Siem Reap (Cambodia), 7-8 September 2017 - Senior lawmakers and officials from across Southeast Asia have convened this week in Siem Riep, Cambodia, in a major step towards formulating a collaborative response to protect children from sexual crimes.
At the Third Regional Legal Research Group Meeting, co-organised by the Ministry of Justice of Cambodia and UNODC, high ranking justice officials from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam discussed recent efforts pioneered by the member countries, including amendments to the penal code, and their experience ofmutual legal cooperation on the issue.
The meeting centred around a technical and comparative review of legal sanctions related to child sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, building on developments at the previous Regional Legal Research Group meeting last year, at which the goal of harmonising child protection laws was identified as a priority.
"Children are the future of each country and important pillars for the future development of the country. Therefore, we should work together to protect and respect children's rights. To fulfilling these obligations, we should always put the best interests of children first," said H.E. Mr. Ang Vong Vathana, Minister of Justice of Cambodia, in his opening remark.
"Combating child sexual exploitation is a common issue for the whole international community, including Japan. We have taken the view that child sexual exploitation can never be tolerated, because it is an extremely malicious crime that has harmful effects on children both physically and mentally, and significantly infringes on their human rights," said H.E. Mr. Ken Ota, First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan to Cambodia. "The Government of Japan emphasises the development of the Mekong region. Please rest assured Japan remains a supporter and partner for the development of this region.."
The heads of delegations from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam highlighted the complexity of this form of transnational crime and the urgent need to strengthen cooperation in the ASEAN. They each presented their respective Mutual Legal Assistance practices, as well as challenges which need to be solved in order to improve cross-border cooperation on the issue.
"The recent establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 means the free movement of tourists and as such, travelling child sex offenders will continue to pose a significant and growing threat to the region," said Ms. Noriko Shibata, UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer. "Under these circumstances, this meeting is an important platform for all of us to enhance cross-border cooperation in the region," she added.
On the final day of the meeting, Hon. Mr Isra Sunthornvut, Secretary-General of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), discussed the work of the AIPA on the fight against the child sexual exploitation in the ASEAN region. Mr Sunthornvut stressed the importance of having common legislation against child sexual exploitation, , and of the need to raise awareness among the general public.
An initiative of UNODCs Criminal Justice Programme, the Regional Legal Research Group meets annually and 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, as well as online. A core mandate of the Group is to consider and discuss the latest trends and developments in legislation and implementation to address child sex offending.
At the end of the meeting, heads of delegations from the four countries adopted the Declaration of the Third Regional Legal Research Group Meeting, recognising the need to continue protecting children from sexual abuse and reaffirming their commitments to a stronger and more effective regional cooperation against child sexual exploitation in travel and tourism. In the declaration, they agreed to continue joint efforts to enhance the legal framework for combating child sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, and to call on other ASEAN member countries to join this established regional framework.
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