UNICEF-Sponsored Report Reveals Disturbing Trends
BANJUL, 5 May 2004 - A report released today by the Government of The Gambia and UNICEF reveals that sexual abuse and exploitation of children is on the rise in the tiny West African nation that is a favorite destination for tourists from several European countries.
The report concludes that the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is being perpetrated in two distinct but inter-related ways: sex tourism and the so-called “sugar daddy” syndrome. Through focus-group discussions, in-depth interviews and questionnaires, the report finds that children are being targeted for sexual relations by adult foreigners and nationals. Major contributing factors include high poverty rates (GNI per capita was US$330 in 2001, two thirds of population lives in poverty), low levels of education (37% adult literacy in 2000), and cultural acceptance of early sexual relations.
As many as 100,000 tourists visited The Gambia in 2003, mainly from Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands and Germany. The report finds that “The Gambia is a vulnerable target for … unscrupulous visitors such as suspected or convicted paedophiles who enter the country in search of a low profile location to commit their crimes against children silently and with impunity.”
It reveals the strong existence of a false “glamorization” of prostitution, particularly in sex tourism. “Many children engaged in prostitution spoke of their envy of girls involved in prostitution – their clothes, style and hanging out at nightclubs.” For many, according to the report, being a sex worker “means having access to a lot of cash to buy jeans, shoes, to go to beauty salons for hair and nail care to show off at beach parties and nightclubs.”
“The report documents both sex tourism and sexual exploitation by Gambian adults,” said Ms. Cheryl Gregory Faye, UNICEF Representative. “In the face of these clear violations of children’s rights, we are fortunate that strong political will exists, on the part of both the government and the tourism sector. Legislative steps were taken last year to curb sex tourism, and today’s launching featured five Government ministers who condemned these practices in no uncertain terms.”
Although sex tourism is the more sensational face of the sexual exploitation of children in The Gambia, “sugar daddies” perhaps represent its more pervasive face. This involves sexual abuse and exploitation of young girls by adult Gambian men in exchange for money and gifts, and includes, according to the report, family members, teachers and other trusted adults.
“UNICEF stands ready to continue its support to the Government in fighting the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in The Gambia,” said Mrs. Faye. “Planned interventions include increased public awareness highlighting the need to create a protective environment for the children, support to the government for legislative reform and enforcement, and recovery, as well as rehabilitation and reintegration in society of child victims. UNICEF will seek improved coordination with partners and will aim for systematic birth registration, to ensure that the true ages of youthful victims are known.”
Child victims of sexual exploitation and abuse are vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Cessation of studies, marginalization from their families and communities, and prostitution are other frequent consequences.
For more information, contact:
Cheryl Gregory Faye or Salifu Jarsey, UNICEF Banjul,
+220-449-4760 to 4769
Roberto Benes, UNICEF Dakar, +221-889-0300, or
Margherita Amodeo or Jean-Claude Legrand,
UNICEF Regional Office in Dakar, + +221-869-5858
UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Dakar discusses the sexual exploitation of children
in The Gambia
Audio clip ([mp3]; right-click to download)