Webinar on the Sexual Exploitation of Children Being One of the Worst Forms of Child Labour

A webinar to highlight the impact of excluding the sexual exploitation of children (SEC) in child labour discussions in the international sphere, was hosted by the School of Law in partnership with Terre des Hommes, Netherlands (TdH N).

The webinar titled: Re-introducing the Sexual Exploitation of Children as One of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL), was a strategic, unofficial side-event to the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour held recently at Durban’s ICC. It was also the first in a series of webinars to be hosted by the School.

In his welcome address, the School’s Acting Dean and Head Mr Adrian Bellengère said: ‘What we are dealing with today is the intersection of two things – child labour and sexual exploitation which in their own rights are equally heinous crimes. ‘The official description of the crimes does not really capture the moral depravity inherent in both of them,’ said Bellengere. ‘This kind of thing pushes us to be more colloquial and less official. You can’t fix something if you deny its existence that is why we are seeking to push for the adoption of a resolution that will hopefully facilitate discussion on this topic and bring targeted and sustainable interventions in the area.’

Facilitated by Child Rights Activist and The Hague University of Applied Sciences LLB graduate Ms Louise Mariano, presenters included academics from the School’s Navi Pillay Research Group (NPRG) and the Children’s Rights Research Interest Group (CRRIG) Ms Rowena Bernard and Advocate Victoria Balogun-Fatokun, and PhD candidate Ms Olobalake Ogunwande.

In addition, and most importantly, the webinar included testimony from several youth advocates from India, Kenya and the Philippines who were affected by SEC as children. The individuals have dealt with the trauma of sexual exploitation and/or related activities directly or indirectly and are empowered to act as youth advocates. They were supported by partner organisations in the three countries, including the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA), the Society for Networking, Empowerment & Holistic Action (SNEHA), and the Bidlisiw Foundation.

Ms Magdalene Wanza, Country Manager of TdH in Kenya, presented on the reintroduction of SEC as a WFCL and explained how pernicious commercial sexual exploitation, online sexual exploitation and exploitation in travel and tourism flourish in the absence of targeted interventions to prevent and address SEC.

Speaking from a perspective of an organisation which has been active in fighting against child exploitation for 55 years world-wide, Wanza expressed concern that the topics of the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour did not include or focus on the sexual exploitation of children.

‘If you look at the Conference’s topics, they are more on child labour in agriculture and other sectors as well as the challenge of COVID-19,’ said Wanza. ‘We have to talk about child participation because every time we discuss projects and interventions, we tend to ignore the voices of children. In the ongoing Conference we are concerned because we haven’t seen any children or voices of children who have a history of suffering sexual exploitation. I think we will learn more from this webinar about the harmonising of laws and legislation from a global, national and regional level which are critical.’

In her presentation, Bernard – who has expertise in child law and labour laws – spoke on a child labour perspective from international and regional (African) perspectives, highlighting that the sexual exploitation of children is a grave concern which requires commitment from government, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders to prevent, respond to and eradicate. This is needed in particular because international and regional law instruments may prohibit SEC, but they lack effective mechanisms to ensure compliance, which weakens the enforcement against member states which fail to comply with their obligations towards addressing SEC.

Ogunwande spoke on her research interest in labour law and children’s affairs in the African context, providing concrete examples of SEC, while Balogun-Fatokun – a lecturer with expertise in sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and trafficking in persons issues – presented on the conceptualisation of SEC in the South African context. She highlighted statistics of rape cases and child abuse, emphasising that the constant and repeated exploitation of children was a huge problem in South Africa.

Discussions involving the youth advocates were held in a safe space where speakers’ identities were protected by using pseudonyms and being supported by their caseworkers. The advocates shared insights on the different ways that SEC manifests itself in their countries and in every aspect of a child’s life.

Kenyan youth advocates Maggy and Hellena supported by Ms Dorcas Mwachi of the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa, highlighted parental negligence as one of the root causes of child prostitution and sexual exploitation. They listed key drivers being parents transferring the responsibilities of child-raising to their children, cultural marriage practices and the expectation by parents for children to contribute financially to the household due to poverty. They added that while Kenya had strong laws and policies aimed at preventing SEC, the delays in their enforcement made them less effective. They called on all government sectors and departments to work together in curbing SEC.

Indian youth advocates Nehra and Ammu supported by Mr Thippiah Ramanjaneya of the Society for Networking, Empowerment and Holistic Action, spoke about the alarming number of missing children and street children in India who become victims of SEC, highlighting inequalities the youngsters face in their daily lives through not being able to report incidents, or receive legal assistance, or emotional and psychosocial support.

John and Alexa, youth advocates from the Philippines, supported by Ms Pamela Uy from Bidisiw Foundation articulated the need to regulate cyber space so that the internet is a safe space for children, the need for child survivor’s identity to be protected during court proceedings and the need for provision of better support services to survivors of SEC in the criminal justice system, including psycho-social support.

Mapping out a way forward and resolution based on the day’s presentation, School of Law academic Dr Willene Holness said: ‘We believe that we need to create more platforms and more time for young voices to be heard. As far as we are concerned, academia does not always provide the best avenue for the voices of children and child participation to come through. In the ivory towers we reside in and the work that we do we must not be aloof to the experiences of children. That is why this gathering was so valuable to us – we will continue to provide space for lobbying and advocacy going forward.’

The webinar can be viewed here.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photographs: Supplied