Thank you very much for inviting me.
ECPAT is headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand. It is committed to combatting sexual exploitation of children. The name ECPAT is an acronym and stands for the phrase End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.
In addition to the activities that you kindly mentioned, I would point out that I was also a member of the international board of directors of ECPAT from 2012 to 2014, representing North America.
The focus of ECPAT in combatting child sexual exploitation in South Asia has been to promote the participation of children. This has been done through its youth partnership project. The involvement of children in promoting respect for the rights of children and in combatting the violation of these rights is embedded in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Article 12 of the convention obligates states parties to the convention, including Canada, to:
assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
I point out that this convention, perhaps uniquely amongst all the conventions that have been drafted for signature, has been signed by every single country in the world. The only country that hasn't signed it is Somalia because it didn't have a functioning government, but other than that, every other country has signed and ratified it except for the United States.
Article 14 of the convention obligates:
States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Article 15 of the convention obligates:
States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The youth partnership project of ECPAT is directed to child survivors of commercial sexual exploitation in South Asia. It's designed to help formerly exploited children to take the lead in the effort against sexual exploitation of children.
Some of the youth partnership projects include the following. One is training youth in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. These trained youth have set up peer support programs in schools located in high-risk areas to share information and provide individual support to prevent their peers from becoming trapped in commercial sexual exploitation.
Another project trains youth to use media and advocacy skills to reach out to local communities. Through awareness campaigns they aim to reduce the numbers of trafficked children.
A third project works with trained caregivers and local organizations to help them provide psychosocial care for child survivors.
In a fourth project, youth have worked both to improve the lives of child survivors and to persuade adults to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children. So their work isn't directed only to children but also to adults. The project engages in consultations with children about its aims and activities. Youth themselves are invited to make project proposals for microprojects. Adult youth motivators monitor and support these projects.
I can give you one example, although there are many, of one such microproject in India, a library and recreation room for girls residing at a shelter home in West Bengal, India. Many of the girls at the home had been rescued from red light areas in West Bengal. Some were victims of trafficking. This group of 32 girls were attending a mainstream government school. The girls proposed, and the project funded, a purchase of books and games for a shelter library and recreation room. The books purchased included books about human trafficking, health and hygiene, sexual abuse, as well as charts and diagrams on parts of the body. Management of the library and recreation room was the responsibility of the youth.
Here's a quote from the project proposal:
We have experienced the bitter realities of life in red light areas as victims of sexual abuse. We are therefore keen to develop our knowledge in order to help protect other children in similar situations. We would also like to use this knowledge to improve our lives.
The cost of the project was $215 U.S.
This effort to involve youth in South Asia to combat sexual exploitation has encountered some problems, so let me present to you some of the difficulties that have been encountered.
One of them was simply a difficulty in gaining access or entry to government shelter homes. There was a bureaucracy, and the process often proved to be long and arduous. A second difficulty was that concepts of youth participation were new to the region and were sometimes perceived as disruptive. Third, teaching children that they have a voice and rights can sometimes lead them to express dissatisfaction with their current environment and care, which, as you can imagine, sometimes was not well received by the host organizations.
The caregivers training project was the first time that many caregivers of child victims of sexual exploitation had ever received any type of training on this matter. This made it necessary to build a basic review of these concepts into all training activities and outreach efforts, starting from zero, which required additional time and resources. The lack of prior training motivated training participants to request additional follow-up training on basic sexual exploitation issues and principles of psychosocial rehabilitation, yet the project wasn't funded for this subsequent follow-up training.
The project team experienced difficulty identifying qualified consultants to lead the peer support and media and advocacy training, especially in Bangladesh and Nepal. Lack of understanding of concepts of peer support and media and advocacy made it necessary for ECPAT to organize “train the trainer” sessions. Yet again, this was outside of the budget that was projected for the projects. More time and resources needed to be invested to develop partnerships with smaller, local organizations.
Finally, in terms of these difficulties, an integrated network of community-based organizations working with commercial sexual exploitation of children and trafficking issues needed to be developed.
All this, and more, can be found online. Details of projects funded and their evaluation are in publicly accessible documents. The general message I would convey to the subcommittee, when recommending what can be done to combat child sexual abuse in South Asia, is to involve the children. Do not just recommend what can be done for children; recommend what can be done in partnership with children.
Those were my prepared remarks. I appreciate the committee's looking into this issue, which from my perspective is a very serious one and deserves your attention.