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Combating sexual exploitation and abuse of children: let the real work now begin

Second Arab-African Forum against sexual exploitation and abuse of children opens in Morocco

RABAT, 14 December, 2004 - The message from the opening session of the second Arab-African Forum against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children was clear. It is time to translate into action the promises and commitments that have been made to stop sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

What is a source of concern to many delegates is the gap between nations ratifying international treaties and conventions relevant to sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and actually having the will and wherewithal to implement the clear demands of these treaties.

Nowhere is the case more poignantly illustrated than in Africa and the Arab world where more than half the countries have ratified the Optional Protocols on Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Sale of Children. As many have committed themselves to the ILO Convention 183 on the Worst Forms of Child labour, including children used for commercial exploitation.

Yet, while lauding these successes, as UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Thomas McDermott points out, there is a desperate need for countries to put into law, and more importantly, into practice effective measures to prosecute those who abuse children.  Such measures, for instance, would require that countries not only develop robust mechanisms to prosecute those who abuse children internally but also reach agreements with other countries to standardise prosecution, pursue perpetrators across borders, and carry out public advocacy in both home and recipient countries.

McDermott points out that international agreements and national laws are not enough. More research into the extent of sexual abuse and trafficking is needed.

“We need to understand the economics, but also the sociology of the trade,” he emphasised in his keynote address at the meeting. “We need to study not only the motivations of the abusers, but also those of the abused.”

The paucity of sociological information on sexual abuse and trafficking is seen not only as a constraint to better planning and action but also as a stark challenge to governments to do more to understand the situation in their countries.  If, for example, harmful traditional practices such as early marriage, forced and temporary marriage are to be curtailed, more careful study is needed.

“We also need to better understand the correlation between sexual abuse of children and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases,” says McDermott. “On the one hand, the abused child is clearly at enormous risk of infection, and once infected, at risk for onward infection. On the other hand, in many countries the HIV pandemic is destroying the very services which are needed to protect children from abuse, and to treat those who have suffered abuse.”

Addressing these challenges, which were reiterated by other speakers from the Moroccan government, the coalition to End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Child Trafficking, the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and ILO/IPEC, will require more than expressions of commitment. Organisers are hoping to emerge with a set of clearly identified action points that delegates will take back to their countries.

The responsibility on governments, NGOs and the international community to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children has never been more onerous, the need for action more urgent. Figures from UNICEF’s recently released State of the World’s Children Report show alarmingly that an estimated 2 million children are currently exploited in the sex industry and 1.2 million are trafficked between countries each year.

For more information, please contact:

Government of Morocco
Jamal Rhmani, Tel: +212 63 60 615

M. Anis Salem, UNICEF Middle East and North Africa; Tel, +962 79 557 9991
Victor Chinyama, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa, Tel : +254 722 701 505

Jo De Linde, Tel: +212 37 72 22 26

Michel Gregoire, ILO; Tel, +221 823 00 53

NGO Group (Geneva)
Bruno Ramazotti, Tel: +212 61 38 66 14




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