“The sexual exploitation of boys remains very hidden in Uruguay, but it exists and has different manifestations.”
– Diego Pailos, Coordinator at Gurises Unidos, an ECPAT member in Uruguay
In Uruguay, the past two decades have brought defining moments in the recognition and understanding of the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. Regulatory and institutional acknowledgements of this issue have paved the way for the creation of mechanisms to combat it. Amid these strides, numerous challenges remain on Uruguay’s journey to confront one of the most severe violations of human rights.
Gurises Unidos, an esteemed organisation with an unwavering commitment to protecting children and adolescents, has played a pivotal role in this transformative journey. The organisation’s practitioners and service providers have worked tirelessly to support the most vulnerable members of society who find themselves living in street situations—an alarming number of whom are boys.
“At first glance, Uruguay seems to feel exempt from dealing with certain child protection issues, maintaining the illusion that it is someone else’s problem and that it happens elsewhere,” Mr. Pailos observed, emphasising the need to confront this issue and address it head-on.
This is especially the case with the sexual exploitation of children and adolescent boys, with a strong tendency to dismiss its existence. However, research and fieldwork experience paint a different picture. A 2014 study conducted by Gurises Unidos revealed that 20% of sexual exploitation victims were boys—a statistic that has remained consistent over the years, as reported by the inter-institutional body CONAPEES.
While these figures align with existing gender stereotypes that place girls in a situation of greater vulnerability to sexual exploitation, Mr Pailos warned that “this should not overshadow the plight of boys and male adolescents who can also be victimised by this issue.”
Traditional concepts of masculinity discourage boys from acknowledging their emotions and expressing their feelings, hampering their ability to seek help when needed. This stereotype, which glorifies masculine attributes such as strength and self-sufficiency, renders boys invisible as potential victims who also require protection and support.
Gurises Unidos, however, takes a proactive stance. Through mobile outreach programmes in local communities, the organisation identifies and engages with boys in vulnerable situations. Tailoring their interventions to suit the unique needs and circumstances of each individual, Gurises Unidos ensures that no boy goes unnoticed and unsupported.
Recent years have seen Gurises Unidos channelling its efforts toward the development of action plans, covering prevention, awareness, detection, and intervention activities. With these plans, the organisation aims to raise awareness of the issue, secure legal recognition, establish stronger laws against sexual exploitation, and ultimately eliminate the sexual exploitation of children.
As Gurises Unidos continues to advance its work to better protect and support boys, their participation at the ECPAT Global Boys Summit proved to be a transformative and enriching experience. Through collaborative exchanges with practitioners from 30 countries, Gurises Unidos has been exposed to new tools and practices to improve their work with boys. Highlighting the significance of the Global Boys Summit, Mr. Pailos noted:
“We are certain that being part of a global movement that shares the same commitment, mission, and vision to defend the rights of children and adolescents is the road to travel together.”
ABOUT GURISES UNIDOS:
GURISES UNIDOS (“United Kids”) is a non-governmental organisation working for the protection of children’s rights. Since its beginning, Gurises Unidos has made it a priority to focus on the attention and care of socially vulnerable children, especially those on the streets. Improving children’s quality of life involves the formation of educational processes for social inclusion. To this end, Gurises Unidos works towards child-family and school-community integration; the management of resources and existing services; active participation of all local actors, especially children and adolescents; the creation and strengthening of local networks for child and teenager care; and it also carries out training workshops and courses for teachers, children and adolescents.
ABOUT THE GLOBAL BOYS INITIATIVE:
At the 2016 Global Survivors Forum organised by ECPAT International, male survivor-advocates of sexual exploitation explained that services for boys were extremely rare, and even where services may include boys in their work, there is limited focus on addressing the specific characteristics, experiences and supports required by boys.
In 2019 to delve into this, ECPAT co-authored an academic paper that looked at the global situation of sexual exploitation of boys. It showed that despite a growing global awareness that boys do experience sexual exploitation, and at greater rates than previously recognised, there is limited research available to fully tell this story.
As the programmatic responses to identify and meet the particular needs of boys are scarce, ECPAT International launched the Global Initiative to explore the sexual exploitation of boys which activates our global network of member organisations in a range of research and response activities.
Learn more about the Global Boys Initiative here.