Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

Field Narratives: Echoing Children’s Voices

ECPAT International Annual Report 2022-2023

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 The narratives we unfold in this section are not just stories; they are living testaments to the strength of young souls and the transformative power of grassroots movements.

Each tale is an embodiment of the tireless efforts of our ECPAT members, rooted deep in communities around the world. Beyond the work of the secretariat, it is these all-too-often unsung heroes in the field who truly amplify the voices of children and make our mission resonate everywhere. 

“It took me a long time to decide whether to share my childhood experience. I was ashamed and scared. But I could help other children avoid being in the same situation, so I decided to speak out.”

A child participant of programs run by The End CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) Network Malaysia 

The Nepalese Survivor “Sunita” (not her real name)  

“Sunita” (not her real name), 14-year-old girl from Nepal, had an experience of being trafficked into sexual exploitation. Hailing from Nepal’s Karnali province, Sunita’s story offers a poignant narrative that underscores the urgent need to step up anti-trafficking efforts. Born into a middle-class family that did not have to struggle with daily expenses, she had successfully completed her Grade 8 education. Driven by her aspirations for quality education, she decided to continue her studies in Nepalgunj, a city renowned for its educational standards, as compared to the less developed areas in Karnali. With her family’s consent, she planned to reside at her aunt’s house while pursuing her education. However, upon her night-time arrival in Nepalgunj, she found herself disoriented, unable to recognise her surroundings, leading her to seek assistance from a rickshaw driver. That rickshaw driver kidnapped her and sold her into sexual exploitation. Heavily drugged and raped 10-15 times a day, Sunita had lost all hope. After a distressing period of unsuccessful searches by both the family and police, Shakti Samuha, a member of the ECPAT movement intervened. Collaborating with law enforcement, they successfully rescued Sunita and another captive from a hotel. Learning of the successful rescue, family expressed immense relief and gratitude; “we nearly left our hope, we used to go police station every day and used to come back home without an answer, now we are very happy.” 

Sunita’s story epitomises the dire need for vigilance against trafficking and the immeasurable value of community and law enforcement working in tandem.

“Memories of my past are that I am a person who dare not speak nor raise my voice because I feel like I’m still a little child. Thanks to the ECPAT Foundation that made me understand my rights and have the courage to stand up and talk about my rights or things that affect me.”

A child participant in a children’s empowerment project run by ECPAT Foundation Thailand 

“Praew” (not her real name) from Thailand: 

Praew (not her real name), a girl from Northern Thailand, was placed in a residential care facility in Chiang Rai when she was just 13. The community she originally resided in faced many risks, including child sexual exploitation, violence, and drug addiction among adults and teenagers. Recognising the situation’s urgency, the Empowering Children Project—facilitated by ECPAT Foundation Thailand—stepped in. 

Initially, Praew was a timid young girl who felt overshadowed by her more eloquent peers in the residential facility and was initially reluctant to voice her opinions on matters. Her participation in the Empowering Children Project, however, catalysed a remarkable transformation. A series of skill-building workshops designed by ECPAT Foundation Thailand equipped Praew with a nuanced understanding of children’s rights, self-protection techniques against exploitation, and leadership skills. 

Her metamorphosis did not stop there. Over time, Praew became an advocate for child protection, especially in the realm of online activities. Having gained robust knowledge from ECPAT’s initiatives, Praew is now a confident young woman who diligently applies privacy settings during her online interactions and educates her peers about the importance of online safety. 

“I gained knowledge that I will use every day. I am so happy and love you guys so much. Once again, thank you, ECPAT Thailand”

A child reflecting on the work of ECPAT Thailand aiming to prevent violence for children in times of disaster. 

Sofia (not her real name), A Troubled Journey from Chile 

Growing up in a fractured family in Santiago, Chile, Sofia’s (not her real name) childhood was fraught with economic struggles and emotional neglect. A lack of supervision at home, coupled with incessant bullying at school, led her down a distressing road of loneliness and self-harm. Sofia’s life took a dark turn when she was exposed to substance abuse and street socialisation, at just 13, Sofia became a victim of Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE), and internal trafficking by 14. Her situation worsened with increased substance misuse.

After being detected as a victim of trafficking, swift action was taken to rescue Sofia and refer her to support services. With the support of ONG Raíces, an ECPAT member in Chile, Sofia received comprehensive legal, psychological, and medical support. The organisation also played a pivotal role in helping Sofia secure housing, sign up for training programmes, and seek affordable healthcare.  

Today, Sofia has commenced her fourth year of secondary school, working towards her dream of becoming a beautician. Her story is a testament to the importance of comprehensive support services, underscoring the need to ensure that no one is left behind in the ongoing battle against child trafficking. 

“They spoke with a smile, gently, softly… They listened, explaining that I was not being arrested and had not done wrong… So, I wasn’t so scared.”

A child reflecting on how the work of ECPAT member APLE in Cambodia who helped them reach out for justice and recovery

Zoe (not her real name) from Peru: A Story of Resilience 

Zoe’s (not her real name) transformative journey from a victim of human trafficking to a resilient individual aspiring for a brighter future is a motivation for us all. Zoe, rescued from human trafficking in 2020, was the beneficiary of multifaceted support services provided by ECPAT member CHS Alternativo. Though reintegration has been a slow and challenging process, Zoe’s spirit has never waned. Living in a household barely sustained by her father’s sporadic employment as a bricklayer, her ambitions to elevate her circumstances remain unshaken. She has received specialised legal guidance and psychosocial counselling, empowering her. Zoe’s participation in carefully designed workshops has further bolstered her reintegration process, augmenting her employability and entrepreneurial skills. With the aid of financial backing for her academic fees, she is diligently pursuing a Nursing qualification. Balancing academics with the responsibility of caring for her youngest son, Zoe has been actively seeking temporary employment opportunities. Her growing sense of responsibility and unwavering commitment to her life goals bear testament to the efficacy of intervention strategies. As Zoe herself says, “Feeling the support of CHS Alternativo motivates me to envision a future that extends far beyond my present circumstances—towards educational attainment, financial independence, and personal growth.” 

“Every word is important. It should be supportive and embrace differences. Please understand the child from different angles and end stigmatization and stereotypes against children, as every child is different and deserves to be treated well.”

A child participant of programs run by The End CSEC Network Malaysia 

Drawing from the grassroots, our ECPAT members have amplified the voices of children, turning their narratives into powerful testaments of resilience and hope.

These are not just stories, but guiding lights, illuminating the path we tread in our relentless pursuit. They underscore the profound significance of education, intervention, and sustained advocacy. Grounded in the very communities they serve; these tales reaffirm the pivotal role our members play. As we reflect upon their stories, we are reminded that our mission, echoed by these brave voices, is one of unity and purpose: ensuring a childhood untouched by exploitation.

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“Being a survivor is about learning to cope. I’m a survivor because I’m still here. It is hard to be a survivor. I put so much effort into it and people. You need to have some sort of passion in life. I have a passion to live.”

– Ally, survivor