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Southeast Asian countries step up efforts to combat sexual crimes against children

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 27 October 2016 - Senior lawmakers and officials from across Southeast Asia have convened to address legal gaps and formulate collaborative responses to protect children from sexual crimes. At the second meeting of the Regional Legal Research Group - consisting of high ranking justice officials from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam - reform matters relevant to addressing child sexual exploitation were identified and a strategies for continuing collaborative responses emphasised.

As regional integration in Southeast Asia continues to grow and create new economic and social opportunities, it is also leaving children in high-risk tourism areas increasingly vulnerable to exploitation. As part of initiatives under UNODC's Criminal Justice Programme, the Regional Legal Research Group is a unique forum that focuses on evidence-based research and targeted legislative and practical responses to the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, and online.

"There is a need for child protection measures to also match the intensity and speed of the regional integration taking place", said Ms. Noriko Shibata, UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer. "With this aim, officials of justice ministries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam today shared legal research, findings and recommendations to strengthen laws, law enforcement and international cooperation to protect children from transnational sex offenders." 

The Group continued to canvass legally prudent strategies and the adoption of legal frameworks, the harmonization of child protection laws, and the sharing of knowledge on the effectiveness of legislative and policy approaches.

Importantly, consensus was reached to conduct a comparative review of legal sanctions and punishments of offenses related to child sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, and conduct deeper studies into specific forms of child sexual exploitation, such as child sexual abuse material (formerly known as child pornography).

"Viet Nam played a leading role in establishing the Regional Legal Research Group in 2012", said H.E. Mr. Tran Tien Dung, Vice Minister of Justice, Viet Nam. "However, all of the members of the Group here today acknowledge that we need to work collaboratively to address the serious nature of these crimes, and remain equally committed to this endeavor." 

The heads of delegations from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam all reiterated the cross-border complexity of this form of transnational crime and the urgency in strengthening cooperation in the ASEAN region to prevent and combat the crime.

"Responses to child sex offending require more than just comprehensive laws", said Mr. Christopher Batt, Officer-in-Charge, UNODC Country Office of Viet Nam. "Law enforcement responses must be comprehensive and collaborative to keep these offenders from escaping justice. Additionally, the seizure and confiscation of assets from the offenders should be used to fund programs for victim care and to promote access to justice." 

In the UNODC report, "Protecting the Future: Improving the Response to Child Sex Offending in Southeast Asia", the need for developing law and justice frameworks is joined with the need to boost law enforcement capacity and shift attitudes of criminal justice officers. Through standardized material and training, UNODC ensures that criminal officials in the project countries share a common knowledge base enriched with rights-based, victim-centered, and child-friendly approaches for investigations and prosecutions that span across borders.

The meeting was attended by high-level representatives from the Ministries of Justice of the four countries, as well as representatives from UN ACT, ILO, and ECPAT. The Regional Legal Research Group meets annually to share and discuss the latest trends and developments in legislation and implementation to address child sex offending - a transnational crime which exploits infrastructure growth to continuously evolve. The Cambodian delegation generously accepted the role of hosting the next annual meeting.