The third World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children has kicked off in Rio de Janeiro. Participants say much more needs to be done to protect young people around the world from being abused.
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The conference, which runs though November 28 in the Brazilian resort city, is aimed at combating a problem of sickening proportions. The United Nations estimates that some 1.8 million children around the world are forced into prostitution and pornography.
Around one million of the victims live in Asia. But as one German congress participant told DW-Radio, abuse also happens all too frequently in Germany.
"In Germany, we're talking about unofficial estimates of around 300,000 children who are affected every year," Green parliamentary representative Ekin Deligoez said. "The documented cases from police criminal statistics are considerably lower."
In the vast majority of German cases, the sexual abusers are men, and they usually come from the family of the children they exploit.
The Congress, which is being attended by representatives of all of the EU's member states, is aimed primarily at the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation. Annegret Erbes from the Federal Association for the Protection of Children says that abuse is abuse, no matter what form it takes.
"Sexual violence and the sexual misuse of children -- as well as child sex tourism, child trafficking, and child pornography -- are repulsive crimes and must be pursued and uncovered with great vigor," Erbes told DW-Radio.
The first World Congress took place in Stockholm in 1986; the second in Yokohama, Japan in 2001. In 2003, the SPD-Green coalition that then governed Germany passed a national action plan to protect children against sexual exploitation.
But the results of those initiatives, many activists say, are insufficient.
Better cooperation needed
Activists want tourism and Internet companies to do more
Action groups like ECPAT maintain that better coordination of resources would help combat the problem.
"We can fall back on whole series of pilot projects, but we haven't succeeded in integrating them structurally so that they have a lasting effect," said German ECPAT head Mechthild Maurer.
Maurer has called for greater cooperation between authorities on the state and local levels. That, she says, would prevent that statute of limitations from coming into play in child sex abuse cases, even if one authority is swamped with investigations.
Maurer also says that the private sector should be enlisted to combat sexual exploitation.
"We're focused, of course, on Internet providers and the tourist industry," Maurer told DW-Radio. "They are crucial partners, whom we have to enlist and with whom we need better cooperation, both on the national and international levels."
In Rio, ECPAT is calling for companies to institute child protection guidelines in order to ensure that their services aren't being used to promote sexual abuse.
That's just one of the many proposals the 3000-odd congress participants will be debating during the four-day conference. But it remains to be seen whether they arriver at any concrete improvements to better the situation of the world's abused children.