Down to Zero, a programme to stop sexual exploitation, works!

Stopping the sexual exploitation of children. It might seem like an impossible task. There are around two million children who are victims worldwide. An independent evaluation of the programme Down to Zero shows us that it is possible to stop it.

What is the secret? Children learn to stand up for themselves, with the help of their families and communities. At the same time, the tourism industry is joining for the protection of the children and law enforcement is joining for the prosecution of perpetrators. 

Children fighting for their rights

Down to Zero began in 2016 running until 2020 and it empowers children to fight for their rights themselves. Furthermore, this programme also helps communities better protect their children and improves and implements relevant legislation and regulations in the ten countries.

It appears to deliver very good results, according to an independent evaluation of the programme by MDF Training and Consultancy. In the programme, Terre des Hommes, Defence for Children - ECPAT, Plan Nederland, Free a Girl and ICCO share their experiences and expertise.

Victims of sexual exploitation

According to researchers there are 4600 trained children, that either have been victims of sexual exploitation or are at risk of becoming one, proved capable of standing up for themselves. Their voices are being heard in the ten lands where Down to Zero is active.

For example, in Khajuraho, a group of twenty boys asked the police to take action against tourists that were consuming alcohol or using drugs in public spaces. One of them: Himanshu Shukla, was subsequently given the opportunity to tell his gripping story about sexual abuse at the UN in Genève. Other children, more than 21.000 in total, received care and guidance to work through their abuse.

Local leaders speak out against sexual exploitation

It helps the children a lot when their stories are supported and the people around them helps them with the stopping of the abuse. Local leaders are more likely to oppose sexual exploitation through the programme. Additionally, the researchers also observed that there is more cooperation within the local child-protection committees to combat the problem. 

This means that families and communities are reporting human trafficking more often. This is how people from a community reported 3 suspect cases of sexual exploitation in the Philippines. 

Training by Down to Zero

Meanwhile, the governments of the involved countries were also not standing still. After meetings and with training by Down to Zero, they developed and implemented policies and action plans. For example, in March 2018 an adult was convicted to 13 years in prison for sexual abuse of children in Batam, Indonesia. 

Tourism: code of conduct for the sector

Within the tourism, the sector plays a big role in the problem. That is why a code of conduct is crucial for this sector. The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism is geared to teach the staff members of the whole tourism sector how they can recognize and subsequently prevent child sex tourism. This includes not only staff members of hotels, but also taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers and beach and street sellers. 

This appears to be very effective. For example, in the Dominican Republic 8000 employees of different companies now know how they can recognize a risky situation for a child and how they can protect the child.

Stopping sexual exploitation

The successful results reassure us that Down to Zero is on a good path, which will allow us to stop the sexual exploitation of even more children, and that we can guide them to a better future. 

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