NEW YORK, GENEVA, 18 January 2002 - UNICEF today hailed the entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Negotiated over a number of years with governments, experts and NGOs, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child seeks to raise the standards in protecting children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.
An estimated one million children (mainly girls) enter the multi-billion dollar commercial sex trade every year. These children are often lured with the promises of an education or a "good job." Girls appear to be forced into the sex industry at increasingly younger ages partly as a result of the mistaken belief that younger girls are unlikely to be infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
The most vulnerable of children are trafficked within and across borders for the purposes of prostitution, pornography and other intolerable forms of child labour. These children are refugees, orphans, abandoned children, child labourers working as domestic servants or children affected by armed conflict.
"Exactly one month after the Yokohama Conference against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, it is marvellous testimony to our commitment that a Protocol setting high standards in protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse becomes a binding human rights instrument," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.
The Optional Protocol calls for governments to take tangible steps to ensure that adults involved in the exploitation of children are punished. It also urges governments to take decisive action when their nationals take part in the abuse of children abroad. Countries are encouraged to co-operate to ensure the protection of children trafficked across borders. The Protocol also stipulates the need to protect particularly vulnerable groups of children and to further protect the rights of child victims - especially those who are witnesses in court proceedings. The Optional Protocol also calls on State Parties to ensure that children who have been sexually trafficked, exploited or sexually abused receive services designed to allow for their full social reintegration as well as their physical and psychological recovery.
The Protocol has been signed by 89 countries and ratified by 16. These include: Andorra, Bangladesh, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Holy See, Iceland, Kazakhtan, Morocco, Norway, Panama, Qatar, Romania, Sierra Leone, Spain, Uganda and Viet Nam. UNICEF urges those countries who have already signed to now confirm their commitment through ratification and for all remaining countries to guarantee the standards in the Optional Protocol to their children.
"Universal ratification of the Optional Protocol by the upcoming Special Session on Children would send a powerful message of commitment" Bellamy said.
"The momentum created through the Yokohama Conference must be maintained. The first tangible step is the ratification of this Optional Protocol. It is now urgent that governments implement the standards. Children who are victims of child prostitution, exploitation, trafficking and sexual abuse deserve every protection we can offer."
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