In the latest Unicef report, A Future for All Our Children, the international organization cites a report from the U.S. State Department suggesting that about one-third of all cases of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and the trafficking of children and women, reaching 230,000 victims, take place in or originate from Southeast Asia. The Jakarta Post's Evi Mariani interviewed the chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Jaap E. Doek, to get his views on child trafficking.
Question: Which region in the world do you think has the biggest problem with the exploitation and trafficking of children?
Answer: It's hard to say because in terms of numbers we do have some estimates but we don't have registered cases. A lot of cases go unnoticed because it's a secret business. They don't report to you that they traffic women. So you have to find out yourself.
For instance, in the Mekong delta we have very specific and rather high numbers. But this is because the Mekong delta has been very keen on working on this problem. So the more you are keen on the problem, the more information you get and the higher your figures may become.
However, lower figures do not necessarily mean that the problem is smaller. But that's maybe because they have not paid attention so far.
So the figures are an indication of how much those countries and the governments are aware of the problem.
Q: What do you think is the cause of the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children in the world?
A: For example, in eastern Europe we have countries that are former republics of the Soviet Union. People there are now struggling with economic problems. So they are vulnerable to all kind of proposals for them to come to western Europe. They, particularly women, are offered jobs. Then they end up in the sex business, prostitution and such things. So they are lured into that business by promises for work, income and so on.
Q: There is supply when there is a demand, and we are seeing an increase in the incidence of child exploitation and trafficking. If poverty is one of the reasons for the increase in supply, what prompts the higher demand?
A: It's difficult to tell. It's apparently part of the reality of humanity, of humankind, mainly men, to have sexual gratification. Local or national scales of prostitution, including child exploitation, have been, through the centuries, a reality of life.
But since the mobility of people has increased, they can travel to all kinds of destinations. And there is also an assumption, for instance, that if you do it in the Netherlands you will get caught, arrested and put in jail. But if you do it in Thailand or the Philippines, on a holiday trip, you may go home without any consequences. So you can easily do it because you don't have any legal consequences.
So one of the larger challenges for the international community is to make bilateral or multilateral agreements or memorandums of understanding through which they try to prevent those people from committing crimes abroad are escaping justice.
Since countries in this region are becoming more aggressive regarding this matter, for example putting in place severe legal punishments for those committing such crimes, the risk for the perpetrators is increasing. So the perpetrators move their targets to Africa or Latin America where the awareness of the problem is lower, so they can commit such crimes easily without consequences. That's why the international community has to be very keen on having in place legal instruments against such men so they cannot escape.
Q: Does tourism contribute to this problem?
A: That's what I meant when I talked about shifting destinations. Let's say, Sri Lanka years ago was a favorite place for pedophiles because they knew they could easily get in touch with boys and girls. So there was a very big stream of tourists coming from Europe particularly, and there were guys telling you how to get in touch with boys in Sri Lanka. Then Sri Lanka took very serious measures to attack that problem. So it was not a very favored destination anymore for those pedophiles.
And that applies to other countries like the Philippines and Thailand. The pedophiles know that if they are caught there, they will face very serious consequences. So they shift destination and go to countries that are not so well-developed yet. So tourism has links to that. But tourism has so far been quite cooperative. What they do is, particularly, to inform their customers when they are on the flight to, let's say Thailand, they distribute flyers or brochures telling them that it is not a good idea to try to have sex with children in the country. And they explain what the consequences are if they are caught.
Q: There is a case in Bali where a girl who was a victim of pedophiles later became a supplier of children. How do you see this case?
A: That's one of the consequences of the violation of children's rights. They themselves may turn into providers of sexual services. They have lost every sense of, let's say, hope in their life to be somebody. So they find out that this is an easy way to make money, so they become a supplier of those services. You see similar things if you look at child abuse. Abused children sometimes turn into abusive parents. But it's not to say that every abused child becomes an abusive parent, but there is a risk that happens.
So for that reason, recovery and social reintegration of victims of CSEC and trafficking are very crucial, just to prevent what you have just described.
Q: Now let's talk about Indonesia. What are your views on CSEC and trafficking in Indonesia?
A: I don't know much about it in Indonesia. There are some reports on child trafficking to and from Indonesia, but they are very limited in terms of numbers. But there is a very incomplete picture as far as I understood from the reports we have. So we need further systematic investigations, collecting data and also even looking at an incident like a single case. You still have to fully investigate it because it might be, we call it a "camel nose". You find a small thing that is a camel nose. You think, "Hey, it's just a small thing." But if you start to pull out that nose you will find the whole camel behind. So if you have a single case that may look trivial, but if you investigate it you will have a long trail of other cases.
Or you may open doors to other cases and if you carefully interview the child and others involved in that case, you may find that those others have been involved in other cases similar to this one. So you can, perhaps, discover the whole network.
Q: What urgent steps can the government take regarding this problem?
A: I think what the Indonesian government should consider, and that's in line with the commitment it has made to the regional action plan, is to at least to have enough instruments in place in terms of laws, in terms of agreements with regional partners, neighboring countries, so that in case you have a case of CSEC, you can easily link that to other countries.
For example, if there is a girl found in Jakarta coming from Thailand, if you have an agreement with Thailand to negotiate and collaborate between the police you can do an investigation in Thailand. Or you can easily refer the case to Thai authorities, informing them, "We have a girl here and apparently she has been trafficked to Indonesia. We found her in a brothel. So we want to know who is behind it. You can give us some names, or you can come to Jakarta or we can send her back, but we want you to investigate."
To do that there has to be an agreement, because if you send the girl back and nothing happens, you will have other victims from the same network that sent that girl to Jakarta.