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Statement by Ms. Maud DE BOER - BUQUICCHIO, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council

8 March 2016

Mr President,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to address the Human Rights Council upon completion of the second year of my tenure as the fifth Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. While last year marked the 25th anniversary of the creation of the mandate and its continued relevance in the era of the new technologies, this year we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm in 1996. This anniversary is a further cause for reflection and a pressing call to pass to action to deliver the commitments that were undertaken by multiple stakeholders with the aim of eradicating sexual exploitation of children.

This year we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UN Global Study on Violence against Children, which emphasized that no form of violence against children is justifiable and all forms of violence are preventable. The recommendations of the UN Study are as relevant today as they were in 2006. The progress achieved since then carries hope but also urges to do much better and more. I commend the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children for her tireless and effective mobilisation efforts and I am glad to join her tomorrow in the launch of her “High Time to End Violence against Children” campaign to consolidate the gains that have been made, grasp the lessons learned, redouble efforts to trigger a dynamic process of change, and build a world where all children can grow up free from violence, abuse and exploitation.

As laid out in my initial report, the link between Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and sexual exploitation of children is one of the issues in focus during my tenure. I therefore thank Member States who chose to dedicate this year’s annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child to this timely issue. The annual full-day meeting that was held yesterday proved very useful in bringing attention to new forms of child sexual exploitation which are facilitated by ICTs, and the need for urgent and adapted responses from various stakeholders, including the ICT industry. Ongoing initiatives and alliances at the international level, such as the Virtual Global Taskforce, the Global Alliance against child sexual abuse online and the WePROTECT initiative need to be more inclusive and ensure further coordination and cooperation amongst themselves. I therefore welcome the consensus gathered yesterday around the need to establish a permanent global task force to harmonize practices and procedures, share expertise and scale-up good practices, and provide States with assistance in developing national, laws, policies and strategies to effectively combat online child sexual exploitation.

Mr President,

In my previous thematic report, which I presented at the General Assembly last October, I focused on child victims and their right to care, recovery and reintegration. I analysed the impact and consequences that the crimes of sale and sexual exploitation have on child victims, and proposed comprehensive and child-rights compliant care and recovery programmes to facilitate their rehabilitation and reintegration.

In my third thematic study I have chosen to address the opposite end of the issue, namely the perpetrators and the demand for sexual exploitation of children, the outcome of which I will develop in detail in a moment. My next thematic studies will focus on the sale of children for the purpose of forced labour and for the purpose of illegal adoptions respectively.

Mr President and distinguished delegates,

Apart from thematic studies, communications and awareness raising activities, an essential tool to fulfil my mandate are country visits. Since my appointment in 2014 I have sent requests to visit thirteen countries, which were selected based on criteria related to issues under the scope of my mandate. However, so far I have only received five positive responses. I therefore urge Member States that have not done so yet to respond favourably to my visit requests.

I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Nigeria for its support during the visit to this country that I conducted in January jointly with my colleagues the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery and the Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. During our five day visit we examined measures taken by the Government to assist in the rehabilitation and reintegration of women and children who escaped or were liberated from Boko Haram captivity. We will present a full report on the visit during the 32nd session of this Council.

I also appreciate the invitation extended by the Government of Canada to undertake an official visit to this country, and the acceptance of the Government of India to conduct a visit in 2017. I also look forward to a fruitful cooperation with the Government of Georgia in preparation of my visit from 11 to 18 April 2016.

Mr President and distinguished delegates,

Engagement and partnership with civil society and child protection NGOs is crucial for my mandate. In this context, I would like to thank the strong support provided to my mandate by three leading international child protection NGOs, namely ECPAT, Plan International and Terre des Hommes. Thanks to their assistance I will be able to increase access of children to my mandate through child-friendly outreach material which I will soon launch.

I would also like to commend the excellent work that has been carried out by the Interagency Working Group on Sexual Exploitation of Children, established in September 2014 at the initiative of ECPAT to develop Terminology Guidelines on the Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse of Children. I am convinced that the terminology guidelines will bring greater clarity on how sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children are conceptualised, defined and translated.

