Form and prevalence of CSEC in the region
Although statistics on CSEC inevitably understate the extent of the problem, which is largely hidden and therefore impossible to measure, there are some reliable figures on cases of CSEC that have been reported to law enforcement entities. In 1999:
Two-thirds of these recorded cases involved girls. Since the loss of virginity of a girl victim of sexual abuse or exploitation is considered to dishonour the family, there are often serious repercussions for the child. She may be rejected, sent away, locked up, forced to marry the aggressor or imprisoned. In some countries she may be subject to ‘crimes of honour’ (considered as the worst form of domestic violence) and, for her own protection, might be taken into preventive custody. Jordan is one of the few countries in the region where the concept of ‘crimes of honour’ is a subject of public debate: 25 girls and women are victims of such crimes each year in that country.
If the girl should become pregnant, then family and society rejection is even more serious: both girl and baby might be rejected, abandoned, stigmatized or victimized. Of 38 sexually abused girls who were the subject of a study in the Palestinian Autonomous Areas of Gaza and the West Bank, only three girls were accepted back into their communities.
Sexual violence and abuse within the family is rarely reported and children themselves are largely silent on this issue. Laws in some of the countries also make reporting by children unlikely. For example, under the Jordanian penal code, complaints from a child can only be accepted if they are supported by the parents or guardian. Complaints from third parties – teachers, social workers, child rights workers – are not accepted. Some laws also tolerate violence in the family: for example, Article 220 of the Iranian penal code recognizes only a light sentence and fine for a father who kills his child in the course of administering ‘educational’ punishment.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still practised in some countries in the region. A report by the Population Council of Egypt in 1997 showed that 86 per cent of adolescent girls had undergone FGM. The fact that it is increasingly dealt with as a medical issue points to its becoming legitimized. In Sudan, in contrast, FGM has been illegal since 1991, but is still commonly practised by elderly women in the community at the request of parents. FGM is also still prevalent in Djibouti.
Early marriage is common in some of the countries of the region. This practice is considered to increase children’s vulnerability to CSEC because it legitimizes early sexual activity. Between 1995 and 2000, a United Nations Population Fund report on young married women between the ages of 15 and 19 showed that, of this age group:
Early marriage, of course, often also leads to early pregnancy with attendant risks to reproductive health and increased chances of death for both mother and child.
There are other factors that increase the risk of children to sexual abuse and exploitation, or to other hazards of early sexual activity. One is the poor level of sex education in most countries of the region, and low knowledge/understanding of reproductive health and STDs. In Egypt, for example, a national survey of 16-19 year-olds showed that 25 per cent of boys and more than 30 per cent of girls had no knowledge about HIV/AIDS. In Tunisia, 45 per cent of 17-20 year-olds said that they thought HIV/AIDS could be contracted in a swimming pool. Most of the children interviewed for these studies said they wanted more information on puberty, STDs, pregnancy and childbirth. This was also true of children in Gaza and the West Bank.
Some responses and examples of action against CSEC
A national programme to protect children’s rights was begun in 1997 in Jordan, and includes awareness-raising campaigns against child abuse, as well as training for social workers. The programme also covers psychotherapeutic care for abused children and a shelter for victims.
In 1995, Tunisia introduced a Code for the Protection of Children, including a rapid reaction task force to intervene in emergencies, under the direction of the Family Judge, to ensure that the provisions of the Code are used.
Morocco and Yemen recently established telephone hotlines for children at risk of or suffering abuse. Between January 2000 and September 2001, the Moroccan hotline received more than 200,000 calls, 40,000 of which came from children. As a result, 728 case files were opened, of which 48 involved cases of sexual abuse.
Also in Morocco, the NGO Bayti (Children on the streets) has developed targeted, participatory psychosocial approaches to the needs of children, socio-economic reinsertion alternatives, parenting programmes and case management of children. ADFM (the Association of Women’s Rights in Morocco) has established resource centres for women suffering violence; and the NGO Ennakhil helps women and children victims of sexual violence or in prostitution.
In Lebanon, Dar Al Amal, an NGO set up in 1970, takes care of women and children who have suffered sexual abuse; the Lebanese Society of Paediatrics created a club for the prevention of accidents and sexual harm to children.
In general, however, CSEC remains an issue that has not been sufficiently tackled in the region. Awareness-raising campaigns and activities are rare, probably because of the taboo nature of the subject. Mobilization of the private sector is not undertaken in a structured way. In Morocco, the tourism sector is beginning to promote ‘clean tourism’ and is looking into how it can combat sex tourism.
In relation to undertakings made through ratification and adoption of international instruments, there has been some action but not enough. Application of the CRC remains weak in most countries of the region. Prevention, protection, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes are rudimentary; child participation is rare. This is to some extent a result of a lack of basic tools for action, especially good coordination among sectors dealing with children’s issues. There is also a shortage of professionals with field-level experience of CSEC (social workers, judges, doctors, teachers, law enforcement), and a lack of national strategies based on consultation and cooperation across sectors. Monitoring mechanisms are not in place, nor are the basic tools they need: indicators, surveys, disaggregated data.
The way forward
A number of important and immediate needs must be addressed within the region:
[i] This summary is based on the situation analysis written by Dr Najat M’jid for the Arab-African Forum against Commercial Sexual Exploitation, Rabat, Morocco, 24-26 October 2001. This regional consultation in preparation for the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children brought together representatives of 65 countries in the Middle East and Africa. Bibliographical references are available in the source document (in French): Rapport sur la situation de l’exploitation sexuelle des enfants dans la région MENA, 10 septembre 2001, available on the regional consultation website: http://perso.respublica.fr/forum_ese. Papers prepared for regional consultations in preparation for the 2nd World Congress are not endorsed by the Congress co-organizers but remain working documents feeding into regional discussions.
[ii] “Article 34: States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent: (a) the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; (b) the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; (c) the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.
Article 35: States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.”