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

Spotlight on Success: Programmatic Highlights of the Year

ECPAT International Annual Report 2022-2023

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In an era marked by sweeping global changes, the commitment to protecting children has never been more critical.

ECPAT International stands at the forefront of this pivotal mission, spearheading a variety of robust initiatives designed to usher in a new paradigm of child protection and empowerment. This summary provides a comprehensive overview of four cornerstone programmes, each a testament to ECPAT’s audacious vision and actionable change-making.

  • Global Boys Initiative: A groundbreaking programme that shatters taboos and catalyses action against the sexual exploitation of boys, fuelled by global to local insights and actionable strategies. 
  • Child Protection and Technology: This transformative initiative orchestrates multi-sectoral efforts to build a safe and secure digital landscape for children, based on progressive legislative changes and new protective frameworks. 
  • Child Protection in Travel and Tourism: Through powerful alliances and innovative approaches, ECPAT is shifting the landscape of child protection within the travel and tourism sector, enhancing enforcement of legal and policy frameworks, private sector engagement and awareness. 
  • The Code: Expanding its mandate, The Code has evolved into a comprehensive instrument for engagement of the travel and tourism industry stepping up member due diligence processes, communication, and operational efficiency. 

Having set the scene with our overarching vision, let us delve deeper into the first program, the Global Boys Initiative. Its local-global nexus is a pioneering initiative that catalyses meaningful change. 

Global Boys Initiative

ECPAT International’s Global Boys Initiative (GBI) is a groundbreaking undertaking that has galvanised action to address the often-ignored issue of sexual exploitation and abuse of boys. Rooted in a democratic ethos, ECPAT emphasises listening to local voices to inform global practices, setting a new standard in social impact work. The shift from research to actionable insights has particularly empowered practitioners in their direct work with boys. 

Pioneering efforts culminating in our global event in Morocco have shattered cultural taboos and set the stage for future advocacy, while innovative projects in Bolivia and Uruguay have brought heightened national focus to the issue. Notable among these success stories is Lloyd Bock of Namibia, who, inspired by ECPAT’s programme, founded Windhoek’s first boy and young men-led organisation. This captures the transformative power of ECPAT’s programmes on individual lives. 

The organisation does not shy away from multi-sectoral collaboration, demonstrated by a pivotal roundtable on child protection in the online gaming environment in London, leading to complex prevention and response strategies. Yet challenges remain—taboos surrounding the subject, concerns that the focus on boys might overshadow gender-based violence issues, and the scarcity of organisations focusing on this area. But ECPAT tackles these challenges head-on, incorporating inclusive and innovative approaches, like exploring how online gaming can serve as a safe space for all children including boys. 

ECPAT’s future strategy is as ambitious as it is pragmatic. It encompasses outcomes from the Global Boys Summit, new partnerships, and a robust communications blueprint, underpinned by fundraising for pilot initiatives employing gender-sensitive, trauma-informed approaches. The plan embodies the dynamic and nuanced nature of the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse, with room for adaptability to emerging needs and opportunities. 

ECPAT’s work extends beyond mere advocacy—it represents a movement for transformative change that encourages everyone to contribute. Our Global Boys Initiative is not merely a campaign; it is a purposeful journey towards a future where every boy’s voice is heard and respected. This initiative serves dual purposes: firstly, it addresses child sexual exploitation and abuse issues by focusing on boys, often an overlooked demographic. Secondly, it aims to challenge and deconstruct harmful gender norms and traditional ideas of masculinity, thereby contributing to the transformation of gender roles and relations within communities. In doing so, the initiative also aspires to reduce all forms of violence, including gender-based violence. As we move forward, the path is clear, and the future beckons—will you join us on this vital journey?

Building on the momentum set by the Global Boys Initiative, our Child Protection and Technology programme takes a similar multi-faceted approach but shifts the spotlight onto the digital arena. This is where technology and moral imperatives converge.

In 2023, ECPAT’s Child Protection and Technology program stood as a transformative force from advocating for legislative changes in the EU (European Union), to supporting the establishment of protective frameworks in Southeast Asia and engaging partners across the world to identify gaps in our collective response. This global initiative was not only about technological measures; it was a collaboration of multi-sectoral efforts aimed at understanding the role that technology plays in facilitating harm as well as protecting children in the digital age. 

Central to the program was Project Beacon, which exemplified ECPAT’s vision by coordinating civil society advocacy. In Europe, ECPAT not only deepened its collaboration with its members at the EU level but also significantly engaged with national members and numerous other civil society organisations. This collective effort has solidified ECPAT’s position as an authoritative voice in shaping national and European policies to combat online child exploitation. They also elevated survivors’ narratives during a week of action in March, transforming individual experiences into a collective call for change. This goal was also reflected in ECPAT’s chairing of the Internet Governance Forum’s Dynamic Coalition on Children’s rights in the Digital Environment, and in crucial collaborations with corporate partners. Initiatives included a partnership with Scotiabank led to pilot projects that flagged suspicious transactions in Peru, revealing the enormous potential for impact of private sector engagement in child protection. 

