual abuse and exploitation (including trafficking): the intervention(s) must be rights-based and, therefore, in adherence to international human rights instruments, particularly the CRC, Stockholm Agenda for Action, and ILO Convention No. 182. With respect to national policy, 'good practices' should also support the implementation of the forthcoming National Plan of Action against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children, including Trafficking. The National Plan of Action will create a blueprint for action by the Government, in cooperation with children and national and international organisations (including NGOs, INGOs, UN Agencies, bilateral partners) in the following areas: prevention, protection, recovery and reintegration, monitoring and coordination, HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Substance Abuse, Child Participation, and Perpetrators.
Key Findings and Conclusions
From the review of secondary information and interviews, it appears that the shame and stigma of sexual abuse and the tendency to blame both the child victims and survivors rather than bring the perpetrator to justice leads to silence and cover-up. This presents a serious obstacle to protecting the rights of children and combating the problem of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
In Bangladesh, as is the case across South Asia, sexual abuse and exploitation are amongst the most prevalent types of violence that affect girls throughout their childhood and adolescence. In contravention of the law, early marriage of girls continues to be prevalent in many parts of Bangladesh and this too can be seen as a form of child sexual abuse. While less has been documented about the vulnerability of boys to sexual abuse and exploitation and its impact on their development, feedback from consultations held with boys and anecdotal evidence reveals that they too suffer in silence.
Girls and boys with disabilities, in institutions outside parental care, and refugee children (especially girls) are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation. Boys and especially girls are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation in the workplace from both employers and co-workers. Girls are also at risk while travelling to and from work. Those boys and girls 'on the street' who have no parent or guardian to return to at night, and who must fend for themselves, are at greatest risk of both sexual abuse and exploitation by clients, mastans (musclemen), police and others.
Despite laws and practices ostensibly meant to prevent the entry of girls into brothel-based prostitution, research shows that the average age of entry to prostitution is during adolescence. Bonded girls bought from outside, called chukris, are amongst the most exploited of all the prostitutes. Girls and boys who grow up in the brothel environment appear to be at risk of sexual abuse from their mothers' clients, police, mastans, and older sex workers (particularly for boys). Like their mothers, the children also face significant discrimination from the wider community and are rarely permitted to integrate with other children.
Children (especially adolescent girls) may, in fact, be willing and active participants in their own trafficking because they are going with someone who has promised them a better job, marriage and/or life either inside Bangladesh or in another country. It is only at the end of the process that they will find out if they have been trafficked or not. As it is profitable, many have a vested interest in keeping 'trafficking' in existence. This is one of the key obstacles to eliminating trafficking.
In spite of the enormous challenges to combat sexual abuse and exploitation, there are a number of 'good practices' seeking to combat these violations. Among the most innovative and rights-based are those that directly involve children. For example, child drama and theatre groups and adolescent girls' and boys' groups are a participatory and integrated approach to impart awareness and knowledge to other children about their rights, including an awareness of sexual abuse and exploitation. As a group, children have demonstrated themselves capable of challenging the status quo and protecting their rights and those of their peers. The development of children as peer educators is another worthy intervention: not only do they appear to lead to the development of their communication and leadership skills, but also they are treated with respect by their peers and adults, and become more self-confident and assertive.
Other good practices include creating safe havens for children who are being and/or who are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation; efforts to promote alternative means of livelihood for sexually exploited children; stopping the cycle of sexual exploitation for girls of sex workers, and; the provision of technical support to service providers for developing skills in psycho-social care, including counselling. In addition, efforts to improve community vigilance to prevent trafficking; working with law enforcement to improve their investigation techniques and efficiency in the quick dispensation of cases (albeit this is more recent); the use of new technology to improve coordination and collaboration among NGOs and government interventions, and; efforts to combat societal discrimination and non-acceptance of sexually abused and/or exploited children are noted as good practices.
With regard to recovery and reintegration, regrettably, there are fewer good practices. The greatest obstacle is addressing societal ostracism and blame directed towards the child victim and, in this respect, more is known about the challenges of recovering and reintegrating girls and boys in families and communities than success stories.
In conclusion, one notes among the greatest challenges to combating sexual abuse and exploitation of children is creating greater awareness among children and their parents, service providers, and policy makers at the national level. While much research has already been done, there are critical gaps where more in-depth study and analysis is required, notably: the link between sexual abuse and exploitation, and the relationship between insecure working and living conditions, and sexual abuse and exploitation (this is particularly aimed at girls and adolescent girls working in the garment industry and domestic service), the profile of the perpetrator of child sexual abuse and exploitation, and; the vulnerability of children of ethnic and religious minorities.
Overall, most research lacks gender sensitivity and, in many cases, very little is known about the impact child sexual abuse and exploitation has on boys and its impact on girls. More focus on the construction of masculinity is also required and this should include a close examination of parenting practices, particularly those that are discriminatory and place children in a position of vulnerability or exposure to sexual abuse and exploitation.
There is a need for greater coordination and collaboration among implementing organisations and donors. Of note, this weakness has been identified in efforts to combat trafficking, and efforts are currently underway to address this critical gap. In addition, the participatory approach to developing the National Plan of Action against Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children, including Trafficking, involving consultations with children and with active involvement of national and international NGOs provides grounds for optimism that future efforts to combat child sexual abuse and exploitation in Bangladesh will be addressed through a more holistic and coordinated framework.
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