Commercial sexual exploitation of children
Sexual exploitation often occurs in the poorest communities, where violence and abuse are common and where dysfunctional and fragmented families feel powerless to prevent it and have become de-sensitised to its impact.
Yet the harsh physical and psychological damage it does to the children who experience it is real and lasting.
The current situation in Colombia
Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a significant problem in Colombia. Between 2011 and 2013 Colombian Social Services removed 2,135 children from situations where they were being sold for sex. 45% were under 11 years old.
Organisations working in this field have estimated that over 35,000 children are involved in CSEC in Colombia. It is difficult to give any more exact figures than this, as the stigma attached to CSEC means that large numbers of cases go unreported.
Bogotá has been identified as the region in Colombia with the highest incidence of CSEC, however as children are often given identity documents with a fake date of birth so that they can hide among adult sex workers it remains difficult to know how many children are affected.
Risks for children
The consequences of commercial sexual exploitation for children and young people are severe, and their physical and mental health can suffer tremendously.
This has a negative impact on many aspects of their lives, including relationships with family and friends, freedom to express sexual orientation, access to education, and future plans.
Children may also face pressure from their peers to become involved as adult exploiters often force children they are exploiting to identify and bring them other children.
Children who experience CSEC are also at extremely high risk of other forms of physical and sexual abuse.
What is Children Change Colombia doing?
Building on the experience we gained through a successful five-year project tackling CSEC in the ‘sex tourism’ business in the city of Cartagena, we are currently working with another local partner in an area of Bogotá which experiences some of Colombia’s highest levels of CSEC.
This work aims to teach children that CSEC is not normal but a violation of their rights, and that they are not to blame if they experience it. Children who are currently participating in CSEC are helped to gain the confidence to escape it and find other ways to earn money.
We are also helping to raise awareness of CSEC in the wider community so that adults know how to recognise CSEC occurring and protect children from it.
Our partner currently working to tackle this neglected issue is:
Our recent achievements towards tackling this neglected issue:
- Between 2013 and 2015, we supported the first truly comprehensive programme to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Cartagena, in partnership with Renacer.
- Renacer's project enabled 6,887 children to understand the risks of commercial sexual exploitation and how to protect themselves from it.
- Hotel staff, street vendors and taxi drivers in Cartagena fromed a community network to actively report and prevent CSEC, and 135 law enforcement agents and healthcare workers made their services more available to at risk children.
- Renacer secured a committment from the District Education Department to fund an on-going anti-CSEC programme. In addition, the results of the project helped shape the development of CSEC policy at local and national level in Colombia.
- In 2016, our partner ACJ Bogota provided support to help 73 young people involved in CSEC to leave. 21 were able to leave commercial sexual exploitation and 12 of these young women have become youth leaders, sharing their experiences with others.
- In 2016, ACJ Bogota organised events and meetings with 28 NGOs, state institutions and universities to raise their awareness of CSEC and develop a care pathway for cases identified. Work to develop these pathways continues in 2017.