Countries in the Southeast Asia region need to build legal cooperation to combat child sex exploitation and protect the rights of the victims, participants in a regional conference recommended on Thursday.
The two-day Regional Conference on Legal Protection for Victims of Sexual Exploitation against Children in Southeast Asia held in Nusa Dua discussed the urgency for a legal cooperation mechanism among countries in the region.
Ahmad Sofian, coordinator of ECPAT Indonesia (a national coalition for the Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children), said that there were still gaps among countries in the region concerning the legal framework for child sex exploitation issues.
“Some countries have been able to provide legal protection for victims through compensation and restitution, but others have not. This has resulted in neglect of the victims,” he said.
The conference also sought to identify obstacles in the existing multilateral cooperation and how to improve the condition in countries that were left behind, he added.
Marc Lucet, deputy representative of UNICEF Indonesia, agreed, saying that the Second CRC (Committee on the Rights of the Child) Periodic Report of Indonesia raised concerns on the existing legislation in the country, which did not provide effective protection.
“Child victims of sexual exploitation often receive inadequate protection and recovery assistance. Instead of being protected, they are victimized further throughout the investigation and judicial processes. Therefore, experiences of other countries could be a good reference to improve the gaps in Indonesia.”
According to ECPAT Indonesia, Southeast Asia has been targeted by an international syndicate focused on sex exploitation against children, amid high demand globally from adult men seeking to fulfill their sexual desire on children.
“The children become targets of crime through child trafficking, child sex tourism, child pornography and prostitution. The perpetrators commit their crime across countries, and this region is targeted by the perpetrators with their various modes of operation,” Ahmad said.
The number of victims continually escalates. ECPAT International estimated that more than one million children and women were commercially exploited for sex globally every year. In Indonesia, the figure is estimated to be more than 100,000 annually.
Others, like IJM (Int'l Justice Ministries) estimate the number at 2 million globally, which still seems low to me. Consider that both Indonesia and the Phillipines report 100,000 children in the sex trade.
Irwandi, president of ECPAT Indonesia, described the current situation with Indonesian law, in which law enforcement for the perpetrators and the protection of victims’ rights was still weak.
“The law fails to provide basic protection as it doesn’t require that victims should be assisted by a lawyer and counselor, and there’s no obligation to pay restitution and compensation for a child victim of sex exploitation.”
He said ECPAT Indonesia wished to put a special chapter on rights-based legal protection for child victims/ survivors in the revised Child Protection Law, and that the law should ensure that victims had access to lawyers, counselors and rehabilitation.
“We also need to ensure additional criminal charges for perpetrators in the form of a legal obligation to pay restitution, and this provision cannot be replaced with imprisonment. If perpetrators are unable to pay restitution, the government should give compensation to victims to replace their loss and damage.”
He also highlighted that the victims should be rescued and rehabilitated, and that the perpetrators should be punished, regardless of the fact that many victims became involved in the sex industry voluntarily.
Leny Kling, regional director of Terre des Hommes Netherlands, shared her views about many barriers in combatting child sex exploitation involving perpetrators committing their crime across countries. Among the barriers were geographical distance, legal restrictions, as well as deficient input and proof.
Child abuse was often low on the list of priorities for the judiciary and police workers, with many of them corrupt and making extra income from the child sex industry, she said.
“Many local enforcement officials are not aware of international legislation concerning sexual abuse of minors, nor do they know how to question and deal with these young victims in a child-friendly, nonsuggestive manner or how to collect evidence against the perpetrators.”
“Key conditions for effective combat lie first and foremost with the police and judiciary by expanding capacity, actively gathering and sharing knowledge. NGOs play an important role in transferring knowledge about the local context and phenomenon of child sex tourism in an area,” she added.
Please pray for a burst of energy and enthusiasm for all those involved in this process. Pray for great success in formalizing cooperation and standardizing procedures and attitudes in Southeast Asia.