Centre de presse


To the Second World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

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Yokohama, Japan - 17 December 2001
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates - and All the Young Participants with us, whose voices are at the heart of the struggle for child rights:

Five years ago in Stockholm, governments and civil society sent a forceful and unequivocal message: that children are not property to be bought and sold; that they have fundamental rights that must be promoted and protected - and that in fulfilling those rights, their views must be heard and acted upon.

Read about the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
Mr. President, we are here today to reaffirm that pledge - and to see it implemented with all possible dispatch.

As the Stockholm Congress acknowledged, there is no one solution to the commercial sexual exploitation and abuse of children, but many - each tailored to the diverse national, local and cultural realities in which these affronts to child rights originate.

But in designing those solutions, let us be clear: the commercial sexual exploitation and abuse of children is nothing less than a form of terrorism - one whose wanton destruction of young lives and futures must not be tolerated for another year, another day, another hour.

Mr. President, the facts are well known to all of us. Each year, millions of children - boys as well as girls - are bought and sold like fresh produce, commodities in a global sex industry steeped in greed and unspeakable cruelty.

Trafficked within and across borders, press-ganged into prostitution, pornography and other intolerable forms of child labour, they are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of the most vulnerable - refugees, orphans, abandoned children, child labourers working as domestic servants, children in armed conflict - and those whose sexual abuse began at home or in other familiar surroundings.

Distinguished Delegates, you have before you an historic opportunity to make a frank and honest assessment of how far we have come since Stockholm - and to summon the resources and the political will to end the abuse that continues to strip countless children of their rights, their dignity, their childhood - and often their very lives.

It is fitting that this Second World Congress is being held in Japan, where the efforts of Government and civil society, including NGOs, the media and other elements of the private sector, are together showing how to change the world with children.

The Government of Japan has given high priority to underwriting prevention programmes, enforcing tough national legislation outlawing child prostitution and pornography - and supporting NGO programmes to assist child victims in developing countries.

On behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund, let me join in extending deep thanks to the Government of Japan for its extensive work in preparing for, and now hosting, this Second World Congress - and for inviting UNICEF, ECPAT International and the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child to serve as co-conveners.

And I want to pay tribute to the many representatives of civil society and the private sector who are part of this World Congress - especially 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.

Let me also thank the many other partners who have made this event possible, including the Government of Sweden, the European Union and the Japan Committee for UNICEF.

Mr. President, because of the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action, there is now greater public awareness of the appalling scale of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which afflicts every corner of the world, from the richest countries to the most impoverished.

Most importantly, we have seen how the exercise of leadership, by governments as well as by every level of civil society, can advance the cause of child rights - in this case the right of every child to be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.

The lion's share of responsibility for ensuring child rights and well-being rests with governments at the highest level - and those obligations are set forth in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ratified by almost every country on Earth, it is a document that proclaims the right of all children to be protected against dangers that hamper their growth and development, from armed conflict and disability to racial and ethnic discrimination and all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.

It is in line with those principles that nearly 50 countries have now moved to draw up national plans of action to combat sexual exploitation and assist victims. Measures range from the establishment of special bodies to protect child rights; reform of juvenile-justice systems; training of police and judicial authorities; and all-out crackdowns on those who sexually exploit children.

Because of such steps, we have seen an increase in police actions growing out of cooperation among national law enforcement groups and Interpol.

We have seen stepped-up involvement by the private sector, particularly in the tourism and Internet-service industries.

And we are seeing the commitment of more resources on a regional basis to combat sexual exploitation, in line with efforts like those of the European Commission.

At the global level, we have seen the adoption of three major treaties that address sexual exploitation and abuse: ILO Convention No. 182, which calls the involvement of children in prostitution and pornography one of the worst forms of child labour; the Protocol on the prevention of trafficking of children and others, part of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime; and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in this case a measure aimed at ending the sale of children, as well as child prostitution and child pornography. The Protocol will enter into force next month, thanks to the example set by the first 10 countries that have ratified it: Andorra, Bangladesh, Cuba, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Norway, Panama, Romania and Sierra Leone.

Finally, Mr. President, we are seeing a greater emphasis on the role of children and young people themselves in ending commercial sexual exploitation and abuse. It is a trend dramatised not only here, but by young people's conferences recently in Manila and Victoria, Canada - and just this week in Kawasaki City.

