Interview with ECPAT Brazil

May 18 is Brazil’s National Day to Combat Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. To mark this date, and to bring attention to the work that still needs to be done to eliminate sexual exploitation, Promundo talked with the ECPAT team about the network’s work in Brazil.

Founded in 1997, ECPAT Brazil is a national network of civil society organizations working for the elimination of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. The Brazilian network partners with ECPAT International, which is dedicated to ensuring that children and adolescents around the world are guaranteed fundamental rights and are free and protected from sexual exploitation.

This is a translation of the original interview in Portuguese.

1) Tell us about ECPAT’s work in Brazil. How did you start this work, and what do you consider to be the network’s most significant accomplishments?

ECPAT Brazil began as a development of the First World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1996. At this event, a global agenda was created to combat the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. In 1997, ECPAT was established in Brazil at a national meeting of the Brazilian organizations that had participated in the First World Congress in 1996.

ECPAT Brazil is a coalition of three coordinating organizations and 29 member organizations. Its mission is to advocate politically to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, through an inter-sectoral approach, and from a human- and sexual-rights perspective.

ECPAT monitors the meetings of the government’s Intersectoral Commission on Combating Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents (Comissão Intersetorial de Enfrentamento da Violência Sexual contra Crianças e Adolescentes) and the National Council on the Rights of Children and Adolescents (Conselho Nacional dos Direitos de Crianças e Adolescentes); it is also a member of the National Committee to Combat Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents (Comitê Nacional de Enfrentamento à Violência Sexual contra Crianças e Adolescentes). The network’s presence in these spaces is aimed at guiding the conversation around sexual exploitation and its prevention, and at defending the rights of children and adolescents against possible setbacks.

In addition, ECPAT is a member of the Down to Zero (DtZ) Alliance in Brazil, together with Plan International Brazil and CEDECA Bahia. Down to Zero is an initiative that, in Brazil, in cooperation with ECPAT Netherlands, aims to reduce the number of children at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the Brazilian city of Salvador by the year 2020.

As far as positive results, we would first highlight the various professionals, advocates, and adolescents who, through their participation in ECPAT, have become active agents of social change. We would highlight the mobilization carried out in all 26 Brazilian states and the Federal District to disseminate a national action plan and strategies for combatting sexual violence. We have also initiated a series of working groups that include civil society, judiciary, and police representatives along the triple border (Brazil, Colombia, and Peru) to strengthen work against sex trafficking of minors. Furthermore, we have developed a campaign geared toward adolescents around sexual rights and self-protection, called Campanha ANA.

2) For you, what are the challenges of combating sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Brazil?

One of the main challenges is the need for social and cultural change. Current social norms normalize the problem of sexual exploitation, and victims are blamed for the violence they suffer. This then renders the problem invisible, because although we have advanced somewhat in the recognition of sexual abuse, we still do not have enough dialogue about sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

Public policies addressing sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Brazil are unsynchronized and disjointed, and there is little budget allocated to maintaining the quality of cross-sectional services that are vital to combatting this issue.

Some challenges that we can list, in brief, include:

  • Invisibility of the problem: Sexual exploitation of children and adolescents is still a hidden problem for both the general population and the social service sector that works in defense and protection of children and adolescents. This invisibility prevents the issue from receiving due importance in the public eye, which is necessary in order to work toward developing solutions.
  • Victim blaming: Patriarchal values mean that even when society recognizes instances of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, victims are held accountable for the violence they have suffered.
  • Underreporting and lack of protection: Norms that blame the victim, along with sexual exploitation’s lack of visibility, contribute to very low rates of reporting of sexual violence. In turn, we also do not have public policies in place for the care of victims and their families. Linked to this is lack of budget for prevention, care, and protective policies, and insufficient expertise to meet the demands related to sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.
  • Culture of impunity: When sexual violence is reported, the perpetrators of violence are rarely held accountable, increasing society’s skepticism that a crime has been committed. In addition, we have too few police intelligence services that work to identify networks of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents or to prevent problems such as trafficking, pornography, and sex tourism.
  • Implementation of infrastructure development projects without mitigating negative impacts: For example, the explosion of infrastructure development projects in Brazil has encouraged the mass migration of male workers to impoverished regions. This has, in turn, created a scenario that exacerbates sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. However, projects do not include proactive measures to prevent this from happening.

3) May 8–12 was a week of national mobilization to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents. Can you indicate prospective ways forward in combating sexual exploitation based on the week’s discussions?

The week of mobilization brought together two national networks that work to prevent sexual violence, ECPAT Brazil and the National Committee to Combat Sexual Violence Against Children and Adolescents (Comitê Nacional de Enfrentamento à Violência Sexual contra Crianças e Adolescentes). On these days, we were able to discuss structural themes, our platform and priority issues, and next steps to strengthen network action.

One the first day, we addressed the tourism sector. We began a dialogue to implement a national code of conduct for the tourism industry, based on the international Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, with ECPAT Brazil acting as a local representative institution.

On the second and third days, we held a strategic meeting with the ECPAT network, in order to discuss the implementation of the DtZ Alliance in Brazil and established guidelines for the next two years of the initiative.

Additionally, the new coordinating body and the new executive secretariat of the National Committee were elected.

To learn more about the work of ECPAT Brazil, visit us at ecpatbrasil.org.br and follow us on Twitter using @ECPATBrasil.

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