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

Cambodia's Child Sex Trade

It's after midnight and we're cruising along the potholed road that directs to Svay Pak, Phnom Penh's contemptible brothel district. It's very dark - the only light comes from flickering candles set in small Buddhist shrines on the roadside. There doesn't seem to be much activity on this hot summer night. Perhaps the Cambodian government's crackdown on the child-sex trade is having an effect. Back in March 2003 the government had sealed 50-odd Svay Pak brothels-known for housing underage Vietnamese girls-in an effort to clean up the nation's growing image as a paedophile's paradise.

Our car turns down a bumpy hill, and at the bottom we are jolted back to reality. What look like rundown garages interlining a back alley are really brothels full of young girls? Costuming tight clothes and bright lipstick, several sashay over to the car. None look older than 14. A shirtless boy, maybe ten, gestures for me to roll down the window. "You want girl?" He asks in broken English.

Sitting in another car is Shu - valoy Majumdar who is co-chair of the Future Group, a Canada - based nonprofit organization challenging the child-sex business. He's brought me to Svay Pak to show the scale of the business. He leans out of his window and lies, telling the boy he wants a girl much younger. Majumdar knows that children as adolescent as four are available but kept hidden by their pimps to avoid police raids. After a concise conversation in Vietnamese with a rough-looking brothel manager, the boy leads Majumder and three others down a narrow pathway to a small cabin.

Inside, Majumder takes a seat in a shrill metal chair beside a stained mattress. Within moments, two girls who claim they are six and eight join him. Just awakened, the girls stand silently together. The pimp slaps one on the back of the head and the girls being to awkwardly endear with Majumdar. Jarring, the six-years-old lisps "no boom-boom, just ngam-ngam", which is so called Vietnamese oral-sex slang. But then a photographer with majumder begins to take pictures. The pimps and his bodyguards draw gun believing majumder and his photographer are undercover informants. Thinking fast they defuse the situation by telling the angry pimp the pictures are for their business-organizing sex trips out of Thailand .the stratagem works, and the danger passes. According to United Nations estimates, thousands of youngsters around the world are forced into the sex trade each year. Some countries are cracking down on the trade.

In Cambodia, through the industry thrives. While having sex with a child is unlawful, law enforcement is ineffective. Efforts to stops sex trade are undercut by dishonest officials and by Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, which has been loath to interrupt the windfall of a 'tourism' industry worth millions a year.' No matter how many laws we sign'. Says my Sochua, a long time political opponent of Hun Sen., child sex will exist as long as this present government is in power.

The sex trade in Cambodia expanded in the early 1990s to service US troops overseeing the transition to the current democratic government. The child sex began to appear when the UN troops departed and brothel owners found they could make more money catering to foreign and regional paedophiles. Today the average age of the estimated 20,000 sex workers in Phnom Penh is thought to be 15. 'Some men are fascinated by sleeping with virgins- thinking they are the first to show prepubescent lasses how to have sex,' says Beth Hedva, a psychologist who has mastered the child sex market.' Cambodia is catering to this market'.

War, revolution, and the barbarous Khmer rouge regime in the 1970s left the nation's social structures in ruins.

"Due to the revolution, family ties were splintered," says Lao Mong Hay, Cambodian law professor. "A generation grew up in surroundings where people did anything to exist. They didn't learn morals."

Most Cambodian is desperately poor-per capitia annual income is around $350. Child-sex worker tell hunting stories of being sold into prostitution by family members or mates.

"'Prostitution and the maltreatment of women is hundreds of years old, but this form of sex enslavement has no precedent in history," says majumder. "Occasionally Cambodian politicians are shamed into doing something about it. But international pressure is inconsistent."

Nearly four years ago prime minister of Cambodia ordered all the karaoke bars and discotheques in Phnom Penh sealed, saying they were bastions of prostitution. The closures were also aimed at appeasing international aid organizations that want to see the child-sex trade stopped.

But the closures didn't last. At many, it's business as usual, with young Cambodian girls sittings on their laps.

At a recovery shelter for child prostitutes in Kampong Cham province, about 100 kilometers north of Phnom Penh, 13-year-old Por Phy is sewing a buttonhole on a shirt she's making to wear to school. When Phy, born in a poor farming village, was ten, her parents admitted her to live at a Phnom Penh homeless center, claiming they couldn't afford to care of her. Within three days of her arrival, an American, whom the young girl would only ever know as Scott, approached the shelter saying he wanted to adopt her.' he told me the paperwork for my adoption was coming,' says Phy. "I didn't want to go with him, but he said he'd take me to America, which I heard was very nice."

The shelter, says Phy, was overrun with children (there are about 20,000 homeless kids in Phnom Penh) and perhaps the staffs were too busy to check Scott's credentials, or perhaps they sold the girl to earn some extra cash. But they allowed the American to take Phy to Sihanoukville, a southern port city where he taught English.

For a year Phy says, she felt safe. But one night Scott raped her and made her his sex slave, threating to kill her if she told anyone or tried to escape. There was no adoption. She stayed for two years, until the abuse become too much and she ran away.
Bagging for money on the streets of Sihanoukville, she met a woman who took her to a Phnom Penh brothel.

A month later police accompanied by the French Cambodian non-profit agency Agirpour les femmes' en situation precaire raided it. (AFESIP). She's been at AFESIP's Kampong Cham center since then and will stay until she's 18, has finished school and learned a job skill. She knows where her family is, but she's too embarrassed to return to them. "What do I tell them?" she asks. "How can I ever tell them?"

