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Nov 5, 2009

Healthy Living looks at commercial sexual exploitation

Story PictureHIV/AIDS is a disease that threatens humanity. The methods of transmission, treatment and prevention are frequently discussed but the contributory factors of the spread of the disease are not as commonly exposed. Healthy living this week looks at one social issue that often times falls under the radar but contributes to the growing number of AIDS cases and has serious implications on the sexual health of victims. This week we look at the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
In Belize like most other countries, children are regarded as our most precious resource. They are offered special protection under the laws catering to their vulnerabilities. But with the rapid development of any nation comes growing pains and in the case of Belize the children have not been left unscathed. The Department of Human Services is the agency that responds when a child has been exploited. Director of the Department of Human Services tells us more about commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Ava Pennil, Director, Department of Human Service
“The commercial exploitation of children is when children are exploited sexually for a transaction. There is a payment. The payment may not only be monetary, it can be in kind, it can be for opportunities, it can be for access to different services. So it’s a payment for sexual services of children. The issue with commercial sexual exploitation is that it is under the radar so to speak because the persons involved, the exploiters, are usually close confidants of the child, they are usually people that are in the child’s life that are persons that the child keeps in high regard or they are the guardian of the children. So they are usually the exploiters. So it’s keep secret; it’s kept hidden.”

Marleni Cuellar
“Commercial sexual exploitation of children is not uncommon in other societies. In Belize, though, it has taken several forms from incest, to the case of ‘Suga Daddies’, and the involvement of children in sex tourism.”

“Suga Daddy” is the term used to describe the sexual exploitation of a child in exchange for financial rewards for basic needs ranging from tuition to rent or footing food bills. Another recent form of exploitation has surfaced with the expanding tourism industry. ‘Hit me on the hips’ is the term coined by a local NGO when referring to the practice of teenage girls being used to provide sexual service to tourists. The term hit me on the hips refers to the method of communication: a vibrating phone used to communicate during school hours.

In 2004, that same NGO, Youth Enhancement Services (YES) launched a public campaign against sexual exploitation. Director of YES, Karen Cain, explained that it was a direct response to the hundreds of young girls who were victims to exploitation that they had already been exposed to.

Karen Cain, Director, Youth Enhancement Services
“For too long there has been some time of attitude that it’s okay sometimes even among the young people themselves because they are not aware of the dangers of CSEC. They’re saying it’s older to have sex with an older man. It’s not a crime.”

In 2007, a study gathering baseline data on the knowledge and attitude of sexual exploitation was conducted with a representative sample of over two hundred teenagers between the ages of thirteen to nineteen. The study demonstrated that the majority of young people do not recognize this as a form of exploitation. Even more alarming was the lack of recognition of the risks associated with their involvement in sexual exploitation, not even the dangers of contracting STDs.

Ava Pennil
“You have a very young person and usually the exploiter is an older person and a person in position of authority or assumed authority. And you have a young teenage person with very little negotiation skills just learning what it is to be an adult just in training to be an adult so their negotiation skills are just developing. So when they get in this encounter they cannot negotiate; it would be extremely difficult for them to negotiate safe sex.”

Karen Cain
“Some of the attitudes from the older people especially the exploiters themselves is that ‘we are on a different bandwagon and the young girls come to them’. I think they as the adult should have some kind of restrain and realize that they are also the exploiters and they should know better.”

Marleni Cuellar
“The current approach sought by the relevant partners encompasses advocacy for legislative changes; which include the incorporation of laws that will allow for the protection of boys from sexual exploitation and the revision of other archaic portions of the law.”

There is also an intervention process that is facilitated through the department of human services while the public awareness campaign continues with a sharper focus.

Ava Pennil
“We work along with the family because we realize that when one child has been exploited then the chances of the second child being exploited is easier because you’ve gone through the first child already. The first time is usually the hardest. So when you meet a family like that all the children are at risk boys and girls.”

Karen Cain
“The preliminary message or like the slogan is that “My future is not for sale” and it’s basically to get them on board to understand what is sexual exploitation because somehow there still seems to be some grey areas of what it is and what it should be and what it’s not.”

Reporting for News Five Belize, I am Marleni Cuellar.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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