San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hemisphere Fights Child Sexual Exploitation

A concerted, international effort tostamp out sexual exploitation of childrencame to a head in San José at the follow-upmeeting to the Second World Congressagainst Commercial Sexual Exploitation ofChildren and Adolescents last week.Representatives of South America,Central America and the Caribbean reportedon their efforts during the three years sincethe close of the Congress in Yokohama,Japan, in 2001 and the regional governmentconsultation held in Montevideo, Uruguay,the same year.A host of non-governmental organizationsand the state of Costa Rica organizedthe event, which they said closed with adegree of success.Carmen Madriñán, representative ofECPAT International, said the efforts of themovement have had “a great impact in someareas, such as that the level of knowledgepeople have about the issue has increased.”SEVERAL representatives of the nongovernmentalorganization and Costa Ricanorganizing parties expressed their satisfactionwith the fact that their efforts had, at thevery least, defined the problem and givenpeople a precedent for talking about it intheir communities.Child Welfare Minister Rosalía Gil reiteratedthat people need to know that “thekids are the victims, never those who areguilty.”In the same vein, Conde said it is necessaryto change certain ideas about childrenand sex.“We all regard sex with children who are10 years and younger as something horrible,but society does not see a girl who is 15 or16 years old (who has sex with an adult formoney) as a victim. Rather, she is a badgirl,” she said.SHE issued a plea for everyone to helpunmask the pimps and those who exploitbecause it “affects all of us. We all have theobligation, there is nobody exempted fromresponsibility.”Madriñán admitted current efforts arelopsided. The top-heavy approach to dealingwith the issue has created a much strongereffort to control the problem on the nationallevel, but regionally, meaning within eachtown and neighborhood, much remains to bedone“(Exploitation of children) does notrespect borders,” she added, alluding to traffickingproblems on the Nicaragua-CostaRica border.Gil said she has spoken withNicaragua’s Minister of the Family and theyare working with groups such as Save theChildren and the United Nations Children’sFund (UNICEF) to begin to curb abusesagainst children in the border region.THE Congress defines sexual commercialexploitation of children as “the use ofpeople under 18 years of age in sexual, eroticor pornographic activities for the satisfactionor desires of others in exchange for payment,or the promise ofpayment or any kind oftrade…”Some of the mythsit tries to dispel includeerroneous ideas suchas, “They are prostitutesand that’s theirjob,” and “They’re in itbecause they like it,”and, among others,“I’m doing them a favor by paying them –that’s how they support their families.”At the close of the event, the official listof results proclaimed that every countryinvolved had recognized that there is a problem,despite the fact that there is no way toknow how many children are being exploitedbecause of the clandestine nature of thebusiness.THE countries have all proposed measuresto fight the problem to their respectivelegislative bodies. Most of them, includingCosta Rica, have approved a national plan ofaction against child sexual exploitation.Delegates have opened channels of communicationto share among one anotherthose strategies that are working in theircountries. Many have initiated reforms totheir penal laws to classify different forms ofsexual exploitation and hunt down abusers.The international organizations Save theChildren, ECPAT, the International LaborOrganization’s International Program on theElimination of Child Labor, the InternationalOrganization for Immigration, and UNICEFhave committed to create regional monitoringnetworks that will feed into the nationallevel efforts.MONEY was a recurring themethroughout the conference according toBruce Harris, director of the child-advocacygroup Casa Alianza.“If international money is availablethey’ll (the states) fund the programs, but ifnot, they won’t,” hesaid. “That to me doesnot reflect a commitmentby the governments.They are losingcredibility…”He pointed outthat Costa Rica spentmore money on theconference last weekthan it provides thecountry’s commission against the commercialsexual exploitation of children.“You have to wonder if it’s all publicrelations,” he said.ECPAT’S report on Costa Rica’sprogress echoes Harris’ objection. In its seventhreport on the implementation of theAgenda for Action the Congress chastisedCosta Rica and other Latin American countriesfor their slow responses, paltryresources and lack of coordination acrossborders to combat child sexual exploitation.Costa Rica, the report said, though oneof the 10 Latin American countries that hasdeveloped a national action plan, has notallowed a preliminary investigation of thedegree of commercial sexual exploitation ofchildren in the country, and has not dedicatedenough money of its state budget to theeffort.THE number of Latin countries thathave developed a national plan has risen to12 since the report was published earlier thisyear. So far, 39 of 159 nations worldwidehave completed their plans.“I have no doubt that the representativesof the 24 countries sitting in the rooms duringthe conference are committed, but theproblem is when they return they’re nottaken seriously in their own countries,” hesaid. “It’s easy to measure (how seriouslythe plans are taken) by how much budget isassigned.”If the money is lacking, at least PresidentAbel Pacheco delivered eloquent verbal supportfor the exploited youth of Costa Rica.“It is indispensable that everyone give ahand to the international legal arsenal tomake qualitative advances in this field. Let’snot fool ourselves; we aren’t simply confrontingthe ‘neighborhood pervert’ anymore.Now pedophilia is a multimillion dollarindustry with ramifications in everycountry, with powerful resources and influencesthat assault the dignity, the integrity,and the lives of our sons and daughters,” hesaid at the opening of last week’s event.PACHECO also declared a “sacredwar” on sexual exploitation of children,pedophiles and propagators of child pornographywhen he signed a law creating a SanJosé court for children and adolescents andanother regulating pornography viewing inInternet cafes last month.“The sexual exploitation of children, inany of its diverse expressions, is a situationthat embarrasses us and hurts us, but alsofills us with fury and determination to fightit,” he said at the signing ceremony.“Throughout our lives there are battles thatwe can lose, but there are other that aresacred. Those we cannot lose.”

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