Creating safe havens for trafficked children in the U.S. and increasing legal enforcement against child sex tourism in Canada should be two of the highest priorities for anti-trafficking policies in North America, according to a report published jointly by Canadian and U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) this month.
The urgency of changes laws and improving policies is underlined by the recent conviction of two Quebec aid workers convicted in Canada of sexually exploiting boys in Haiti.
The report documents the findings of a meeting held in Washington, DC in preparation for the World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, taking place in Brazil in late November. The World Congress III follows two prior congresses in calling the world’s governments to account for their actions to protect children from sexual exploitation. The World Congress III is hosted by the government of Brazil and sponsored by ECPAT International, UNICEF, and the NGO Group on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a Geneva-based consortium of NGOs. The meeting, hosted by Shared Hope International and co-sponsored by ECPAT-USA and Beyond Borders, brought together 60 top experts and government representatives from both countries to strategize the most impactful steps in combating the growing problem of child trafficking in both countries.
The report mentions many of the important steps that have already been taken in Canada and the U.S. – notably the passage of strong laws in both countries, and also reviews the gaps that must be filled. “One of the major gaps in Canada highlighted in this report is our very weak and ineffective sex offender registry”, says Rosalind Prober, President of Beyond Borders. “If we are serious about child protection, this registry needs an immediate upgrade.”
The Canadian federal law that makes sexually exploiting a child in another country a crime punishable in Canada is not adequately enforced. “In Canada, the lack of legal action against child sex tourism is the most glaring law enforcement gap,” states the report. “While child trafficking is beginning to be recognized in Canada with several recent prosecutions, there remains significant room for further enforcement action against traffickers and commercial child sex abusers.” According to Benjamin Perrin, Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, “Canada has convicted just one of its child sex tourists despite promising to crack down on them in 1996 at the First World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children.”
In the U.S. commercially sexually exploited children are too often arrested instead of offered assistance and protection, because there are so few shelters equipped to care for their special needs. “Police officers are really in a bind in most cities. Girls as young as 12 years old are rescued from their pimps, but there are so few places to bring them. They end up in jail, with a criminal record. This has to stop,” says Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA.
“It is a tragedy when a child is prostituted in America and goes to jail for the crime that is committed against her, while her trafficker and her buyer face little to no punishment,” said Shared Hope International President and Founder Linda Smith. Other recommendations that emerged from the meeting include: creating a national plan of action in the United States, developing Child Advocacy Centers in Canada and focusing on prevention in both countries.