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     Volume 7 Issue 45 | November 14, 2008 |

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Human Rights

A Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children

Raffat Binte Rashid

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Commercial sexual exploitation is a complicated issue to deal with and when children and adolescents get involved it becomes a grimmer story. It is not easy to imagine a nine-year-old being solicited by an adult to entertain him in exchange of hard cash. No matter how repulsive this thought is, we have to face the fact that children are being used for commercial sex in Bangladesh and the world at large. It is a reality that needs to be first acknowledged by the respective societies before steps can be taken to combat this deplorable crime.

Much has been done in this sector and Bangladesh is no stranger to the process and has active participation in the drive. Preparing for the upcoming World Congress III against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, which will take place from 25 to 28, November in Rio Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the government of Bangladesh is currently going through the preliminaries ahead of its participation at the world congress. More than three thousand people from five continents, 300 of them adolescents, are planning to attend the third congress.

The opening theme of the Congress will be “Guarantee of the Rights of Children and Adolescents and their Protection against Sexual Exploitation For a Systemic Approach”. Throughout the three days of the event, there will be workshops, discussions and five panels Forms of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and its new scenarios; Legal Framework and Accountability; Integrated Cross-sector Policies; Initiatives of Social Responsibility; and Strategies for International Cooperation. Apart from its articulating character and its capacity to gather knowledge on the subject, the event hopes to discover viable strategies for fighting the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Coming back to the Bangladeshi context, the facts and figures of a rapid assessment report prepared by Unicef are appalling. Boys and girls in Bangladesh are vulnerable to both Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). It has been found that although girls can be exposed to organised CSEC in the rural set-up, the boys are sexually exploited on a commercial basis almost exclusively in urban settings. Generally, poorer children are exposed to sexual exploitation, especially during times of family disintegration. The risks for children without parental care are high, and those who are not cared for in an appropriate alternative setting are just as likely to be entrapped into commercial exploitation. Disabled children who live in institutions, refugee children, children of sex workers, orphans and other ostracised groups are especially vulnerable.

“The prevalence is high no doubt. I can say that the government is taking care of the issue of CSEC along with other crimes. Under the umbrella and cooperation of the government, several NGOs are working to improve the situation. The Home Ministry is mostly working against trafficking. As a separate issue, CSEC is going to get more priority once the NPA is finalised,” comments Dr.Nomita Halder, Project Director (Deputy Secretary) Empowerment and Protection of Children Project, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.

Bangladesh Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) is playing an active role in the entire process. Advocate Salma Ali, Director of BNWLA, is extremely passionate regarding the legal reforms in the sector. Speaking at a National Consultation Meeting on CSEC and review of the National Action Plan at the Department of Social Services, Agargaon, on November 5, she highlighted a relevant point; the need for a child-friendly support service during legal process. She also stressed the need for protecting the rights of the victim, keeping in mind the issues of privacy and dignity and the need for a child friendly court, where no one will be in uniform so that the victim is not intimidated and feels comfortable about talking. Ali also pointed out the importance of extradition treaties with neighbouring countries. She specifically reminded the police to understand the difference between a raid and a rescue mission. In all the issues that need to be addressed the angle of child-friendly legal procedures in dealing with victims was emphasised, both in the legal and the security services and legal reform, court overload relief new paradigms and restorative justice.

UNICEF highlighted on the five important issues of National Plan of Priority Action, January 2009 - June 2010. It stressed that during the next 18 months these five goals can be achieved by the government. The issues are as follows:

Prevention- Children and community members will be aware about CSEC, get proper information on how to adopt protective behaviour and care. Professionals, social workers, police, lawyer, will be trained as active agents of preventing commercial sexual exploitation of children and related violence.

Protection- The legal framework will be harmonised with international instruments. Law will be enforced through deploying Special Forces and coordinated operation to rescue and recovery of victims. Child friendly legal and protection support/services available through victims support unit and child friendly policing.

Recovery and integration- Adequate services are available for all child victims' boys and girls including for their full systematic social reintegration and their full physical and psychosocial recovery including counselling and have access to rehabilitation services.

Child participation- Children participation should be integrated in all concerned policies and programmes and are consulted in all decision concerning their well being and development.

Coordination and monitoring- Activate and strengthen the National Steering Committee favouring coordination and cooperation in country and cross border activities of NPA.

The issues of CSA and CSEC have been open for discussion in Bangladesh where the NGOs are now working to develop a commonly owned set of standards of services. The broader civil society actors, the NGOs, the government are all engaged to make concerted efforts and some good practices have been found. However, these are either at policy level or at micro level and are yet to be implemented on a broader scale. The whole decade 2001 to 2010 is officially declared as the 'Decade of the Rights of the Child', in the country. NGOs, lawyers and legal aid institutions need to play the role of a watchdog to ensure implementation of child protection measures by the government.


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