Sunday, January 29, 2006

Post-Yokohama Mid-Term Review of the East Asia and Pacific Regional Commitment and Action Plan against CSEC 8-10 November 2004

‘Demand’ & the child sex trade
Presenter: Denise Ritchie, New Zealand
Stop Demand Foundation

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and youth delegates.

This Mid Term Review gives us the opportunity of monitoring and evaluating how successful we have been, or haven’t been, over the past three years in our goal to end the child sex trade. I suspect that every country, globally, could provide impressive reports on steps taken to end the trade - the passing of new laws, improved law enforcement, wider public awareness, research and so on. And yet three years on from Yokohama and eight years on from Stockholm, the numbers of children and young people in this region and elsewhere who are being commercially sexually exploited, are escalating. As the Deputy Executive Secretary of UNESCAP said yesterday in her opening statement, “CSEC is on the rise, victims are getting younger.” While commendable work is being done in many of our countries, from a strategic perspective all of us present today must acknowledge that we are falling well short of our goal - that of ending the child sex trade.

My belief is that we will continue to be far from our goal until we more rigorously address the issue of demand within the child sex trade.

The Yokohama Global Commitment 2001 document records our joint commitment to reinforce our efforts against the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) by addressing root causes. Leading the list of eleven root causes is poverty. The ninth in the list is ‘the demand factor’. I would challenge that order. While poverty makes children and families vulnerable to exploitation, I believe we buy into distorted thinking when we claim poverty as the root cause of CSEC. There are many poor communities in the world that protect their children from exploitation. There are many poor families in the world who do not sell their children into the sex trade. In yesterday’s Trafficking workshop we were presented with two research findings. In Lao PDR a study covering 17 provinces and 253 trafficked persons found that while ‘economic aspirations’ was considered a ‘cause or perception’, extreme poverty was not cited as a factor in trafficking. Similarly, a trafficking study conducted in the Philippines found that ‘consumerism’ rather than poverty was one of the key factors leading to trafficking. And as Professor Vitit reminded us yesterday, there are many economically strong countries where CSEC is also rife. Poverty can lead people to make desperate choices but let us stop using poverty as an excuse.

The child sex trade, like all trades, exists not because there is poverty but because there is demand and supply. The demand for sex comes from adults, overwhelmingly men. The supply is that of children, in particular their bodies and sexual parts. The goods taken and destroyed however are much more than children’s bodies, but also their minds, their hearts, their spirits, their hopes, their futures and frequently their lives.

Commendably there has been concerted global focus on protecting children from the sex trade, including research, education of parents and children, prevention programmes, the rescue of children and recovery and reintegration. All these strategies are vital. However, strategically it is impossible to eliminate the risk of children being supplied. It is impossible to protect every child. A rescued child is likely to be replaced by another. As long as there is demand, the supply of children will continue. On the other hand, if we were able to eliminate demand, there would be no commercial viability for parents or intermediaries such as procurers, traffickers, pimps or brothel owners to supply children for sex. Put simply, if there were no demand, there would be no supply. In the short-term, if we could reduce demand we should see a corresponding reduction in supply.

It is commonly recognised that child sex exploiters fall into two key categories. The larger group comprises the situational or opportunistic child sex offender. Typically they do not have a sexual preference for a child but may use a situation or opportunity to sexually exploit an accessible child. The smaller group comprise paedophiles who sexually prefer children. They may be seducers, introverts or sadists.

Research such as that presented to the First World Congress in Stockholm revealed that those who sexually exploit children within local prostitution and sex tourism comprise sex tourists, travelling businessmen, expatriates, aid workers, local exploiters, the military and peacekeepers, seamen and truckers, migrant labour and employers of domestic workers. (‘The Sex Exploiter’ ECPAT paper, First World Congress against CSEC, 1996)

New Zealand research released last month revealed some interesting facts about that country’s demand for child sex abuse images. Of 170 offenders, 100% were male, with 24% aged between 14 and 19 years old. The two most commonly identified occupations of offenders were students (32%) and IT workers (19%). (Research: NZ Department of Internal Affairs, Oct 04)

Research and studies show us that demand within CSEC comes overwhelmingly from males. The men come from a wide range of professions, they range in age from adolescence to the elderly, they can be married, single or divorced, they can be fathers or grandfathers. They can be students, businessmen or tourists who take advantages of situations they find themselves in. Or they might be paedophiles who intentionally seek out children to exploit.

In past years there has been excellent work focused on improving laws and law enforcement to ensure the prosecution of offenders and the deterrence of potential offenders. However we must acknowledge that prosecutions are rare and when they do occur, children have already been damaged. Awareness-raising programmes such as those within the tourism industry and programmes focusing on careful choosing of childcare workers are excellent examples of best practices in minimising risk to children and in deterring offenders. However, when I speak of the need to focus on demand I am speaking of addressing fundamental and systemic values and beliefs that underpin society as a whole; behaviours, beliefs and attitudes that accommodate and sustain so much sexual violence and sexual exploitation of children - patriarchy, beliefs around sexual dominance and machismo, male power and control, viewing of children (especially girl children) as objects or possessions, and perverted cultural beliefs - such as having sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS, brings good fortune or restores virility.

