Working together in fighting sexual exploitation of children pays off

Stronger together. This is once again demonstrated by Down to Zero’s first annual report. This alliance between five NGOs (Terre des Hommes, Plan International Nederland, Defence for Children – ECPAT, Free a Girl and ICCO Cooperation) joins forces to put an end to commercial sexual exploitation of children in eleven countries in Asia and Latin America by 2020. The alliance was initiated last year when implementation of the joint programme was started, and 3,667 children already know what sexual exploitation means, that it is not ‘normal’, and how they can report it. Another 2,012
children were trained to defend children’s rights and to protect themselves and their peers against sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation

Down to Zero focuses on two groups: children at risk of sexual exploitation and children who have been sexually exploited. In this latter group there are many impressive examples of children who take matters into their own hands to prevent them from being exploited again.

Children indicate themselves what needs to be changed

One great example of such resilience is a group of fifteen children in India that identified how the environment makes them vulnerable and what their needs are to be better protected when returning with their families. They presented this list to their local government where they openly discussed what could be done (deploy neighbourhood watches, enhanced street lighting) to make their communities safe for children who return after having been sexually exploited. The children did not only draw attention to physical hazards, but also presented social vulnerabilities, such as fake romance and the children’s desire for a better future. Human traffickers and pimps cleverly capitalise on these desires. With the assistance of the NGOs, the local government now raises awareness among young people at schools about the dangers.

Adolescent girls prevent child marriage

The other group (children at risk of sexual exploitation) has also achieved impressive results. Three brave adolescent girls managed to prevent the marriage of a fifteen-year- old girl in Bangladesh. Bengali human traffickers often use child marriages to gain control over the girls.

Saving and supporting children

Besides empowerment of children, 909 victims received aid in the form of shelter, healthcare, education and legal aid. As a result, children were saved and got the opportunity to return to society in a healthy way.

Families beschermen kinderen

Just working with children alone, however, is not enough. It is important to also influence their environment in a way that they actively contribute to creating a world in which children are protected against selling their bodies. 232 families of victims, for example, were given protection and aid was given to 36 child protection committees. We also put in place 15 referral schemes to ensure that children who have been sexually abused can be referred to aid agencies in a timely manner.

This is also manifestly successful: in Nicaragua victims’ parents are more involved in the judicial process and reintegration. They make sexual exploitation a subject of discussion with the children, while it used to be a taboo subject. There is also a youth committee that is trained to provide information on how people can prevent children from being forced to sell their bodies.

Hotelstaff recognise sex tourist

The approach also included companies. 31 companies received support to draw up specific policies concerning sexual exploitation, 95 companies were trained to recognise and prevent sexual exploitation and this way thousands of employees could be reached. Hotel staff is, for example, trained to recognise child sex tourists. In addition, Google Thailand was involved in training for police and judicial staff. Currently, Down to Zero and Google are discussing how they can continue to work together.

Civil servants ensure enforcement

Finally, it is important to ensure that all these changes are embedded in a legal structure of legislation and enforcement. To ensure that changes are sustained, 1,745 civil servants have been trained to recognise and deal with sexual exploitation. As a result, a court in Indonesia has, for example, put in place a child-friendly procedure so that children dare to testify about exploitative situations.

Down to Zero

Down to Zero is conducted under the auspices of Terre des Hommes together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The 5-year programme (2016-2020) enables children and young people to defend their own rights, enables communities to better protect their children against commercial sexual exploitation and enables governments to improve and implement relevant policies, laws and regulations in the eleven countries. The Alliance also cooperates with the private sector, for example in the tourist industry.

Read the Annual Report of Down to Zero >>

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