That sentiment is typical among the 1600 girls AFESIP has taken in since 1997. They say they feel too ashamed to return home, where people openly refer to them as "dirty girls". "Nobody seems to care about them,"says AFESIP legal advisor Aarti Kappor.

Without any help of regional government agencies, international organizations like, AFESIP investigate child prostitution, appeal police assistance to raid brothels, and rehabilitate sex workers. But even if agencies can convince police to raid a brothel, it will be back in business days later. "For every girl we rescue," says Kappor, "there are hundreds of others who are not."

At the Kampong Cham center, Kang Bophar, 13, tells me a woman sold her to Phnom Penh brothel from her village that lured her to the city with promise of job in a coffee shop. Instead, she sold Bopher for about $500 to a brothel. On her first day, Bopher, a virgin, serviced three customers. She lived with seven other girls in a small room padlocked from the outside and opened only to let the girls out to be with clients. "Every day I woke up thinking, today I will die," she says.

That wasn't idle worrying. While life expectancy for Cambodian women is almost 60, girls in the sex trade are lucky to live half that long. The UN claims that almost 30 percent of Cambodia's brothel-based prostitutes are HIV positive. Since most have never had a blood test, the percentage could be much higher. Some younger girls have even been forced to repeat hymenoplasties, a surgical procedure to attach a piece of skin at the vaginal opening to make the girl appear to be a virgin. (Asian clients will often pay a premium to be with a virgin.) If they refuse to go with a customer, girls are often tortured. "These children are only commodities. Treated as such they may be sold off when they have out-lived their usefulness. And many girls die from AIDS and other infections." says AFESIP cofounder Somaly Mam.

Reintegrating them into society isn't easy. Among the girls at the AFESIP recovery center in Phnom Penh, some see their salvation in marrying one of the foreigners they've had sex with. They write love letters to the customers, whom they know only by a first name. The script, written in English that they've learned in the brothels, often begins: 'I love u, I wish you'd come and get me."

Trang Thi Tong still wants to return to her village in Vietnam. She had been residing with her grandmother when a friend approached her with a job as a servant for a rich Cambodian family. The 12 years old Tong agreed, wanting to surprise her grandmother by sending home some money. Instead, she was dealt to Savy Pak brothel, where she stayed for a year. Now the 14-year-old, cuddling a teddy bear, she is in limbo: smuggled into Cambodia without identification papers, she can't return home if she can't prove her nationality. Not that there's much to go back to.

"In Vietnam,' she says,"I would be lucky if I can find work. I would be a burden to my grandmother. And no one will ever want to marry me."

On a small, plot of land on the Mekong River in Kampng Cham, we are greeted by Sa Pang as we arrive at her door. Also with us is Kuntea, who's been dwelling at the Phnom Penh recovery center since being relieved from the sex business. When Sa Pnag sees us, she rushes out of sight and returns with three plastic bags full of home-grown bananas and guavas. "This is for the girls at the center," says Pang, 50, with a toothless grin.

The two-room home, with no running water or electricity, houses Pang and ten members of her family. But not Kuntea, then 16, who went to Phnom Penh to visit a sister working in a clothing factory. Pang didn't want her to go. But Kuntea stole some money and went anyway. She never got there. Pang contacted the police, but they wouldn't help, saying they receive missing person reports all the time. So Pang went to Phnom Penh on her own, hiring taxi drivers to go into the brothels and look for her daughter.

She didn't find Kuntea, but to her relief; police discovered the girl during a brothel raid. She was disoriented from taking drugs, most likely methamphetamines. Kuntea says the drugs made her forget what happened to her. She remembers arriving in Phnom Penh and finding that her sister's address was wrong. She had no money to get back home. A woman approached her and, saying she could help, took Kuntea to a brothel.

"As soon as I arrived, they beat me and locked me up," says Kuntea. "They told me things would be better if I took pill. Everything became blurry after that."

Kuntea now lives at the recovery center and is training for a job in a factory or restaurant. She's also in counseling, trying to recover from drug dependency and her brothel experiences. Pang sends her daughter food from her family farm. "I miss her," she says, "but as long as she is safe, then I am happy."

Now, on of her few visits home, Kuntea ignores prying villagers crowding in, concentrating instead on brushing her four-year-old cousin's hair. At one point she wipes away a tear as she ties the girl's hair into a ponytail with a ribbon-the same ribbon that most girls at the recovery center wear. Kuntea's face reveals nothing, but the ribbons, at least, is an expression of hope.

UN fears rising child sex trade

The sexual exploitation of children is becoming increasingly widespread because of the greater reach of the internet, the involvement of organised crime, economic pressures and the impact of HIV/AIDS, a UN-organised conference on the issue in Bangkok heard yesterday.
Experts warned that unless governments translate the many recently-passed laws on the issue into action, millions more children could end up in sexual slavery. "In most respects it's getting worse as the forces driving sexual exploitation become more powerful," said Gopalan Balagopal, a child protection adviser with the UN's children's body Unicef.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked annually while the number of children thought to be sexually exploited is much greater than that.Thai welfare groups believe the annual increase in their country is about 20%.
The majority of exploited children are young teenagers but Mr Balagopal said it was not uncommon to find children as young as nine years old.

Carmen Madrinan, the executive director of Ecpat International, a non-governmental organisation that combats the sexual exploitation of children, said the boom in internet paedophilia was not restricted to developed nations. "What we're seeing now is that even in places with lower connectivity, such as in Asia, the [exploitation] is growing very very rapidly," she said.

Mr Balagopal said poverty was a large factor in many areas. "Worsening economic conditions make people more vulnerable to child sexual exploitation," he said. "They place families in a position where the parents feel they have to sell their children."