We know that many who use children in the sex trade are first and foremost prostitute users rather than paedophiles. I was therefore intrigued to read that last week, in response to a recent crackdown on prostitution generally in South Korea, a men’s rights group submitted a petition to their National Human Rights Commission arguing that the clampdown was “a violation of human rights of men”. The petition also claimed that the law “infringed on men’s physical freedom, men’s freedom of survival and men’s happiness”. Such claims provide useful insight into the views of some men as to their right to buy sex.

Globally however some important steps are being taken to address demand and challenge societal beliefs.

Outside the region, in Sweden, recent law changes that prohibit the purchase of sex from adult women have sent a strong message to the men and boys in that country that the purchase of sex will not be condoned. As I’ve already stated, given the fact that men who buy sex from children are frequently prostitute users, this has important ramifications for CSEC. Equally important is the impact this has had on trafficking, with reports suggesting that trafficking of women into Sweden for the sex trade has dramatically decreased. The internationally-renowned Swedish movie, Lilya 4-Ever, graphically raised public awareness of the link between demand and the child sex trade and trafficking. Last month Sweden launched a national campaign on demand with a signed statement by 30 renowned men entitled ‘Time for men to break the silence about the commercial sexual exploitation of children”. Cinema spots focusing on demand have run in 900 cinemas with a leaflet distribution focused on “the buyers of sex”. Key Swedish men speaking publicly on the issue is amongst future plans.

In September South Korea launched a crackdown on its local sex trade, with plans to shut down all brothels by 2007. As in Sweden, messages to the community that the buying and selling of sex is behaviour that will not be tolerated, and its inevitable positive impact on CSEC, must be applauded.

In recent months we have also seen some very important changes in policies governing the behaviour of troops serving at overseas posts. In June this year 46 members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council endorsed a “zero tolerance” policy of trafficking for NATO troops, an initiative led by the United States and Norway. Those two countries have taken additional steps of banning their troops from using the services of adult prostitutes. If implemented and enforced, such steps should have important positive implications for reducing CSEC.

In New Zealand Stop Demand Foundation ( was launched, to work at local, regional and global levels to encourage the mobilisation and action of men in the work to end CSEC.

The key to confronting demand within CSEC lies, I believe, with increased male participation. Over the years many of us have called on our governments, law-makers and law enforcers, and the private sector (particularly the tourism and Internet industries). For years women around the world have run Rape Crisis Centres and Women’s Health Centres and spoken out about sexual violence. Yet little has changed. It is now time for us to make a call on good men - to seek their participation and their help. Sexual exploitation is overwhelmingly a male issue. We need men to be the solution. We need good men to be positive role models to young men and boys. We need men who will confront sexually exploitative attitudes amongst their male friends and colleagues. We need men who will expose CSEC as destructive, as un-masculine and inhuman. We need men to assume not collective guilt but collective responsibility in finding solutions.

I would hope that we can rely on all the men present at this meeting to take up that role.

The challenge for us today is ‘how serious are we about ending the child sex trade?’ We could end the child sex trade tomorrow, if the demand for child sex stopped today. If we want to end it, or even reduce it, our programmes and our strategies must be focused on ways to stop demand.

Most importantly, let us not forget the daily realities for children in the sex trade, many of whom are being raped day after day. Our programmes and research will mean little to them. All they will want is for the men to stop coming, and for the rapes to stop. We’ve heard reports about virginity-seekers in this region, both in some sending countries and some receiving countries. Where is our local and regional condemnation of such a practice? It is time we put aside fears of offending some in our communities.

Each of us must be willing personally to confront attitudes, behaviours and beliefs that sustain CSEC which is such an inhuman violation of so many young lives. For if we choose to remain silent, we protect only the interests of the abusers and exploiters. As the saying goes, “For this evil to exist, is for good men to do nothing.”

In conclusion, let us remember that in our Regional Commitment and Action Plan adopted in October 2001 this Region committed itself “to counter demand for CSEC”. Yet little appears to have been done in this Region in the past three years to counter demand.

I propose that we insert into the Commitment arising from this Review meeting a section on demand, along the following lines:

“We [the delegates of the East Asia and Pacific Region] commit ourselves to addressing as a matter of priority the demand that fosters CSEC, recognising the need to condemn and challenge behaviours, beliefs and attitudes that support and sustain CSEC, recognising that until demand for CSEC is reduced the supply of children will continue to exist. To this end we call on increased male participation to assist us in our work to eliminate CSEC.”

Thank you.

Denise Ritchie, Stop Demand Foundation, New Zealand


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