Prevention, Protection and Recovery of Children from Commercial Sexual
Jane Warburton for the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights
of the Child
Yokohama, 17-20 December 2001
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The sexual abuse of children and young people through
commercial exploitation, is a fundamental violation of their rights. It
is a universal and complex problem, which defies both simplistic analysis
and easy answers. It encompasses a range of abusers, different forms of
abuse, and varies in the type and degree of impact on the victim. The
recognition of this abuse as a universal phenomenon has been positive,
but clarity about incidence or trends is less forthcoming. There are continuing
concerns around divergence in terminology and the poor quality of much
of the research aimed at establishing both incidence and impact.
Since the First World Congress Against the Commercial
Sexual Exploitation of Children, in 1996, which served to focus attention
on the issue, there has been a substantial increase in activities designed
to counter a potential increase in the incidence of abuse, and its negative
impact on children and young people. Interventions have increased through
specific targeted projects, and most significantly through an increased
recognition that sexually abused and exploited children are frequently
the same children who are facing a range of difficulties. They are the
displaced and refugee children, street children, children in hazardous
labour etc. An inclusive approach, one that incorporates these interventions
into programmes for these multiply disadvantaged group, is a positive
way to enhance access to services, and reduce the marginalisation and
segregation experienced by abused and exploited children. Despite this,
opportunities for reaching children at risk or experiencing sexual abuse,
are still being underused, particularly through those organisations addressing
the threat and impact of HIV/AIDS, and drug addiction.
Rather than highlighting or focussing on the particular
needs of sexually exploited children, many services explicitly choose
to adopt an holistic approach, operating in ways that are consistent with
key principles and approaches for working with all children. These include
work that is based on children's rights, supporting their participation,
and incorporating activities that encourage or strengthen resilience.
They try to reduce isolation and alienation. They support alternative
survival strategies that allow children to exit the sex trade. They use
cultural differences when this is positive, but confront traditional practices
that maintain this abuse. Service providers learn from each other and
are supported by networks. At a macro-level legislative, political and
social systems need to support efforts on an individual or community basis.
Whether or not this increased awareness and growth of
services has been accompanied by a comparable level of positive change
for the beneficiaries, children and young people at risk or already abused
through commercial sexual exploitation, is less certain. The lack of evidence
is the result of a shortage of programme and project evaluation. The expansion
of prevention, protection and recovery measures, should be based on transferring
good practice and positively learning from mistakes; thus evaluation is
critical. In the absence of evaluation of the impact of most projects,
it is possible to generate certain practice standards, against which projects'
performance can, in principle, be reviewed. Standards, derived from international
instruments, practice guidance, children and young people's views, plus
evidence from research, are proposed in this Paper. By referring to them,
it is possible to identify elements of good practice, and highlight ways
in which standards are translated into practical activities, citing examples
from around the World. These include interventions with children abused
in commercial and non-commercial settings, as their reactions are known
to be similar in many circumstances, and there is value in sharing ideas
There are relatively few examples of evaluations that
focus on the impact of services. By referring to some examples of evaluations
that incorporate children's own assessment, the potential of such exercises
is highlighted. They have personal experience from which to assess services
- have they been instrumental in achieving positive change, has their
quality of life improved, do they see new opportunities for their future?
Looking forward to the next World Congress, what is its
potential impact? From the perspective of those practitioners working
directly with children and young people, it will be evaluated on the basis
of answers to certain fundamental questions. Has it re-focussed world
attention on the issue of the sexual abuse and exploitation of children?
Has it raised the awareness of the impact of this abuse on these children?
Has it generated sufficient input and information about new approaches
to inform and refocus projects? Have organisations been encouraged and
supported to record, assess and publicise their work, to ensure that learning
and practice examples are derived from all continents? Were organisations
made to review the impact of their work? Has it encouraged and listened
to what young people have to say about the problem and response strategies?
From the young peoples' perspective, will prevention, protection and recovery
programmes increase and generate positive changes for those most at risk?
If the Second World Congress can achieve the objectives implicit in these
questions, it will have contributed significantly to improving services
that enhance prevention, encourage better protection and support the recovery
and reintegration of children and young people. The overall impact is
one that should benefit us all.