Program Watch (International) has finished. Too often sex offenders who assault children in Asia walk away without prosecution. Local police forces often do not have the capacity to investigate these cases and collecting evidence can be very hard. This is why between 2013-2016, Terre des Hommes trained private detectives to track down Western and local child sex offenders, so that children can grow up in a safer environment. This approach is based on a successful project developed by our project partner APLE in Cambodia, Indonesia, The Philippines, India and Nepal. This project, named Project WATCH (Working Actively Together for Children), was supported by the National Postcode Loterij.
Due to cheap flights and easy access to the internet, Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism is a growing problem in Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Nepal. However, too often perpetrators walk away without prosecution.
In Cambodia, the use of private investigators to stop the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism has been very succesfull in the last few years. Local Terre des Hommes partner APLE (Action Pour Les Enfants) investigates around 150 cases every year. Many of these lead to arrests and a few even lead to convictions. Based on the succesful method of APLE, Terre des Hommes also trains private detectives in Indonesia, The Philippines, India and Nepal.
For many years, cyber related and undercover research have been central to Terre des Hommes' Sweetie and Watch International programmes. After thorough analysis the conclusion has been drawn that this type of activity does not align with the mission of Terre des Hommes, and has been conflicting with its ethical standards and codes of conduct. Our focus within these programs was on detecting abusers instead of protecting the (eventual) victims. Therefore the decision has been made to stop the activities related to cyber and undercover research.
Terre des Hommes will continue fighting for the protection of children, the issues surrounding online sexual exploitation of children and traveling sex offenders, but this will be done in other ways. Terre des Hommes will continue to protect vulnerable children. Furthermore, Terre des Hommes will raise awareness as well as build knowledge and capacities of the formal institutions responsible for child protection, tracking of perpetrators and law enforcement.
Project WATCH (Working Actively Together for CHildren ‘not on our watch') was a Terre des Hommes initiative that tracked down and prosecuted child sex offenders in Indonesia, The Philippines, India and Nepal to make sure that children could grow up in a safer environment. The following were Project WATCH's main activities:
With support of Cambodian project partner APLE, Terre des Hommes trains local private detectives in Indonesia, The Philippines, India and Nepal to track down child sex offenders, collect evidence and share it with the local police.
A Project WATCH team consists of two detectives, a lawyer and a social worker. The detectives observe suspicious individuals for a longer period of time. If sufficient evidence is collected it will be shared with the police. Together with the victims, their families and the Project WATCH team members the lawyer will report the case to the police. If the case is brought to court, the lawyer will offer legal assistance to the child victims.
During the lawsuit other members of the team stay in touch with the media. The authorities usually give priority to sexual offences involving minors if they get media attention. In addition to the lawyer, the social worker offers protection and support to the child victims. In some cases victims are threatened by the perpetrator, or friends or relatives of the perpetrator. If necessary, the team will place the child in a safe and protected shelter.
Together, the Project WATCH teams in Indonesia, The Philippines, India and Nepal managed to accomplish 28 arrests of child sex offenders between April 2014 and March 2015. Many of these offenders were Western tourists with a record of sexually assaulting children. In seven cases so far the evidence of the Project WATCH team has lead to convictions. 157 children involved were given shelter and support to build up a new future.
Through a close collaboration with the governments and law enforcement agencies in Cambodia, Nepal, and the Philippines, the Sweetie 24/7 programme will be able to address the issue of sexual exploitation of children in a holistic manner, which is a dire need of many countries in Asia at the moment.
The goal of this programme is to contribute to the reduction of online facilitated forms of sexual exploitation and to ensure victims of online child sexual exploitation are provided with the proper care. This is done by targeting the perpetrators and abusers, and by employing a scale of interventions that contribute to the quality of care that the victims/survivors need to receive.