Strong laws, together with effective enforcement procedures which are child-friendly, are important to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation. Yet most countries still lack a comprehensive legal framework for deterring crimes, managing investigations, prosecuting perpetrators and protecting and assisting children in their recovery.
ECPAT supports legal research on domestic legislation and legal procedures relevant to commercial sexual exploitation in countries around the world and analyses the existing gaps in light of the regional and international standards in order to recommend legislative and procedural reforms to strengthen child protection. ECPAT offers an advisory service on child-friendly laws and procedures to better protect children from secondary exploitation during the legal process.
At a local level, ECPAT aims to strengthen and improve the capacities of member organizations working on legal reform. ECPAT as a network also actively inputs to child rights reporting mechanisms. This is pursued with support for developing and presenting Alternative Reports on the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
Training is also organized to build the capacities of member organizations and to provide structured opportunities for exchange of good practice. Alternative Reports prepared by ECPAT groups, as well as the Concluding Observations adopted by the Committee on the Right of the Child are available on the Child Rights Information Network website.
What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the first binding international instrument setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. It came into force in September 1990 and currently counts with a total of 192 State parties. Every UN member State has ratified, accepted, acceded or succeeded to the document with the exception of Somalia and the United States.
The CRC recognizes that children have an inherent right to life and survival, to an identity, to a nationality, to be heard, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to health, and to an education. The CRC sets out child rights in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols: the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In the context of commercial sexual exploitation, Articles 34 through 35 of the CRC directly obligates States to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation including child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking.
What is the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC)?
The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC) supplements the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is the first of two optional protocols to enter into force. The OPSC was adopted in May 2000 and entered into force in January 2002. As of March 2008, 115 UN member States have signed it, and 124 are Parties to the OPSC. It is the first instrument defining and expressly prohibiting the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Accordingly, the OPSC requires these offences to be treated as criminal acts. It also requires the States Parties to: establish grounds for criminalizing these prohibited acts; ensure jurisdiction over the offences; provide for the extradition of offenders; encourage international cooperation between States to pursue offenders; and provide support to child survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
Within two years of the entry into force of the OPSC, States parties are required to submit initial, comprehensive reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on its implementation. NGOs can and should play an important role in the reporting mechanism as they are allowed to submit NGO Alternative Reports. Over the past years ECPAT Groups have led the development and presentation of alternative reports in several countries worldwide, including Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, France, the Netherlands, the United States of America and Spain.
Who Monitors the Implementation of the CRC and OPSC and how?
The CRC and the OPSC impose reporting obligations on States Parties. Within two years of the entry into force of the CRC and the OPSC, States Parties are required to submit initial, comprehensive reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the implementation of each of these treaties. The Committee receives and reviews the official State Reports and is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the CRC and OPSC in the national context.
The Committee consists of 18 independent experts who periodically examine the progress made by States Parties in achieving the realisation of the obligations undertaken in the CRC. The members of the Committee are elected for a term of four years in accordance with Article 43 of the CRC. Elections are held every two years.
Once they have submitted their initial report, States must prepare reports on the implementation of the CRC every five years and include in these, information on the implementation of the OPSC. These subsequent reports need not repeat basic information included in the initial reports. The initial report is therefore crucial as it is the only one expected to be that comprehensive.
More information on the Committee can be found here.
Why and how does ECPAT engage in this process?
Under Article 45(a) of the CRC, the Committee may invite specialised agencies, UNICEF and “other competent bodies” including NGOs, to provide expert advice on the implementation of the CRC. The CRC is the only international human rights treaty that expressly gives NGOs a role in monitoring its implementation. The Committee also receives NGO alternative reports on the OPSC. Information may be submitted by individual NGOs or national coalitions or committees of NGOs, or by child and youth organizations. It is however preferable that reports be drafted by coalitions.
ECPAT International’s vision is “to bring about the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, and to encourage the world community to ensure that children everywhere enjoy their fundamental rights free and secure from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation.” As stated in the Agenda for Action and still holds true, “everyday more and more children around the world are subjected to sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Concerted action is needed at the local, national, regional, and international levels to bring an end to the phenomena.” Indeed, participating and leading this alternative reporting process serves to further our vision.
ECPAT as a network also recognises the importance of the CRC and its Protocols, particularly the OPSC, as mechanisms for ensuring the realisation of children’s right to protection from sexual exploitation. In this regard, it supports efforts to increase the active participation of children in the reporting processes and procedures and believes that new innovative mechanisms and strategies can be further explored to ensure that such opportunities are institutionalised at all levels (local, national, international) for all children, especially those who are more marginalised and discriminated against. It has further recommended to the Committee at the recent Day of General Discussions that they work with the governments in establishing child-friendly structures and mechanisms for children that will improve the access and use of the reporting procedures on the OPSC for children at risk or victims of CSEC and trafficking. Similarly, this reporting process requires cooperation and coordination among many stakeholders.
NGOs may be asked by their government to collaborate to the State report. However in many cases this is not possible and NGOs chose to work together to develop an alternative report which serves to comment on the State report, supplement new data, highlight gaps and make recommendations. For more information on alternative reporting please contact the ECPAT International Legal Programme Officer.
How can I find out when my country is scheduled for reporting under the OPSC?
Initial state reports are due within two years of ratifying the OPSC. For ratification information, consult our database.
Schedules for past and upcoming CRC Committee sessions are available on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Committee convenes three times a year for sessions of three weeks duration, usually in January, May and September at the United Nations Office in Geneva. It is during these sessions that the Committee examines the State reports. Alternative reports are examined in the pre-sessional working group which normally meets directly following a regular session of the Committee. It is an opportunity to conduct a preliminary review of the State report and to examine supplementary and alternative information – the working group identifies in advance the main questions to be discussed with States Parties who will appear before the Committee during the next session. Following its examination and discussion of the State report with government delegates, the Committee issues its recommendations in the form of Concluding Observations.
What are the other international legal instruments relevant to CSEC?
There are several international and regional instruments designed to counter CSEC. For a list and description of these, please consult the ECPAT database.