Wed, 07 May 2003

East Asia-Pacific countries seek move against child trafficking

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali

Countries in the East Asia Pacific called for stronger cooperation to stop child trafficking in the region during a ministerial meeting here, but were unable to find common ground to sign a deal on.

On the second day of the Sixth East Asia and the Pacific Ministerial Consultation held at Nusa Dua hotel resort in Bali, ministers from the region agreed that a joint effort to combat child trafficking was paramount.

The Philippine delegates called the region to the issue, as they argued that child trafficking was a transnational crime that must be dealt with through tighter cooperation between countries.

Thailand and neighboring Cambodia had already signed a deal to jointly combat child traffickers, setting an example for the rest of the region.

Such calls were voiced during a session on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). It is one of four focus issues discussed during the three day ministerial meeting which will end on Wednesday.

Southeast Asia is in particular prone to CSEC. Quoting a report from the United States Department, Unicef warned that about one third of global woman and child trafficking was taking place in this region. The victims amount to some 230,000 people.

The session however ended without an agreement.

Participants hope to hammer out an agreement on the last day of the meeting.

One step toward regional cooperation was for each country to adopt all the necessary legal tools to combat child trafficking, according to Jaap E. Doek, who chairs the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and is a professor of law in the Netherlands.

But equally important was that countries must enforce the law, he said.

Pedophiles, Doek said, almost always sought countries where they could freely commit their crimes without a risk of facing severe punishment.

In Indonesia, some pedophiles come to Bali and prey on children where control from the authorities is slack.

But lack of awareness among the authorities in Indonesia has hampered efforts to curb the crime here.

"I've seen many cases where the children were treated as criminals and not victims," said child delegate from Batam, 14- year old Anggi Dwi Putri who said she saw rampant child prostitution in her town in Batam. "I call on Unicef and the Indonesian government to treat exploited children as victims instead of criminals."

However in many cases it is hard to distinguish them from underaged sex workers. Many of the children are often sent abroad posing as Indonesian workers, with child trafficking criminals manipulating their ages to elude the authorities.

Tuesday's session also saw the announcement of the first Unicef Awards for Youth Leadership in East Asia and the Pacific.

Three Indonesians were selected from among 16 nominees.

They are 14-year-old Desi Gloria Arwam, a former Papuan child ambassador and a participant in several forums on children; Rosasi Mulya also 14, who is a child labor activist from the West Java capital Bandung; and 15-year-old child activist Yunaidy Soventy Tuka from Nusa Tenggara.