Commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents has been recognized globally as one of the most severe human rights violations of children and adolescents. In the last two decades awareness of the devastating consequences to the victims has increased, and likewise, concern about eliminating the problem has grown.
Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization is one of the international legal instruments that most strongly promotes the elimination of commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. This convention was unanimously adopted, and those countries that ratified it committed to taking immediate and effective measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, among which are mentioned, “… the use, recruitment, or sale of children for prostitution, production of pornography or pornographic acts”. It is important that the ILO has so clearly denounced the problem, since the tripartite structure of this international agency means that not only have the States recognized the problem, but also the employer organizations and trade unions have promised to participate in its elimination.
The International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is the specialized entity of the ILO that offers support to the countries in achieving the goals established in the ILO Conventions with respect to eliminating child labor. Upon the adoption of Convention 182, the IPEC Program expanded the activities contributing to the elimination of commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the 83 countries where the Program operates.
Given the serious situation encountered, ILO/IPEC developed a regional project aimed at eliminating commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the Central American countries and in Dominican Republic. Among the first activities supported was a study on the situation in each of the following countries: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic, with the purpose of helping the creation of intervention strategies for combating the problem.
Therefore, ILO/IPEC hired a research team in each of the countries mentioned in order to develop the study. One of the directives given was to analyze the existing legal foundation for preventing the problem, protecting the victims, and punishing the exploiters in each country. The intention of this analysis was to find gaps in the legislation and to evaluate the need for supporting the improvement of national laws. In addition, the investigators were asked to conduct an analysis of the institutional response to the problem with the objective of identifying possibilities for strengthening institutional capacity. Each research team was also charged with the task of collecting information on the victims of commercial sexual exploitation using a questionnaire developed by ILO/IPEC.
In this manner, information on the family and socio-economic situation was gathered from around one hundred victims in each country, as well as information on how those directly affected perceived the institutional response. In addition, information was obtained on some characteristics of the exploiters through an instrument administered to the victims. Finally, each research team was asked to administer a questionnaire to two hundred adults in each country to evaluate their awareness and perception about the problem. The results of this analysis will serve as a basis for establishing communication campaigns to foster social rejection of the exploitation. The information offered by the victims as well as the adults interviewed has been entered into a common database.
The studies were executed by professionals and national institutions. In Panama, the study was carried out by the Women’s Institute at the University of Panama under the coordination of Enriqueta Davis. In Costa Rica, Cecilia Claramunt established a research team and coordinated the study. In Nicaragua, the study was developed by the Foundation for Women’s Development (MUPADE) under the coordination of Rosamaría Sánchez; while Zoila González de Innocenti coordinated the study in El Salvador. In Honduras, the Women’s Studies Center – Honduras undertook the task under the coordination of Mirta Kennedy; and in Guatemala, Ramón Cadena, Carlos Peralta Chapetón and Sergio Fernando Morales of the University of San Carlos participated in the development of the study in that country. In Dominican Republic, the study was carried out by the non-governmental organization PROFAMILIA with the participation of Frank Cáceres, Leopoldina Cairo and Antonio Moya.
The current document contains a regional synthesis of the information gathered and the analysis carried out by each research team. Information will be presented about the victims of sexual exploitation and about the perceptions of the adult population based on the regional database that was established using the national databases.
Commercial sexual exploitation includes the use of boys and girls under 18 years of age for various commercial sexual activities, such as paid sexual relations; the production, promotion and dissemination of pornographic material; and the use of children and adolescents for public or private sexual entertainment. There are various forms of exploitation that must be confronted in a specialized manner, including sexual tourism; individual and/or organized local exploiters; trafficking of children for purposes of using them in sexual activities; as well as the dissemination of pornography over the Internet.
The basis for the current document is the fact that all sectors of society must participate in the eradication of commercial sexual exploitation; however, the States have the unique responsibility of complying with the various international conventions that they have ratified, such as ILO Convention 182 mentioned above and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, this is not a matter of good will on the part of the States, but rather an international commitment acquired by ratifying these international conventions. All children and adolescents have the right to be protected against commercial sexual exploitation and if the families and communities do not prevent and attend to this problem, the States are obligated to intervene immediately to protect them.
Many challenges still remain in preventing the problem in the Central American countries, Panama, and Dominican Republic. In this document some socio-demographic and economic characteristics of the countries will be presented to show the general context in which commercial sexual exploitation is maintained. In addition, some of the gaps encountered in the existing legal and institutional framework for protecting children and adolescents against all types of abuse will be presented, as well as weaknesses in the institutions that are supposed to punish persons who commit this type of crime. The existing institutional platform in the region, which must be improved and more focused on addressing this particular problem, will be described.
Later, the dynamics in which sexual exploitation is carried out and its relation to the factors that foster its existence will be discussed, both those factors that make the victims vulnerable as well as those that foster “demand”. An analysis of the similarities and differences among the countries will be included, and since the characteristics vary from one country to another, varied responses must be established.
Based on the regional database, which contains information gathered by each national research team, the awareness and perception of the adults interviewed about commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents will be analyzed, as well as the willingness of people to deal with the problem, through actions such as reporting. In addition, qualitative and quantitative information will be presented, based on the questionnaires administered to child victims. Characteristics of sexual exploitation from the children’s point of view will be explored as will the failure to protect the human rights of this sector of the population, including their right to live with their family, to receive an education, to enjoy good health, and especially the right to be protected from all types of abuse and exploitation.
Next, a summary of the regional institutional response will be presented, including the programs promoted by the NGOs as well as the State’s response. Finally, the main conclusions and recommendations for advancing the fight against commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in the countries mentioned will be presented.
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