Mr President and distinguished delegates,

Let me now turn to my new thematic study on tackling the demand for the sexual exploitation of children, which is contained in my report to this Council. A constant throughout different thematic reports has been the identification of those who are at the source of these crimes against children.

According to international human rights norms and standards, States have the obligation to prosecute perpetrators and address the underlying causes that facilitate the sexual exploitation of children. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography sets specific obligations on States to prohibit and criminalize these crimes, and emphasizes that efforts are needed to raise public awareness to reduce demand for these crimes. It further calls States to adopt extraterritorial jurisdiction over these crimes in order to deal adequately with the often international nature of demand for sexual exploitation of children.

Through this report, I have been able to delve into the different types and levels of demand for the sexual exploitation of children with the aim of providing a broad strategy for the eradication of these crimes. Demand encompasses (i) the individual offenders who pay, financially or in kind, for sexual services involving children, sexually abusing them in the process, (ii) every part of the supply chain which facilitates the access to children, and (iii) the social, cultural, gender and institutional constructs that create an environment in which the sexual exploitation of children is either ignored, tolerated or even accepted.

Once we have agreed on this understanding of demand and incorporated all those who fall in the different categories of demand, it is possible to elaborate a comprehensive strategy. This is, nonetheless, not straightforward and it has been a common misconception to focus only on those who directly abuse and exploit children. Yet, those who ensure that the demand is satisfied or worse who foster it are at the heart of the sexual exploitation of children and must be held accountable. Furthermore, there are certain enabling factors which facilitate sexual exploitation of children and require long term efforts in order to be reversed.

It is the responsibility of States to adopt and implement effective strategies based on a three-pronged approach. Firstly, prevention is necessary to address the majority of underlying factors of the demand as well as to dissuade individuals from committing such heinous crimes. Secondly, it is essential to deal with existing offenders by ensuring accountability, which also addresses the underlying factor of impunity. Lastly, to be able to prevent reoffending, there should be evidence and results-based rehabilitation programmes.

I wish to emphasise the second pillar of an all-encompassing strategy which is accountability. There are still significant gaps in national legislations which are further compounded by a lack of cooperation at the international level and inadequate penalties. Every State should ensure that its legislative framework is in line with international and regional standards which provide clear guidance on sanctions, which must be proportionate to the grave nature of these crimes. Moreover, criteria such as the double criminality requirement should not stand in the way of a prosecution.

Impunity must be fought at every level not only to provide justice to the victims but also to eradicate it as an enabling factor. Indeed, impunity comforts perpetrators and potential offenders in their actions and creates a general social tolerance for the sexual exploitation of children. This is particularly true in the case of intermediaries who are too often overlooked. Every single facilitator must be held accountable through a variety of sanctions.

Mr President,

Let me now introduce the main conclusions and recommendations of the country visits I conducted in 2015 to Armenia and Japan.

I wish to thank the Government of Armenia for the collaboration before, during and after the visit, and for its readiness to engage in an open and constructive dialogue to improve the situation of children in the country.

I commend the progress made by Armenia in various areas, including combatting trafficking in persons, reducing the placement of children in residential care, and limiting intercountry adoptions as a last resource. I welcome the recently adopted amendments to the Constitution, which have increased the protection of children. However, the constitutional amendment needs to be translated into concrete action.

I call on the Armenian authorities to speed up the legislative reform process, and in particular to prioritize the passing of the law against domestic violence and the amendments to the Family Code, Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, which should result in enhanced protection of children, including in adoption processes and criminal proceedings.

The adoption of a new National Plan of Action for the Protection of the Rights of the Child for 2017 – 2018 offers the opportunity to improve significantly the national chill protection system. The new plan must address the weaknesses and gaps of the three-tier system with the designation of professional staff at the guardianship and trusteeship bodies, and the increase of professional staff in the child protection units at the marz levels. This professional staff must ensure that decisions regarding child protection cases are based on the best interests of the child.

