Nations unite to fight sexual exploitation of children

Other News Materials 29 November 2008 02:01 (UTC +04:00)

On the Avenida Atlantica, the magnificent avenue on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, minors offer sex for just a few dollars, dpa reported.

Participants at the third World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children (ECPAT), which ended Friday in the Brazilian city, could witness the extent of the problem almost first-hand.

Near Rio's poshest hotels, girls and boys seek out clients even in the presence of police. "Poverty feeds the sexual exploitation of children," said federal police superintendent Ismar Ferreira.

The problem is worse in the Brazilian countryside, much like the situation in other developing countries. In Amazonia, Ferreira said he met a 72-year-old man who had bought an 11-year-old for a bag of flour.

In 90 per cent of the cases, the families of the victims are partly responsible, Ferreira said. In Brazil, girls aged 9-15 from remote areas are often taken to cities to work in homes. They are usually required to perform "extraordinary duties" for the house owners or their adolescent sons.

"There are many sex slaves," Ferreira noted.

German Green legislator Ekin Deligoez said she was satisfied with the results of the congress, in which representatives from governments, the corporate world and non-governmental organizations took part.

"Despite the cultural differences, a very unanimous attitude to fight sexual violence could be felt," Deligoez said.

While they declined to engage in detailed debates, Deligoez claimed, "I think we reached a turning point."

Concrete progress was made on sexual tourism, participants said. Many hotels and travel agents agreed on certain common guidelines and several countries have passed laws that enable the authorities to prosecute offenders even after they return home.

However, massive problems persist in gathering evidence as well as in the legal proceedings. In Germany, for example, the number of people convicted of such crimes remains very low.

European countries, under German coordination, were planning to intensify their cooperation, and a conference to follow up on the Rio congress was scheduled to take place in March.

"Europe bears a great responsibility, given that 25 per cent of the global trade in children takes place in or near Europe," said Nils Kastburg, UNICEF's regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

He was glad that the conference in Rio also discussed abuse within the family - for long a taboo topic. In Latin America alone, 229 children are sexually abused every hour by relatives or family friends.

According to UNICEF, some 1.8 million girls and boys are forced to engage in prostitution and pornography every year. "It takes time to fight the discrimination of girls or to break the masculinity cult," said UNICEF Germany's spokesman Rudi Tarneden.

"The sexualization of everyday life through the aggressive portrayal of sexuality in the media remains problematic," he noted.