Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population

CHILDREN: Venezuela Struggles with Child Prostitution

Humberto Marquez

CARACAS, Aug 23 1996 (IPS) - A lack of resources and co-ordination between institutions are stalling projects dealing with the sexual exploitation of children, said head of the State Children’s Institute, Nancy Montero.

A report produced by the Institute said 40,000 Venezuelan children aged between eight and 17 years old are affected by prostitution – 22 percent of these male – in a nation of 22 million people where 1.6 million children are forced to work for a living.

The non-governmental Community Apprenticeship Centre said that in 1995 there were at least 206,000 children working in tasks providing marginal incomes, 14 percent of these (29,000) in prostitution.

Venezuela is therefore looking forward hopefully to the 115 nation World Conference on the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm, from Aug. 27 to 31, Montero told IPS.

This meeting will produce an action plan to deal with the issue worldwide.

Montero said they were preparing to call for “an urgent reinforcement of comprehensive integrated and intersectoral measures and strategies, so that national plans of action can be established.

“We are short of resources, but also of coordination and joint pressure against the public institutions which work in supporting children, as well as between them and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs),” she said.

Montero hoped “the conclusions from Stockholm will be considered by the members of parliament in the (children’s) law,” which could be completed in Venezuela this year.

She said resources were too few, “we deal with 364,000 children in different programmes with a budget of only 32 million dollar,” a number which includes 20,000 child and adolescent offenders.

In the war on the sexual exploitation of children, the Institute “dealt with 180 children taken in for prostitution in 1994, 200 in 1995 and 172 in the January to May period of 1996.”

The increase “does not necessarily mean the sexual exploitation of children is spreading, but rather that the Institute’s programmes,” based on aspects of social help and psychological support, have advanced, she said.

The children dealt with by the Institute, and the 39 private groups and NGOs who work alongside them, are generally found by people who work in preventative policing in streets, bars and brothels.

Some also arrive on their own, are sent by their families, or are reported by the community, like in the recent case of the industrial zone of Aragua, west of Caracas, where a brothel containing nearly a hundred children was disbanded.

The Institute document contains the testimonies of many children, like the 17 year-old girl who came to Caracas from the petrol producing west against the will of her family, who are very poor, but who no longer complain about how she makes the money she sends to them.

Then there is the young girl employed as a receptionist in an office, who works as a prostitute to boost her low salary, “I do it from time to time, because what I earn in the office is not enough,” she said.

Out of every 100 children affected by prostitution in Venezuela, 40 live in dire poverty, 40 in relative poverty, while only 20 percent have their basic needs covered. The percentages are similar accross the entire Venezuelan population.

Francisco Estert from the NGO Fundaici, which deals with children in difficult circumstances, said “prositution is associated with the crisis, and the economic and social problems,” though there are young people with no great economic problems who try to earn extra money this way.

Sexual exploitation, he said, generally happens to children from dysfunctional or difficult home backgrounds, and appears to be linked to physical or psychological mistreatment. Nearly all the children studied “come from abusive families.”

The draft action plan for the Stockholm congress stresses the need for national prevention programmes to offer at-risk children access to education and health services, information and the defence of their rights.

It also asks the governments to “formalise or reinforce and implement economic and social problems including gender issues, to help the children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, their families and their communities.”

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