September 23 «World Day Against Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons»

September 23 «World Day Against Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons«

 

Today, September 23, a new «World Day Against Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons» is commemorated, in a year themed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which forces us, among other things, to rethink the way we guarantee and protect the rights of the child.

Within this framework, the Inter-American Children Institute (IIN-OAS), through its Inter-American Cooperation Programme for the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Exploitation, Smuggling of and Trafficking in Children, contributes to the reflection on this issue, sharing some recommendations to prevent and confront it, considering the impact that the «COVID-19 context» had, has and will have on it.

It is estimated that the “COVID-19 context” has an impact on at least 3 aspects of the phenomenon of sexual exploitation: the modalities that assumes, the scenarios in which occurs and the intervention of the Protection System, in terms of prevention, detection, attention to victims and prosecution of crime. In turn, an increase in situations is expected to occur, due to the highly vulnerable conditions in which many children remain and the existence of exploiters who will use this vulnerability in their favor.

The «health emergency» made it necessary to take measures with the same urgency. However, after a few months, it is necessary to evaluate these decisions and rethink them based on what this «new reality» imposes. In this sense, some recommendations are made:

  • Consolidate and promote, in all spaces, the Integral Protection Perspective and the conception of children as subjects of rights. Public awareness campaigns, incorporation of the subject in educational curricula, incorporation of the subject in the inductions of the workers of institutions that are part of the protection system, are some tools for this.
  • Strengthen the Comprehensive Systems for the Promotion and Protection of the rights of child. The absence or weakness of the protection systems is one of the motivations of the exploiters to commit the crime. Considering that, in this context, States must decide and prioritize the measures they will take and where they allocate their limited resources, a firm decision is required to strengthen the systems, so that they can address the causes that place children in situations of vulnerability, guarantee processes for restitution of the rights for children victims and seek the persecution and conviction of the exploiters. In the long term, and based on the perspective of Integral Protection, the guarantee of the exercise of rights is the first measure for the prevention of various situations of violation.
  • Promote a culture of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation. The economic vulnerability of many children, adolescents and families, which this context has generated or deepened, is a factor that can contribute to the tolerance of practices associated with exploitation, as them are perceived as a means to satisfy basic needs or to obtain income for himself or for their families, ignoring its impact on the victims. In this context, the social tolerance (by victims, families and communities), in which this crime is usually sustained, is deepened. Therefore, it becomes necessary to generate greater awareness about the nature of the phenomenon, its manifestations and consequences (through public awareness campaigns, for example), building a culture of “zero tolerance”. Given the high vulnerability of victims and families, breaking the silence of the witness social environment, turning it into an agent of prevention and protection, is crucial.
  • Promote a safe and responsible use of the Internet. In recent months, the Internet has become a medium for the exercise of multiple rights. Along with this, there has been an increase of the risks associated with its use; particularly, with regard to exploitation through pornography and other forms of online sexual abuse that can lead to situations of exploitation, such as grooming and sextortion. If the «new reality» preserves the priority use of this tool, then it must be accompanied by actions that guarantee and promote a safe use of it. This implies, among others: guaranteeing universal access, offering digital education and raising awareness about the risks, both to children as well as to adult references, training and providing the necessary tools to the institutions of the protection system to fulfill their role of guarantors also in this area.
  • Generate new spaces or channels for reporting CSE situations. Due to the confinement and social distancing measures implemented to counteract the spread of the virus, the relation of children with spaces that are key for the detection of CSE situations (and other forms of rights violations) was limited: educational centers, health centers, social services. Once this role is visualized and valued, beyond its main function, these access conditions should be reviewed and/or, if the measures are maintained, offer other means and channels that avoid isolation and allow the detection or reporting of this type of situation.

Recognizing the efforts made, we invite States, civil society, private sector, families and the community, to systematize their decisions and practices (as a way to build and share knowledge), evaluate them and adjust them to be increasingly efficient in guaranteeing the rights of children.