During my seven day visit I noted that despite the relatively low figures on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, the exact scope of the phenomena is difficult to determine due mainly to lack of child-friendly reporting and complaint mechanisms, and insufficient awareness-raising and education of parents, as well as professionals who deal with children and society at large. Cases of abuse, violence and exploitation of children risk going undetected and unreported. This has serious consequences for child victim’s access to care and recovery, and results in impunity of perpetrators. Moreover, the Government must assume its primary responsibility in ensuring the right to care, recovery and reintegration of child victims, through the allocation of adequate means and resources, including specialised facilities and specialised personnel.
Lastly, I encourage the Government of Armenia to lead prevention efforts already adopted by the ICTs industry in the country to prevent online sexual exploitation of children.

Mr President,
Let me now turn to the conclusions and recommendations of my visit to Japan while thanking the Government for its collaboration for the preparation of the visit.

During my eight day visit to Japan I noticed first-hand the considerable progress that the country has made in combatting the sale and sexual exploitation of children since it hosted the Second World Congress against Child Sexual Exploitation in Yokohama in 2001. Japan has accrued significant experience in combatting sexual exploitation of children online, and has good practices in this area which are worth replicating in other countries. One-stop crisis centres that offer integrated immediate assistance and support to women and girl victims of sexual crimes are also good practices that should be expanded in the country.

Moreover, in June 2014 Japan adopted the amendment to the Act on the Regulation and Punishment of Acts Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children, which criminalised the possession of child abuse material, hence bringing national legislation closer to international human rights norms and standards. However, it is regrettable that the amendment does not criminalise the online viewing and accessing of child abuse material, and excludes the so-called “virtual” child abuse material from its scope.

Mr. President,

I remain highly concerned about the sexual commodification of children and gender stereotyping that is promoted by commercial activities which involve children such as the phenomena of “junior idols” and the “joshi kosei” or “JK” business. The latter targets high school-aged girls and facilitates or can lead to their sexual abuse and exploitation. My preliminary observations on this phenomenon was highly debated and even criticised at the end of my country visit. However, the problem exists, and we can ignore it, deny it, or find the most effective way of combatting it in order to better protect teenage girls in Japan.

Data and statistics on the scope of sexual exploitation of children in Japan is scarce, out-dated and fragmented. More importantly, there is no comprehensive, up-to-date empiric research on the scope and impact of various commercial activities that facilitate or can lead to sexual exploitation of children. I therefore urge the Government of Japan to conduct such research in order to inform effective prevention and protection policies and legislation with the best interests of children in mind.

Another issue of serious concern is the production and availability of “chakuero” or child erotica, which are photographs and other material depicting children aged 7 – 12 in sexually provocative poses. This material is considered legal because the children are not naked, despite a clear focus on their sexual parts, which is aimed at arousing sexual feelings for minor. This is child abuse material and should be banned and criminalised as such.

Japan has already shown its willingness to combat child sexual exploitation in the country, through a number of legislative, institutional and policy measures. However, I am convinced that Japan can do more to fully meet it international human rights commitments with the ultimate goal of better protecting its children and adolescents. The Olympic Games of Tokyo in 2020 offer a unique opportunity for Japan to take the lead in effectively combating and eradicating the sexual exploitation of children.

I remain at the disposal of the Government of Armenia and Japan to assist them in the effective implementation of my recommendations.

Mr President and distinguished delegates,

The inclusion in the new development agenda of a distinct target (16.2) to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” is an historic achievement and provides a unique opportunity to galvanize political will and mobilize wide social support for children’s protection. Indicators for target 16.2 will measure, among others, the number of victims of human trafficking by sex, age and form of exploitation, and the proportion of young men and women who experienced sexualviolence by age 18. Today, on international women’s day, these indicators are more relevant than ever as most of the victims of gendered and sexual crimes, and sexual violence, abuse and exploitation are women and girls.

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to a fruitful dialogue with you.