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At a glance: Italy

Sex tourism and child exploitation targeted by international experts at Innocenti conference

© UNICEF video
International experts discuss ways to halt the trafficking of children for sex tourism at a conference hosted by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre.

By Guy Degen

FLORENCE, Italy, 25 April 2008 – Two related topics – combating child sex tourism, and corporate social responsibility – were key discussion points at the expert consultation on child sexual exploitation and trafficking hosted by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (IRC) here this week.

The gathering is the first of series of meetings and workshops with child rights experts, governments, children and other stakeholders to develop recommendations for the third World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. The congress will be held in Rio de Janeiro in late November.

Preventing child sex tourism will feature prominently at the Brazil meeting, and several successful regional and national campaigns that are now working with the travel industry were presented in Florence.

Travel industry ethics

Examples of codes of conduct introduced in Costa Rica, Kenya and several southeast Asian nations demonstrated that the private sector can be an effective partner in preventing child sex tourism.

Theo Noten, Project Manager with ECPAT Netherlands, pointed out that many travel companies recognize the problem of sex tourism and are looking for the type of guidance that a code of conduct can offer.

“They should not take up the role of the police, but they can do something to prevent travellers sexually exploiting children,” he said. “So the code of conduct is a means for the industry to do some real work on this.”

While sexual exploitation of children often does occur through tourism, Vernon Jones of Save the Children, Denmark, noted that not all foreign child sex offenders are tourists.

“We know that people going away on business, people that are working for NGOs, people that are working for the government or the military are also involved the sexual exploitation of children,” he said.

Exploitation through digital technology

Countries that are weak jurisdictions for safeguarding child rights are popular with travelling sex offenders, who often take advantage of digital technology to share pornographic images.

Participants in the Florence consultation acknowledged that adolescents often take risks and use digital cameras, web cameras or camera phones to sexually experiment. But child exploitation takes place every time sex offenders show digital images of acts of abuse against children online. Offenders also target Internet chat rooms and social media to sexually exploit children and teenagers.

Experts stressed the fact that children and young people are usually more skilled in the use of new media than adults; therefore, no discussion of the issue can be fruitful without children's active involvement.

UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Anjanette Saguisag illustrated how child participation in child-friendly awareness campaigns had delivered positive results in the Philippines.

“It actually started with a national consultation with children and young people,” she said. “It was the children and young people who said we need to engage Internet cafe owners.”

Goals for the World Congress
In anticipation of the upcoming World Congress, Brazilian officials outlined important goals that the meeting seeks to achieve.

The Brazilian Government's Organizing Committee Coordinator, Carmen de Oliveira, urged the experts in Florence to “look at new strategies,” including new types of legislation against child sexual exploitation, and to “bring on new partners such as the private sector, and increase international cooperation."

Several recommendations for the World Congress emerged from the Florence meeting. These include:

  • Developing holistic approaches to combating child trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • Mobilizing community support
  • Boosting the participation of children and adolescents in all campaigns
  • And developing proactive solutions to emerging threats and issues.




23 April 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Degen reports on international efforts to curb child sex trafficking.
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