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Asia Stepping up Campaign Against Child Sexual Exploitation - 2001-10-22


Asian governments are stepping up the campaign against child sexual exploitation with a new plan to improve child rights and protection. Child-rights workers fear they fight a losing battle against underworld profits, and the darker side of the Internet.

Delegates at a U.N. meeting in Bangkok have endorsed efforts by Asian governments to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Delegates worked to set deadlines for creating legal and social frameworks to prevent child sexual exploitation and to help victims. They were preparing for an international congress on the issue in Japan in December.

But there are mounting fears among child-rights groups the efforts will not halt child exploitation in the region.

Executive Director Muireann O'Briain, of the rights group End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, says trafficking in children has increased in the past five years. But not all of the children are being sexually exploited. "In Africa most young people are trafficked for labor," she said. "And in this region there is a lot of trafficking it is for begging as well as sexual exploitation. But there is more of it now. Maybe it is just that we know more, maybe we are more aware, but I do think it is actually happening more, and certainly in Eastern Europe, it is huge now." Above all, Mrs. O'Briain says, it is important to address the demand that has fed the growth in child prostitution. "Why is it that men are targeting young people as sexual partners? The message has to be brought home and all the more if it is brought home by other men is that this is not acceptable, it is a crime to have sex with a minor when it is in an exploitative situation," said Mrs. O'Briain.

Poverty and the widening income gap in both developed and developing nations helps child exploitation grow, says Bernadette McMenamin, Australia director of End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism.

Ms. McMenamin says globalization and use of the Internet for sex tourism and child pornography add to the problems child-rights groups face. "The indicators of abuse have increased," she said. "The reasons why children enter into prostitution or into commercial sexual activity has increased, whether it is poverty, homelessness, lack of access to education, forceable trafficking, all the different manifestations that I have mentioned of it. Yes it is being exposed, but yes it is definitely increasing."

Ms. McMenamin says more global police enforcement is needed. Plus, she says, there must be a program to help young people protect themselves.

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