While the journey had its obstacles in the face of a rapidly expanding and diversifying response ecosystem, ECPAT navigated them adeptly, seeking collaboration to optimise collective impact. Webinars, expert roundtable sand working groups were deployed to forge efficiency and collaboration, ensuring that internal challenges were turned into opportunities for improvement. 

As for the future, ECPAT is poised for sustained advocacy in the EU and beyond, identifying unique contributions to safety and protection in the digital landscape. Research and strategic partnerships signify a long-term commitment to evolve with the challenges and opportunities that come with technological advancements. In 2023, ECPAT continued and expanded the scope of its expert contributions to national, regional, and international processes aimed at creating a safe, secure, and empowering online space for children to thrive.  

The program is more than a list of accomplishments; it is a testament to what can be achieved through collective effort. It validates the belief that every child saved from sexual exploitation is a step towards realising our vision of a world free from sexual exploitation of children and every advancement in policy or technology is a promise to future generations. In sum, ECPAT’s work in 2023 was not a conclusion but a prologue to a future where technology serves a partner in ensuring the rights of children in the digital environment.

Continuing in this vein of transformative action, our next focus, the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism initiative, examines the intersection between global mobility and child vulnerability. Here, advocacy translates to real-world impact. 

Child Protection in Travel and Tourism

In the past year, ECPAT International has emerged as a transformative force in advancing child protection within the travel and tourism sectors. Through collaborative engagements with key UN bodies, we have contributed significantly to the development of forthcoming UN reports. While not authored by us, these reports, which focus on child protection in the context of travel and tourism, draw extensively from our expertise—particularly in nuanced areas like voluntourism. 

Our relentless advocacy efforts are reshaping the legal and policy landscape. The introduction of robust tools, such as our Legal Checklist, has proven indispensable for guiding the governments on how to improve child protection laws and policies. These resources act as vital roadmaps for both governments and the private sector, catalysing the adoption of stronger protective frameworks.

However, law alone cannot suffice. Collaboration and education are imperative. The analysis of the responses from Child Protection Risk Assessment Tool has flagged areas where the travel and tourism sectors lag, underscoring the imperative for ongoing private sector engagement measures. Some forms of unregulated voluntourism, while well-intentioned, can inadvertently put children at risk, including sexual exploitation. To mitigate this, ECPAT has spearheaded critical dialogues and developed comprehensive guidelines to help stakeholders identify and address potential risks. The aim is to engrain child protection as a foundational ethos in responsible and sustainable tourism practices. 

The urgency of our mission has been amplified by the challenges of the post-pandemic, demanding an agile and adaptive approach. Our strategy remains expansive and focused on priority areas. Plans include advocating for fortified legal and policy systems, supporting private sector engagement, and empowering children and local communities, exemplified by our efforts to engage children in building sustainable tourism in Costa Rica and Ecuador. This involves addressing the interplay between digital landscapes and child protection, recognising that technology can be both a threat and a solution. 

In conclusion, ECPAT International is committed to creating a world where travel and tourism uplifts communities while ensuring the safety of children. We extend an open invitation for you to join this vital cause. Your contributions, whether financial, practical, or intellectual, can accelerate our collective impact. 

The responsibility for child protection in travel and tourism is collective. Together, we can forge a future where children are not just seen but heard, and their rights are respected. 

Finally, but by no means least, let us explore The Code, as an initiative adapting to emerging trends, while retaining a travel and tourism industry engagement mission to achieve lasting impact. 

The Code

The year has been focused on three core areas: improving the understanding of member’s needs, enhancing communication, dialogue and consultations between companies and the civil society organisations, and optimising operational efficiency. 

We have fortified communication channels amongst corporate members, civil society organisations acting as Local Code Representatives (LCRs), and The Code Secretariat. The Code’s operations improvements ensure it serves as a valuable technical tool for its community in an evolving travel and tourism environment.  

A consultative approach has yielded an actionable, community-backed plan and resulted in more direct technical support to corporate members, particularly in implementing The Code six pivotal criteria, including the voluntourism policy. Furthermore, global events like ITB Berlin and ITB India provided platforms for advocacy on responsible and sustainable tourism that prioritises child protection. 

Looking ahead, our future objectives focus on amplifying the uptake of the voluntourism policy, enriching member resources, covering new sectors and strengthening others such as transportation and geographically expanding our mission. We invite you to join this transformative journey.

As we step into a new era of child protection and advocacy, ECPAT International calls upon each one of you to contribute to this urgent mission. Whether you are a policymaker, a corporate entity, or an individual, your support is invaluable. 

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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