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«Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) Critical Issues Abuse and Exploitation CONTENTS BRIEFING NOTES FOR FACILITATORS Page Introduction Topic 1: ...»

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Abuse and Exploitation - Revision Version 04/01 Page 21 Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) directly related to their ethnic affiliations and/or religious beliefs. There is also a demand within the sex trade for children of backgrounds different from those of the “consumers”. As a result, children of different ethnic backgrounds (usually marginalised) are lured away from their communities and taken to urban centres where they may be unable to communicate in a foreign language, reducing their ability to resist and flee.

• Cultural beliefs which are tolerant of child exploitation by condoning and/or ignoring the problems of prostitution, trafficking and early marriage of children (in some instances involving girls as young as eight), also contribute to the risk of children falling victim to sexual exploitation.


• Some elements in armed forces are perpetrators of sexual exploitation and rape. At times these may be random acts perpetrated by individual soldiers but also more systematically organised cases have been associated with "ethnic cleansing". Additionally, in several well-documented cases, the presence of peacekeeping troops (and often associated with the presence of humanitarian workers), has caused an increase in child prostitution. Both power and money are used to exploit young girls for sexual relations in these situations.

• Local and foreign “consumers” and organisers of the sex industry are also perpetrators of child prostitution. Every year, tourists and locals, overwhelmingly men, create a huge demand for children and adolescents. This demand is often met by sending, abducting and/or selling local children from economically disadvantaged areas to various cities under the disguise of “work”. This prostitution is often organised and run by local men and women who profit from this exchange. Refugee children are among those particularly at risk of being subjected to exploitation due to their economic instability and physical displacement. Increasingly younger girls are particularly at risk because they are thought, by the perpetrators, to have fewer diseases (particularly HIV/AIDS) than older girls.

• Staff and caregivers in institutions, and school-teachers are also perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The vulnerability of displaced children in institutions or living with foster families increases the risk of such occurrences. Exercise 4.3 illustrates the vulnerability of separated children to institutional sexual abuse. Institutions can be depersonalised and dehumanising. Children may have little opportunity to form healthy attachments and therefore may have no one to turn to in distress. Teachers and others in authority also exploit children. However, the sensitivity around recognising and reporting such problems often allows them to be overlooked and children to remain unprotected in such circumstances.

• Neighbours, acquaintances and others in their own community also perpetuate sexual violence and rape during and after situations of armed conflict. Cases of abuse and violence by friends and neighbours, with whom the victim had previously lived in perfect harmony, illustrates the extreme societal and individual disruption caused by armed conflict. The general loss of accountability for behaviour in times of upheaval, along with a breakdown of

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traditional and communal values, leads to a general incapacity of victims and perpetrators to separate acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

• Other Children may also be perpetrators. In situations where HIV and AIDS are prevalent, it is not uncommon to find adolescent boys seeking younger and younger sexual partners, and where coercion is used on an unwilling girl, this should be seen as a form of sexual exploitation. However, it is important not to lose sight of both the potentially traumatic effect on the victim and the needs of the perpetrator, who may himself/herself be a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation and who is entitled to help and support.


Individual impact: the effects of sexual exploitation on the individual child can be

profound, and can be experienced on several levels:

• the physical consequences can include genital injury, sexually transmitted diseases and the contraction of HIV/AIDS. There is evidence that adolescent girls are more likely to contract HIV from a single sexual contact than are adult women. Unwanted pregnancy can have further consequences including, for example, stigmatisation and unsafe abortions;

• emotional consequences can include the trauma of violent exploitation (which can have effects broadly similar to other traumatic experiences). In some societies, a sense of shame at having been violated, and especially if pregnancy results, can have severe consequences for the child;

• social consequences can include ostracism by the family or community especially if the child is disbelieved or blamed for what has happened. In some cultures, sexual exploitation will have a negative impact on the child’s chances of marrying;

• secondary trauma can result if the incident is handled insensitively. Examples include aggressive interviewing of the child (e.g. by the police), insensitive medical examination, or those in authority disbelieving the child or even blaming him/her for the incident. These can all inflict further trauma.

(These issues are also discussed in the ARC Resource Pack on Child Development, Topic 4).

Sexual exploitation within the family, by both immediate and extended family members such as parents and step-parents, siblings and cousins, or aunts and uncles, is particularly serious. Unless either the child or the perpetrator is removed, the risk of further abuse remains, but the child may be trapped because of the difficulties in speaking out against a member of the family. Other members of the family may be disinclined to believe the child’s story, which can result in further victimisation. These issues are considered separately in Topic 9.

Community and family impact: sexual exploitation can have a serious impact on relationships not only within the family but also in the wider community. Particularly where the police or judiciary systems fail to respond to allegations, or where perpetrators are not seen to be brought to justice, this can create intense social tensions. In a broader context for communities, the threat of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases being spread must also be of fundamental concern.


Abuse and Exploitation - Revision Version 04/01 Page 23 Action for the Rights of Children (ARC)


Overhead 4.1: Key Learning Points for Topic 4 Summary of key learning points

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• The Convention on the Rights of the Child accords the child the right to be protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

• Legal provisions exist to protect children and adolescents from employment that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education, or be harmful to their development.

• Legal provisions exist to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as against trafficking, sale and abduction.

• Sexual violence is a gross violation of fundamental human rights as well as, when committed in the context of armed conflict, a grave breach of humanitarian law.

The basis of protection from abuse and exploitation of children can be found in various legal instruments that differ by nature and importance. Treaties, such as conventions or covenants, are formal legal texts to which States become parties.

They are considered as “hard law”, because they create legal binding obligations.

Other instruments, such as declarations, principles or rules, are non-binding on States, and are often referred to as “soft law”. The provisions they set out are often more detailed than those found in treaties, and can therefore complement hard law. These instruments are authoritative standards because States participated in their elaboration and they reflect international consensus, i.e. States did not object to the provisions they contain. An example, of soft law is the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action.

In addition, staff working in a region should always be aware of the regional instruments and their provisions, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the American Convention on Human Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

National laws (criminal and/or family laws) of the States are particularly important and should always be referred to. These laws provide intervention procedures for the authorities in cases of abuse and exploitation, complaint/representation procedures, measures adopted for investigation, reporting, referral, rehabilitation and follow-up, as well as educational measures etc. It should also be noted that by ratifying the CRC, States commit to integrating all provisions into national law.

Selected articles of the legal standards are presented in Handout 5.1.


Abuse and Exploitation - Revision Version 04/01 Page 25 Action for the Rights of Children (ARC)


Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child accords the child the right to

be protected from abuse and neglect, without discrimination:

“States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” In other words, it is the duty of governments to protect children against abuse and neglect, including abuse happening within the family, as well as other caring environments, such as foster care, day care, schools, institutions. This duty takes on added significance when not respected, as it often deprives the child of access to help, and the mistreatment or abuse may then continue undetected for long periods of time.

Physical assault against the child constitutes child abuse. In this sense, punitive corporal punishment, whether in the family or in institutions is incompatible with the child’s right to physical integrity. Article 37 of the CRC explains that States parties are required to ensure that no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Human Rights Committee stated that this should include physical and mental pain, and extends to corporal punishment. Regarding corporal punishment in schools, CRC article

28.2 states that all appropriate measures shall be taken to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention. This includes article 19 and the broader protection of the child from physical and mental violence.

Traditional practices may need to be reviewed to determine whether they involve any form of physical or mental violence. When these traditional practices are beneficial, or harmless, communities should be encouraged to continue them as a way of maintaining their identity and preserving their culture. However, some traditional practices are harmful to health, well-being and development; most often, girls and women are the ones affected by harmful traditional practices. Female genital mutilation (FGM) and early childhood marriages are examples of harmful traditional practices that are prevalent among some populations of concern to UNHCR. These practices are internationally condemned due to the grave health risks they may entail as well as the human rights principles they violate. The CRC requires States to take all effective and appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices that endanger the health of children (article 24. 3). The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) states that violence against women includes “.. female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women..". It stipulates that States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.

Disabled children may be particularly vulnerable to abuse due to difficulties in communication and in many cases being placed in institutions. Indeed, the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities of 1994 noted that persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse in the family, community and institutions. The need to avoid the occurrence of abuse, recognise

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when abuse has occurred and report on such acts are stressed (Rule 9(4)).

In all cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation, article 39 of the CRC notes that the State has an obligation to ensure that child victims [of armed conflicts, torture, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation] receive appropriate treatment for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration in an environment that fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child victim.


The CRC contains various articles concerning child labour. As stated in Article

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