This article was published in the Volkskrant Magazine on May 21, 2022.
With the end of the pandemic finally in sight after more than two years, the world is ravaged by several other crises. Worldwide, one in two million children are still victims of sexual exploitation. A problem that seems to be snowing. And that while children have become even more vulnerable due to the corona crisis. The system they are supposed to protect has taken a huge hit, partly because the schools below shutdowns got closed. The consequences are becoming more and more visible.
The Down to Zero Alliance tackles the sexual exploitation of children in 12 countries in Latin America and Asia. During and especially in the wake of the pandemic. Tackling sexual exploitation of children, such as exploitation on the street, in a brothel or online in front of a webcam, is complex. The Down to Zero program focuses on youth engagement and the system for protecting children.
The trusted network of children has disappeared. To protect them from sexual exploitation, a broad approach is needed: Down to Zero supports children, their parents, and their communities. Among other things, the alliance focuses on the involvement of young people themselves as youth advocates and unites its forces in the lobby vis-à-vis regional, national and international governments and the business community.
Read here about Down to Zero at school in Nepal
Better knowledge of sexual exploitation
For example, nursing staff are trained in specific knowledge and skills. “These workshops are essential for people working with vulnerable children so they can provide them with the best care,” says Monique Demenint of Terre des Hommes. “Think, for example, of how to deal with children’s trauma, such as not constantly asking them to tell their story again. It can trigger their trauma. “
It is important that children are also aware of their rights and that they can stand up for them, for themselves and for each other.† Therefore, children receive information about the recognition of signs of exploitation, children’s rights and sexual health. For example, they learn which authorities to turn to if they are victims or at risk so they can get psychosocial, medical and legal help.
Youth advocates at the helm
An essential part of the program is the young people who are trained to become youth activists, such as 26-year-old Carlos from the Dominican Republic. “I want children to know their rights, to know that no one should touch or mistreat them inappropriately.”
Carlos takes a leadership role in his community and is an active member of the local network of volunteers dedicated to informing and protecting children and youth. He comes up with new ideas and uses knowledge from the Down to Zero educations. “I have learned so much. I can apply that in conversations with the authorities and pass it on to the young people who live here.”
I want children to know their rights
The kids around him run off with Carlos. As a mentor, he has ongoing conversations with them. “I tell the children all about their rights and the dangers of exploitation. Sometimes they can not talk about it at home because it is taboo – then they come to me.” Prevention is crucial to stop the sexual exploitation of children. This starts with children because they are an important part of the dissemination of information. Carlos will now provide education for children and young people in schools. “It is important that everyone learns more about this so they can stand up for themselves. “
Down to zero
Down to Zero is a collaboration between Terre des Hommes, Plan International, Defense for Children-ECPAT, Free a Girl and ICCO (part of Cordaid) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Down to Zero aims to protect children and young people from the risk of sexual exploitation in twelve countries in Asia (India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand) and in Latin America (Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Brazil, Dominican Republic Republic). The alliance enables children and young people to stand up for their rights and helps communities protect their children from sexual exploitation. We also call for a better government policy and work with business, such as the travel and tourism industry.