These are occasions that give exploited youth a voice in the fight to eliminate some of the most difficult and shocking obstacles to the realisation of child rights. Participants are vocal, they are visible - and yet they are not re-victimized or sensationalized. They feel safe in sharing their stories. We need to be guided by such participation, not only because it is a basic right, but because it will help us find ways to repair the deep damage that is done to sexually exploited children. So we are eager to hear what the young people have to say about the outcome of the Kawasaki City proceedings.

And yet, Mr. President, for all these advances since Stockholm, sexual exploitation for profit continues to blight the lives of millions of children.

Indeed, while there is relatively little official data, we have every reason to believe that the commercial sexual exploitation of children is on the rise.

The proliferation of armed conflict and the displacement of whole populations; widening disparities within countries and around the world; increased consumerism, widening of communication networks including roads, air transport and electronic and satellite media and connections between individuals and groups - all help create conditions that fuel rising demand.

There is also mounting evidence of a complex link between child sexual exploitation and the ongoing spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world and among the countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Children who are forced into the sex trade - which a new UNICEF Report, Profiting From Abuse, puts at a million a year worldwide - are exceptionally vulnerable to contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

The high infection rates among teen-age girls in some hard-hit countries appear to be linked to a belief among HIV-positive men that they can cure themselves by having sex with virgins.

And data presented by African delegates at a recent preparatory meeting in Rabat suggest that a vast number of children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS become sex workers out of desperation.

Mr. President, it is hard to imagine a more difficult and shocking obstacle to the realisation of human rights than the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Yet it is only one element of the even more pervasive and deeply rooted problem of sexual abuse, which 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. It makes enemies out of the very people children look to for protection - those they know, love and trust. And because it can happen where children live, learn and play, familiar places like home or school can become forbidding and dangerous.

The vast majority are denied their right to education - and even to the briefest moments of leisure and play.

The desperate vulnerability of such children is only heightened by endemic factors like violence, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases. Because they are fearful of further abuse, including abuse by the authorities, such children typically have little recourse to the law. And those who return home may find themselves stigmatised by their own families and communities.

UNICEF's objective in this crisis is two-fold:

To decrease the risks of sexual abuse and exploitation through full access to education and adequate legislation;
And to ensure that children trapped in abusive or exploitative situations are not only freed from those situations, but that they have access to legal aid, protection, secure housing, economic assistance, counselling, and health and social services - in short, the services they need to make a physical and psychological recovery from their ordeal.
Above all, Mr. President, they need love and acceptance.

To sustain this kind of work, global partnerships are crucial. To this end, UNICEF supports the global NGO Support Group, which links key NGOs with United Nations partners, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Such partnerships are already helping to improve legislative measures, law enforcement and programmes for the recovery of children through alternative education and employment opportunities.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:

We already know a great deal about what must be done to eliminate sexual trafficking and abuse of children. But to succeed, we must strengthen international cooperation and action at every level of every society.

Governments and media outlets, must have the courage to end, once and for all, the shameful silence that keeps commercial exploitation and abuse a secret. That means shining light on the problem, using public information campaigns, increased media coverage, more sophisticated monitoring and sharing of information, educating children about sexual abuse from an early age at home and in school.

This includes working together to identify and bring to justice culpable individuals - knowing that it is often the very adults entrusted with the care and protection of children who sexually exploit children. And it means moving forcefully against criminal networks, whose global role has been under scrutiny by the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention.

We must emphasise education and awareness-raising, which can empower children and families to protect themselves.

We must confront gender discrimination in all its forms, for only by ensuring girls and women full equality and opportunity in all spheres of life can we begin to attack the roots of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Although girls are clearly the vast majority of the abused - a consequence of their low status in many societies - boys are also targets of sexual exploitation and abuse - and both need the benefits of education.

Racial inequality and ethnic discrimination must also be confronted, for they are factors that often determine who is sexually exploited and who is spared.

Mr. President, the sustained realisation of the rights of children hinges not only on what governments do, but on the outcome of partnerships involving a broad range of allies in civil society - partnerships based on a shared understanding of the rights of all human beings.

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.

Now it is up to all of us - including governments, law enforcement, international organisations and all levels of civil society - to see to it that the elimination of commercial sexual exploitation is accorded the same urgent priority.

Thank you.