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UNICEF calls for concerted action to halt commercial sexual exploitation

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UNICEF's pages on the Yokohama conference

Yokohama, Japan, Monday, 17 December- Noting that each year millions of children "are bought and sold like fresh produce, commodities in a global sex industry steeped in greed and unspeakable cruelty," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy on Monday urged governments, law enforcement, international agencies and all sectors of society to do all within their power to stamp it out.

In a keynote address to the opening session of the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Bellamy called upon the delegates to summon the resources and political will "to end the abuse that continues to strip countless children of their rights, their dignity, their childhood and sometimes their very lives."

The 2nd World Congress, organized by UNICEF, ECPAT International and the NGO Group on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, brings together more than 3,000 representatives of government, intergovernmental and non-government organizations (NGOs), children and young people, the private sector and the media. The Congress, which runs through 20 December, will review progress since the first World Congress in Stockholm in 1996 and seek global strategies to stem the swiftly developing exploitation of children in prostitution, pornography and through trafficking.

Bellamy said it is fitting that the Congress is being held in Japan, whose government has given a high priority to prevention programmes, enforcing tough national legislation outlawing child prostitution and pornography, and supporting NGO programmes to assist child victims in developing countries.

She also paid tribute to the many representatives of civil society who are taking part in the Congress, giving special thanks to the NGO community "whose work in extending assistance and raising public awareness began long ago and has immeasurably advanced the cause of sexually exploited and abused children."

Since the First World Congress nearly 50 countries have moved to draw up national plans of action to combat sexual exploitation and assist its victims. Measures have included the establishment of special bodies to protect child rights, reform of juvenile justice systems, training for police and judicial authorities as well as crackdowns on those who sexually exploit children.

Bellamy said that because of such steps there has been increased cooperation between national law enforcement groups and Interpol, stepped-up involvement by the private sector, and the commitment of more resources on regional basis to combat sexual exploitation.

But despite advances made since the Stockholm Congress, Bellamy said that sexual exploitation for profit continues to blight the lives of million of children. She noted that although there is little official data available on the scope of the problem, "we have every reason to believe that the sexual exploitation of children is on the rise."

Conditions that serve to fuel the problem include armed conflicts that result in the displacement of whole populations; widening disparities both within and among countries and regions; increased consumerism; and the growth of communication networks around the world. Bellamy said there is also increasing evidence of a complex link between child sexual exploitation and the ongoing spread of HIV/AIDS in many countries around the world.

The UNICEF chief told Congress delegates that "it is hard to imagine a more difficult and shocking obstacle to the relisation of human rights than the commercial sexual exploitation of children," noting that it is only one element of the even more pervasive and deeply rooted problem of sexual abuse that often begins in the home at the hands of a close relative or friend.

"Children who are sexually abused find their world turned upside down," Bellamy said. "It makes enemies out of the very people children look to for protection - those they know, those they know love and trust."

Bellamy said governments and media "must have the courage to end, once and for all, the shameful silence that keeps commercial exploitation and abuse a secret." She called for public information campaigns that address exploitation issues, increased media coverage, more sophisticated monitoring and sharing of information, and educating children about sexual abuse from an early age at home and in school.

She urged forceful action to identify and bring to justice culpable individuals and criminal networks; an emphasis on education and awareness-raising to help empower and protect children and families; support for community-based early warning and support systems to ensure children are not abused; confronting gender discrimination in order to ensure that girls and women full equality and opportunity; providing boys, as well as girls, with an education in order to reduce their risk of exploitation; and coming to terms with the racial inequality and ethnic discrimination that so often lead to exploitation.

"The global movement that produced the Convention on the Rights of the Child has helped generate pressure to protect the rights of all children, including children in war, children performing hazardous or exploitative labour, children exposed to violence; children in extreme poverty; and indigenous and disabled children," Bellamy said. " Now it is up to all of us … to see to it that elimination of commercial sexual exploitation is accorded the same priority."

For further information, please contact:

In Yokohama:

Maie Ayoub-von Kohl, 090 5494 1066
Hans Olsen, 090 9323 1299
Madeline Eisner, 090 5414 0106
Mark Thomas, 090 5430 0078

Press enquiries to Congress Communication Advisor, June Kane:
Until 21 December: (81) 90-5340-4941
From 22 December: (41) 79-695-64-88

UNICEF press enquiries:
Until 21 December: (81) 90-5494-1066/5414-0106
UNICEF New York: (1) 212-303-7910
UNICEF Geneva (41) 22-909-55-13

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For Broadcasters: A new B-roll videotape is available that highlights the commercial sexual exploitation of children and various programmes to prevent it. This 38-minute B-roll includes strong material filmed recently in Albania, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, India and Nicaragua. To preview scripts and sequences or to order a tape please visit: http://www.unicef.org/broadcast/brolls/csec/

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Press releases on sexual exploitation: