Training of Trainers to enhance police response in addressing child sexual exploitation in the Mekong

Bangkok (Thailand), 6 August 2013
- Although the sexual exploitation of children by travelling child-sex offenders remains prevalent in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, better collaboration between law enforcement officials across and within borders and stronger investigation and enforcement capacity is beginning to have a positive impact, say regional experts.

"In the analysis of chat logs, INTERPOL experts have said that child sex offenders are starting to say "stay out of Bangkok" and "stay out of Southeast Asia". The work police officers do everyday contributes to this," said Ms. Margaret Akullo, Project Coordinator, Project Childhood (Protection Pillar). "Police Officers have taken a stand, a stand that says we do not tolerate child sexual exploitation in our countries."

Ms. Akullo was speaking in Bangkok recently at a five-day training of trainers for police officers organized by Project Childhood (Protection Pillar), in partnership with UNODC, INTERPOL and World Vision.

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

Attended by officers from the four Project Childhood countries who work in crimes against children units, the workshop aimed to improve investigative skills and knowledge on child sexual exploitation cases. The training utilized the newly developed police-training curriculum, Investigating Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Despite the successes achieved by the GMS countries, participants noted that stopping the sexual exploitation of children by traveling sex offenders still required greater coordination and cooperation between GMS criminal justice agencies.

"The results of our collaborative efforts show that we need our friends from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam," said Pol. Col Dr. Surasak Laohapiboolkul, Instructor, Police Education Bureau of Thailand. "This forum can be the beginning of a new era for protecting sexually abused children in our region - if we continue to work together."

Trainers for the five-day session included Dr. Geeta Sekhon (UNODC expert and trainer on gender), Warren Bulmer (Canada), Bob Shilling (INTERPOL) and Jane Walsh (Australian Federal Police), all of whom are specialists in the area of crimes against children. Facilitation of the training event was provided by the INTERPOL Coordinator, Annethe Ahlenius.

"Cooperation is essential to do this job properly. It does no good if we chase an offender out of one country and into another," said INTERPOL's Mr. Shilling. "The more we cooperate and put these perpetrators behind bars, the better off everyone will be."

Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, highlighted the importance of a cooperative effort and the dissemination of training back to their countries.

"This is a significant milestone for Project Childhood (Protection Pillar)," said Mr. Douglas. "The training provides an excellent opportunity for officers to learn and share with other police colleagues, and to take what they learned from this event back with them and hold their own training sessions."

Curriculum topics included gender issues during police work, first response duties of frontline officers, analysis of evidence and images of child pornography, typologies of sex offenders, and cooperation in the investigation of these cases. Sexual exploitation of boys, a widely unrecognized crime, was also discussed by officers, who agreed that further work was required in this area.