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Pacific: Report on child sex abuse

Publish Date: 14 Dec 2006

Source: UNICEF New Zealand

Pacific Report on Child Sex Abuse


Findings from studies in five Pacific Island countries reveals an alarming degree of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and that “children are most at risk in their homes and communities and with people they know and trust”, according to a new report synthesizing the findings.

The report, which was jointly supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Pacific, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT International), is based on studies conducted between October 2004 and June 2005 in Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. 

“The five studies confirm that in each country children are sexually abused by family members and neighbours and, to varying degrees, that child prostitution, child pornography, early marriage, child sex tourism and trafficking (for sexual purposes) occur,” says the report’s executive summary. The perpetrators of the abuse and exploitation are “overwhelmingly males and typically men with resources or other power in the community.” Contrary to popular belief, the report reveals that, while there are some incidences of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation committed by foreign tourists and foreign workers in the Pacific, the problem of sexual violence against children is predominantly perpetuated by local men. 

While the findings of the studies are largely qualitative, “the lack of exact numbers does not diminish the need to “ring alarm bells now,” warns the report, Child Sexual Abuse and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Pacific: A Regional Report’, referring to the significant body of evidence and the ease of gathering it in a short period of time. Because of under-reporting and inadequate data collection, official statistics do not accurately capture the prevalence of child sexual abuse, and the report concludes that actual rates may be significantly higher.

Evidence from government agencies, non-government organizations, UN agencies, police and child victims presented in the report show that sexual violence in the Pacific to be a problem of grave concern. The following is a sample of some of the concerns the Report highlights:

§ The study in Papua New Guinea found that medical staff at the Port Moresby General Hospital treat one or two cases of child rape every day.

§ The Fiji study cited police statistics showing that of the 35 cases of sexual abuse against children reported to the Sexual Offences Unit in 2000, 33 were committed by a trusted family member.

§ The study in the Solomon Islands noted that reports of sexually transmitted infections in children as young as between 1 and 3 years old were a clear indicator of the existence of child sexual abuse in that country.

§ The study in Kiribati (population: 86,500) found 15 officially reported cases of ‘defilement’ (sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 13) between 1999 and 2004, with four cases of child rape and one attempted child rape between May and September 2000 alone.

§ The Fiji study explored the link between child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children, highlighting the experiences of sex workers who had suffered some form of child abuse in their homes at the hands of a male relative. The Vanuatu study also reported examples of children who had been sexually abused becoming involved in prostitution. 

§ In all countries, the studies found incidences of exploiting children in exchange for cash or for goods and services, including food, alcohol, transport to school (taxi rides), clothes and small gifts. An example from the Solomon Islands described how fathers row a child out to fishermen to exchange sex for fish to sell in the market. Because all schools charge enrolment fees, there were examples in several countries of some teachers asking for sex from students in exchange for paying the school fee.

Factors such as the low status of women and children, poverty and the lack of educational and employment opportunities and a lack of protective legislation, services and regulation, contribute to making Pacific children highly vulnerable to sexual violence. Children who experience parental neglect and abuse and who live without their natural parents (including those who are informally adopted) were found to be at particular risk.

The report notes that, in recent years, Pacific governments and civil society organizations across the region have acknowledged that sexual violence is a problem in their countries and have begun to take steps to address the issue. 

Five pacific countries made a commitment to the 1996 Stockholm Agenda for Action at the Second World Congress in Yokohama in 2001. This research provides the basis upon which to develop national plans of action as required under the Stockholm Agenda for Action. However, much more needs to be done. The report emphasizes “an absence of comprehensive, well-resourced and well-planned local, national and regional efforts to address sexual violence against children in the Pacific region”. This includes the inadequacy of policies, legislation and institutions to sanction perpetrators and protect children, as well as the lack of services to assist families in need and child victims. 

Among many practical recommendations, the report calls for the strengthening of laws and law enforcement “to end the culture of impunity” for those who facilitate or perpetrate abuses against children.  It also calls for open discussion at all levels as “a starting point for changing people’s values, attitudes, beliefs and practices towards children,” thus ending “the culture of silence” that inhibits communities and governments from confronting, addressing and preventing sexual violence against children.

Copyright © 2006 UNICEF New Zealand