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Pacific Region: Frontline welfare workers regularly seeing child sexual exploitation
8:32 pm GMT+12, 09/06/2019, Fiji

New research surveying the perceptions of frontline welfare workers dealing with child sexual exploitation suggests that across the Pacific Island region, the problem is far more common than previously thought.
Eighty-four welfare workers from Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa were questioned this year about their recent caseload by ECPAT International, an NGO working to end the sexual exploitation of children. Seventy-two (or 85 percent) reported seeing child sexual exploitation in the last 12 months. Between them, the workers had seen almost 760 cases of child sexual exploitation - around seven percent of their total welfare caseload. Two thirds of victims (68 percent) were girls, and as many as 32 percent of cases involved boys.
Multiple factors exacerbating offending
“There are a broad range of factors that - according to those working with this problem – may put children at risk,” says Mark Kavenagh, Head of Research at ECPAT International. “And although each Pacific nation is different, we saw some common themes. For example, the data shows us that children in extreme poverty or who were living in street situations were consistently identified by workers as at great risk. Workers also noted that labour migration was leaving some unsupervised children at risk too.”
Some welfare workers also identified strong stigma attached to being a victim of sexual exploitation, cultural taboos around discussing sex and the fear of further judgement by communities and other family members as limiting children’s ability to speak out and report offending against them. In addition, many smaller communities lack even basic law enforcement facilities – or other resources for victims to report crimes and receive support. 
Offenders most likely to be in the victim’s circle of trust

Participants in the survey said that offenders were most likely to be from the child’s extended family, including grandparents, uncles/aunts, cousins, and siblings. Parents/step-parents and community members were the next most common categories of perpetrator. One participant explained that offenders who sexually exploit children were often “those who the children have trusted most. They were breadwinners of the whole family as well as tuition fees providers.” While the vast majority of perpetrators (93 percent) were men, women were noted to be involved with facilitating sexual exploitation in as many as 32 percent of cases.
Travel and tourism in the region placing children at risk
The report suggests that as the travel, tourism and trade industries continue to expand throughout the Pacific, so too do opportunities for travelling child sex offenders. Although only eight participants indicated that the most common type of offender in their experience was a foreigner, anecdotes from the field suggest that this is a problem that is sometimes facilitated by families themselves, with cases including males taking female relatives to cruise ships to offer them for sex to tourists in exchange for money.
More resources desperately needed
All frontline workers in the survey expressed an urgent need for better funding and more human resources to address the problem of child sexual exploitation, as well as for authorities to adopt a more child-friendly approach. For example, there is a strong need for law enforcement officers and courts to create child-friendly spaces where victims feel safe. “A practical step as simple as removing any posters related to violent crimes from the spaces where children will enter could be an example of a small but important step towards facilitating children’s access to justice,” says the report. The availability and quality of medical and legal services were rated somewhat more positively, but responses still indicated significant need in these areas as well.
Facts from the study:

· 85 percent of the frontline welfare workers surveyed had managed cases of child sexual exploitation in the last 12 months
· More than 750 cases seen by 72 welfare workers in the last 12 months
· About one-third of victims are boys and two-thirds are girls
· Overwhelmingly, offenders were male (93 percent) although 32 percent of ‘facilitators’ were women .
ECPAT International is a global network of organisations dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children. With 109 members in 96 countries, ECPAT focuses on the sexual exploitation of children through prostitution; the trafficking of children for sexual purposes; online child sexual exploitation; and the sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism sector. The ECPAT International Secretariat is based in Bangkok, Thailand.
For more information about ECPAT, go to
For further enquiries:
Damian Kean
Head of Communications
ECPAT International
Bangkok, Thailand
M: + 66 (0) 9 555 33 484     


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