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Preparation for World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents

Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Remarks at the U.S. Canadian Consultations to Prepare for World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents
Arlington, VA
October 2, 2008

Good afternoon. It is a pleasure and an honor to speak at the U.S. Canada Consultations in Preparation for World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents.

The U.S. Government, and our office, took active part in the 2006 Mid-Term Review on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in America, which was graciously hosted by Shared Hope, ECPAT, and The Protection Project. We thank you for your leadership and advocacy on behalf of exploited children. We also thank Shared Hope, ECPAT, and Beyond Borders for providing this critical forum for government, NGO, IO, and private sector leaders to discuss the progress made over the last 2 years and to share “promising practices” on preventing exploitation, protecting children, and prosecuting the perpetrators. I consider it very important and appropriate for our movement and office devoted to human trafficking more broadly to share best practices at this stage of maturation of our efforts – including on the most vulnerable victims, children.

Perhaps, most importantly, these consultations provide an opportunity to identify any gaps in our efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of children and to develop concrete recommendations both for ourselves, and to take to World Congress III. These recommendations should outline how we can best overcome the new challenges and dimensions of sexual exploitation. We’ve got our work cut out for us because the recent UN Study on Violence Against Children suggests that child sexual exploitation is increasing, with growing criminal activity related to the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, exploitation by tourists, and Internet-related crimes.

From our own travels around the world, my staff and I have seen child victims of sex tourism; sexual abuse of child domestic workers; and sexual violence against minors in conflict settings. Sadly, children are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation because there is a demand for them. The demand comes from locals, in-country tourists, and foreign tourists and businessmen. It comes from situational offenders, preferential offenders, and pedophiles.

Whether at home or abroad, the demand drives the profitability of the market. This is why the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 places emphasis on raising awareness of child sex tourism and the penalties in the U.S. associated with committing such crimes. And it is why the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 places emphasis on attacking demand notably from “customers.”

We have seen the dark side of globalization where new technologies, such as cell phone cameras and digital cameras, have given perpetrators new tools to victimize children. Sex tourists are using chat rooms, message boards, and specialized websites to facilitate their abuse and obtain information on potential sex tourism destinations.

At the same time, we have seen everyday heroes banding together to turn the tables on the perpetrators: governments, Internet Service Providers, financial groups, and NGOs converging to find technological solutions and to deny criminals the ability to utilize the financial system to further their crimes. We have seen partnerships emerge between the public and private sector leading to pro bono doctors providing medical care to young trafficked victims; pro bono lawyers offering legal services to trafficked victims and NGOs; and corporations contributing in-kind assistance to our National Human Trafficking Resource Center and its National Hotline. These partnerships are vital as UNICEF’s Child Protection Strategy lists “convening and catalyzing agents of change” as one of its main approaches for building a protective environment for children. And, the UN Secretary General’s Study also emphasizes the importance of enlisting the private sector and civil society.

So while it is easy to become disheartened by the disturbing trends related to child sexual exploitation, these nascent yet evolving partnerships give us hope that together we can make a difference. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said “The solutions to the challenges of the 21st century are not going to be met by government alone. They come from all sectors of American society working together.” It was many influential members of our society, working across party lines both in the public and private sector, that banded together to ensure passage of the original groundbreaking Trafficking Victims Protection Act. It was many people across different sectors working together that ultimately resulted in the signature this week of The Safe Harbor Act for Exploited Children in New York, a landmark piece of legislation and the first state law of its kind.

However, we cannot simply rest on our laurels. The time is now to redouble our efforts, critically examine each of our unique roles, and map out a strategic plan with measurable goals and targets for each of the five World Congress III themes. These themes cover the spectrum from commercial sexual exploitation, to legal frameworks and enforcement, to cross-sector policies, to corporate social responsibility, to international cooperation.

The United States is an exemplar, so it must look at itself in the mirror about where it can and must improve. That’s why I am glad the Department of Justice puts out our annual self-assessment on human trafficking at the same time as our global assessment of other countries, the TIP Report. It is why I was happy to lead the delegation to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva last May on U.S. efforts to meet its obligations as a party to the Optional Protocols on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography as well as on Child in Armed Conflict. I was happy to serve alongside Sigal Mandelker as a tremendously able and frank member of that delegation. And we take this transparency to the international community and stocktaking seriously, as we met as an interagency group for several hours a few days ago about the recommendations of the UN Committee. These consultations are not just an exercise, a box to be checked in the lead up to Rio but rather an incredible opportunity to strategize with government and NGO experts as to what is working, what needs improvement, and determine how we get there.

I am confident that this next day and half will accomplish just that. Thank you.

Released on October 17, 2008

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