125 Countries in Brazil Debating Child Sex, Trafficking and Pornography

Exploitation of children Close to 3,000 participants from over 125 countries have gathered in Rio de Janeiro, in Southeast Brazil, this Tuesday, November 25, for a three-day United Nations-backed congress to combat the increasing scourge of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in all its dimensions, ranging from trafficking, pornography and prostitution to rape and abuse.

"No country or region is immune, and there are no innocent bystanders," UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman  said. "Sexual exploitation leaves children with psychological and at times physical scars, and diminishes their hopes of leading a life of dignity."

World Congress III Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children, co-sponsored by UNICEF, the Brazilian Government, and civil organizations, will look at sexual exploitation in the family, child marriage, sexual exploitation of child domestic laborers, the commercial sex industry, as well as child pornography and sexual exploitation of children in cyberspace.

"Sexual exploitation is the ultimate abuse of power," Ms. Veneman said. "A couple of years ago, I met a 16-year-old girl in Rwanda who asked me a very direct question: ‘What are you going to do to stop the rapes?' It is a question that we must answer collectively and with a renewed sense or urgency."

Studies indicate an increase in the sexual exploitation of the young. UNICEF notes that predators continue to use new tools to target children, including cyberspace and new generation mobile phone technologies, and adults can prey on children in chat rooms and use the Internet to post or download pornography.

Seven years after the last World Congress in Yokohama, Japan, which focused exclusively on commercial sexual exploitation of children, the Brazilian Congress will also discuss strategies for combating non-commercial forms of child sexual exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of children in their homes, by religious leaders, teachers, peacekeepers and armed groups in war zones.

The First World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children took place in Stockholm in 1996, resulting in the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action, which was adopted by 122 countries. This committed countries to develop strategies and plans of action with agreed-upon guidelines and 161 countries have now signed on.

The driving force behind the third World Congress is to make the global response more emphatic and comprehensive as the problem continues to become more complex in its manifestations and scope.

In a news release UNICEF quote a series of victims recounting their experiences.

"When clients came to the brothel, we tried to lock the doors or hide," Rumilya (not her real name), a young woman who was trafficked from her native Kyrgyzstan when she was 12-years-old. A UNICEF-supported center for homeless and vulnerable children helped Rumilya, now 18, when she finally returned to Kyrgyzstan.

"He called me in his room and asked me to scratch his back," said another girl, a 15-year-old in Liberia. "He held me and lay me down on the bed. I began to shout. He had a knife beside him. He said that if I talked he would kill me." The young woman now lives in a safe house supported by UNICEF.

"I met a man when I was nine-and-a-half years old. He worked at a nightclub and he took me with him and that's how it started," said a third, Ana Maria, 17, a young woman under the care of Casa Alianza, a UNICEF-supported organization that helps street children in Guatemala.

Additional organizing partners of the Congress are ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global non-profit network of organizations and individuals set up in 1991, and the non-governmental organization (NGO) Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Throughout the three-day event, there will be many workshops and discussions. Five panels will deal with identifying forms of commercial exploitation, developing a legal framework, adapting policies that address these issues and strengthening forms of international cooperation.

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