Project Childhood introduced to Lao PDR

A criminal justice response to child sex tourism


Vientiane (the Lao People's Democratic Republic), 11 January 2012
- As children continue to be trafficked, enslaved, and sexually exploited in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, law enforcement responses against travelling child sex offenders must become an ever more important element in halting and reversing this trend.

Such responses include intelligence-led investigations, victim identification, detection, and prosecution of the perpetrators of these crimes as well as the protection, rescue and rehabilitation of young victims.

Project Childhood is a $7.5 million Australian AID (AusAID)-funded initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children - mainly in the travel and tourism sectors - in the Greater Mekong sub-region. The project focuses on Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam and builds on Australia's long-term support for programs that better protect children and prevent their abuse. It is being implemented on the ground by UNODC, INTERPOL, and World Vision in two complementary pillars - the Protection Pillar (UNODC/Interpol) and the Prevention Pillar (World Vision).

Project Childhood was recently introduced in Lao PDR through a workshop in the capital Vientiane. The 80 participants to the "Workshop on Anti Human Trafficking: Universal Periodic Review Recommendations and Combating Child Sex Tourism" included representatives from Lao PDR government ministries, the international community, international and national governmental organisations and the media.

The Protection Pillar, being implemented by UNODC, in partnership with INTERPOL, will strengthen the capacity of local law enforcement to identify, arrest and prosecute travelling child sex offenders in the four countries named through a package of capacity building activities to Governments and their law enforcement agencies. UNODC is currently designing and implementing activities for technical assistance to fill gaps in legislation, training, and cooperation mechanisms These include ensuring that domestic legislation meets international standards, and that police officers are trained and equipped to investigate the abuse of children by child sex offenders. INTERPOL, for its part, will focus on pooling resources for operations that will combine international and regional investigative resources to target travelling child sex offenders.

At the launch event, Ms. Margaret Akullo, the Project Coordinator for Project Childhood (Protection Pillar), emphasized that the Protection Pillar will significantly expand the intelligence base on the closed community of travelling sex offenders to more effectively prosecute suspects who seek to sexually abuse children. UNODC will provide assistance to the four countries in SE Asia to facilitate ratification and implementation of the relevant international legal instruments. INTERPOL will give operational criminal police support and advanced technological tools to strengthen international criminal police cooperation.

"UNODC's partnership with INTERPOL is fundamental to Project Childhood's technical assistance activities for police, prosecutors and judges," Ms. Akullo said. "We will use our combined mandates and strengths to actively combat child sex tourism by training law enforcement officials on international best practice and with targeted operations of criminals".

The Prevention Pillar will be implemented by World Vision and will strengthen the protective environment for children in travel and tourism - including building community awareness and resilience to sexual exploitation of children. It will focus on awareness raising campaigns for the travelling public on child safe tourism, support child helplines, and conduct community-based awareness-raising and training for children and families in vulnerable communities prone to child sexual exploitation. It will also work with the private sector and governments to develop effective national preventative measures against sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism sectors.

Project Childhood countries were selected on the basis of a number of factors such as: the volume of reported arrests of alleged travelling child sex offenders; a perceived lack of institutional and legislative capacity to counter the crime, and the degree of participating Government willingness to engage with the international community to take effective action. Protection Pillar activities have already begun in Cambodia and Thailand and will extend to cover Lao PDR and Viet Nam in early 2012.

The workshop was also supported by the UNDP International Law Project in collaboration with Project Childhood (Protection Pillar). UNODC and INTERPOL Project Coordinators and a World Vision representative presented an overview of their partnership and how each Pillar will deliver Project Childhood activities over the next three years to address the abuse of children by travelling child sex offenders.

A key workshop objective was to present findings from a UNODC legal review that examined current domestic legislative frameworks in Lao PDR as they apply to travelling child sex offenders. The report, an important Protection Pillar activity, determined whether Lao PDR law and legislative frameworks met international standards and obligations and addressed key issues such as child prostitution, sexual abuse of children, child pornography, child trafficking, child protection measures and International cooperation.

Ms. Viengvong Kittavong, Acting Director of the Treaties and Law Department of the Lao PDR Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chair of the event, welcomed the findings of UNODC's legal review. Ms. Kittavong recommended that a national focal point in Lao PDR be identified to work through the legal recommendations with the Protection Pillar team.