By the 1970s, the legacy of the Indochina conflict, corruption, impunity – and in many cases – cultural acceptance of sex work had left much of Southeast Asia with burgeoning sex industries. However, as the region opened up to tourism in the 1980s, children were becoming involved in this industry – with often horrifying results.
There were several media reports that galvanized public opinion – such as cases of children burning to death because they had been chained to beds in brothels; children being sold by their parents in return for consumer goods; and multiple high profile unsolved child murders with a sexual element.
In 1990, a mixture of both religious and secular organizations met in the Thai city of Chiang Mai to start a campaign to protect Asian children from travelling child sex offenders using the name “End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism.” In 1997, those behind this campaign decided to formally turn it into an international NGO. The focus changed to the whole world – rather than just Asia – and the name was changed to “End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of children for sexual purposes.”
By the late 2000s however, those involved in child protection were becoming increasingly concerned that irresponsible or ill-informed use of terminology by media and others was trivializing and sensationalizing the issue, stigmatizing victims and making it difficult to raise awareness or change laws. A team of experts were brought in to identify and recommend consistent language for referring to child sexual abuse and exploitation.
The working group recommended that ECPAT and others involved in the field refrain from using terms that imply a child can consent to sex with an adult. They identified the use of the term “child prostitute” as problematic because it implies a transactional agreement.
The name of ECPAT was changed once again in 2017. We no longer use the full name, “End Child Prostitution and Trafficking” on official documents, but we keep the acronym “ECPAT” as our official name.
Today, ECPAT is the only international NGO network solely dedicated to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children. We have expanded to become a network of more than 100 member organizations in over 95 countries – dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children.