Article published in our magazine
Colombia, last August: A case of sexual exploitation recently illustrated both the nature of the difficulties the fight against child exploitation comes up against, and the happy results that can be hoped for with Tdh’s strategy of action. Three people were sentenced for an offence of exploitation: a shopkeeper culpable of child pornography and the sexual abuse of minors, as well as his two accomplices, photographers hired to illustrate his crime. Terre des hommes can be happy with this successful issue, obtained after a great deal of work by its delegation in Colombia in collaboration with the local judicial system. But beyond this particular case, Tdh does long-term work in Colombia. Amongst the major problems identified there, there is the lack of commitment and training often observed within the authorities and public institutions. Last summer, therefore, Terre des hommes and its partners organised training and awareness-making sessions for 35 employees of governmental and non-governmental institutions for protection in the town of Cartagena, with the theme of sexual exploitation of children. The aim? To enable each participant to learn about the rights of the child and the psychosocial impact on sexually abused children, but also and above all, to recognise the symptoms and signals for identifying victims in future.
An Egyptian speciality
The town of Damietta, situated 200 kilometres north of Cairo, shows some of the complex forms exploitation can take. Here is a place where the question of child labour can be analysed in a surprising way. In this town, well known for the furniture made there, nearly 25% of the 730,000 workpeople employed in this branch are children between 5 and 14, working as carpenters, painters, woodcarvers or upholsterers. But what makes this phenomenon unusual is that these youngsters often earn considerably more than qualified adults! It is difficult, under such conditions, to make the parents realise the health risks they put their children at, as they live to a large extent on their earnings and believe the youngsters are getting promising job training.
In partnership with local organisations, Terre des hommes helps these child workers recover some of their personal dignity and tells them about their basic rights: the right to health care, to individual training and, of course, to education. The fruit of this work can be seen, for example, in the case of young Islam Hany, 11 years old, working since he was only 5. Thanks to Terre des hommes and in collaboration with his employer, Islam is now going to school again and is already no longer one of the 50% illiterates in Damietta.
Europe at the forefront
Last April the ‘Mario’ project came to its appointed end, having reached virtually all its set objectives. Deployed in Albania, Kosovo, Poland and in Bulgaria, the programme was intended in the first place to train professionals fighting exploitation and child trafficking in Central and South-Eastern Europe, where the problem is obvious, and then to ensure and/or improve the setting up of appropriate, sustainable services for the protection of up-rooted children. 1782 people were given training in the four countries concerned. In Albania, despite limited resources, these training courses greatly optimised the care and monitoring of victims of trafficking and child exploitation. Apart from the training, ‘Mario’ required the setting up of standards of protection and child rights in national and regional institutions. Albania soon afterwards adopted a law on the ‘Protection of Child Rights’, thus strengthening the fight against exploitation and child trafficking at a judicial level.
In the same connection, two key occasions were also organised last year at the European Parliament and at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The European institutions and the State members of the OSCE were made aware of the lack of protection given to date to children found away from their country of origin; two events leading to the development of a more efficient system of information-sharing among the various European parties for child protection and mutual improved understanding of the youngsters. A significant step was thus taken.
The ‘Mario’ mission did not stop there. The practices of exploitation and child trafficking never stopping, Albania and Kosovo piloted a joint operation to observe minors living and working on the streets. The collection and analysis of data on the displacement of Albanian youngsters from their own country and on the way they are recruited led to the identification of some hundred youngsters at risk in Kosovo; an experience that pushed the Albanian and Kosovan authorities to adopt an ‘Additional Agreement to intensify cooperation in the fight against cross-border human trafficking and in the identification, notification, orientation and improved aid for the return of victims and presumed victims of trafficking, including children’.
Based on a global, pragmatic and empirical approach, ‘Mario’ is proof that, run in synergy, actions against child exploitation can bring practical, sustainable solutions and can cause laws and mentalities to make swift advances. Encouraging, but not yet sufficient.
On all fronts of injustice done to children, Terre des hommes can today win victories and open doors towards the future. But these many successes should not obscure the final goal: not one single child may be overlooked. Only a tiny part of this huge mission has been accomplished up to now. Exploitation – economic or sexual – slavery, forced labour . . . the list is long, as long as the path still to be travelled. Terre des hommes and its partners will remain fully committed to the task, together with your help, so that hope can continue to thrive.
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