Preventing Commercial Sexual Exploitation Of Pacific Children

This case study on Fiji was presented by Shamima Ali at the End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT) Conference which was held in Suva in June, 1998. The conference was attended by over 90 delegates from the Pacific region, including several Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women members. The purpose of the Conference was to discuss strategies to address the growing concern of child prostitution, trafficking and pornography in the Pacific.

Background

Although no national studies have been conducted, it would not be incorrect to assume that child sexual abuse is as prevalent in Fiji as it is anywhere else in the world. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) has provided a crisis counselling service for women and children who are survivors of physical, sexual and emotional violence, since we opened our doors in 1984. Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre statistics show that a total of 153 child abuse cases were seen by counsellors from Suva, Ba, Lautoka and Labasa from 1993 to May 1998. Of this, 103 cases involved sexual abuse and 50 were cases of physical abuse. Analysis of FWCC statistics shows that 3896 of sexual abusers were either biological fathers, grandfathers or stepfathers. 2396 the abusers were relatives and 32% were either family friends, neighbours, teachers, priests or boyfriends. Only 796 of the abusers were strangers. 59% of these cases were reported to the police.

FWCC statistics also show that an increasing number of cases that have come to FWCC, are also being reported to the police. Over the past four years the number of adult survivors who presented at FWCC have increased significantly. Fiji Police Force statistics from 1987 to 1996 show a total of 667 cases of defilement. It is difficult to determine whether the incidence of child sexual abuse is actually increasing or whether the increasing number of survivors of child sexual abuse cases seen at FWCC can be attributed to an increasing awareness of the issue.

These statistics are by no means an accurate reflection of the actual incidence of child sexual abuse in Fiji. As anywhere else, child sexual abuse is a highly under-reported crime. Fiji, like many other Pacific Island nations, has a strong emphasis on culture, and is bound by many religious and traditional constraints. The issue of sex is considered taboo and children are expected to be seen and not heard and child discipline often takes the form of physical abuse. There is a culture of silence surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse.

There is reluctance to report incidents either because of a fear of the legal process or the fear of being stigmatised for the sexual abuse.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children has been suspected to be a problem in Fiji for some time but it is on nowhere near the scale of the problem that exists in other countries. There is a fear that because of a crackdown on child trafficking and prostitution in Asia, that the market will be moving to the Pacific, where there are loopholes in the laws and where public awareness is not as widespread. The FWCC in fact reported the case of alleged paedophilia which is being heard in the courts at present, two years ago. The complaint was not taken seriously and the alleged paedophile was allowed to enter and leave the country with impunity. Poverty is a serious problem in Fiji. According to the Poverty Report published by UNDP in 1997, 25% of Fiji households are living below the poverty line. It is precisely this sort of economic climate that makes the children of Fiji vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, as can be evidenced by the paedophilia case currently on trial. The present Poverty Alleviation Schemes are insufficient to deal with the situation.

The services available for survivors of child sexual abuse are found to be extremely inadequate. There is no one in Fiji who is trained to counsel adult survivors of child sexual abuse. FWCC counsellors are increasingly frustrated by those who work in government, health, and welfare who should be recognising danger signals but are slow to do so due to lack of training, lack of staff and bureaucratic requirements. The establishment of the Inter- Agency Committee in 1993 meant that there was increasing inter-agency co-operation and case conferencing on child abuse cases but the agency is not functioning as well as it should be. The formation of the Children’s Co-ordinating Committee in 1994 following Fiji’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was to monitor the implementation of the CRC and to report to the United Nations on Fiji’s implementation of the CRC.

Community Education

There is an increasing public awareness on the issue of child sexual abuse which can be directly attributed to community education programmes run by rganisations such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and UNICEF. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre has been campaigning on the issue of child abuse since 1984. The community education process has included conducting workshops in rural and urban areas with NGOs, welfare officers, health workers, teachers, police, and community workers. FWCC responds to requests from many sectors of the community to give talks on the issue of child abuse. To date, requests have been received from an increasing number of primary and secondary schools, Parent/Teacher Associations, and tertiary institutions such as the Fiji School of Medicine, Fiji Institute of Technology and Fiji College of Advanced Education. FWCC also conducts awareness raising programs on the Schools Broadcasting Unit.

Other awareness raising mechanisms include participation in regular radio programmes in English, Fijian and Hindi, the publication of a quarterly local newsletter that is also translated into the 3 languages, television advertising campaigns, production of community education materials such as posters, stickers, bookmarks and calendars which are distributed through our crisis centre branches, during talks, seminars and workshops and through a network of contacts we have throughout Fiji. Intensive media campaigns involving the radio, newspaper and television, are usually conducted during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign.

In response to the recent paedophilia case that broke in Fiji in September 1997, and the increasing number of child sexual abuse cases seen at the crisis centres around Fiji, FWCC has targeted the issue of child abuse during the 16 Days of Activism campaign. In 1997, a Children’s Day was held in Suva to launch a series of community education material. A day-long community education day was held in Raiwaqa, and workshops and public forums on the issue were conducted in Lautoka and Labasa.

Community education material on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Situation Analysis on Children of Fiji is also produced and distributed by UNICEF who also participate in a children’s television program – Get Set – which is doing a lot to raise awareness on issues of concern to children including physical and sexual abuse.

Law Reform

Sexual offences against children are under-reported and under-sentenced. Legislation dealing with child sexual abuse in Fiji is inadequate. In Fiji the age of consent is 16 and there are specific provisions for girls under 13. The legislation regards defilement of a girl under 13 more severely than defilement of a girl between the ages of 13 and 16. A person who defiles a girl under 13 is liable to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment but this sentence is rarely given. Although a girl’s consent is not seen as a defence for defilement, if she is between 13 and 16 the offender can show that he had reasonable cause to believe that she was over 16 and therefore can be acquitted. The complainant’s physical appearance can be seen as a mitigating factor. If it can be shown that the complainants looks or behaviour could have led the accused to believe the girl was over 16, and the court agrees, this can be used as a defence. There have been several cases in Fiji where the issue of the girls consent seems to be seen as irrelevant in the face of her look/demeanour.

Other areas where the Fiji Penal Code is deficient when dealing with the sexual abuse of children is the requirement of corroboration, which often requires evidence of injuries sustained. Where there is no evidence of injuries, the lesser charge of defilement is seen as an easier way of obtaining a conviction. Sentences for child sexual abuse are minimal, with many offenders receiving suspended sentences which does not require that a sentence be served unless another offence is committed within a specified period.

Women’s human rights organisations such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre have always been very vocal in their advocacy and lobbying for the need to reform laws dealing with sexual assault. The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement has submitted a draft bill on Sexual Assault to the Fiji Law Reform Commission. Reforms are yet to be made. Apart from the inadequacy of the laws, the actual court process itself leaves a lot to be desired. Child sexual abuse cases are prosecuted in open courts. Screens have been introduced by the Director of Public Prosecutions Office, but this is at the discretion of the Magistrate or if the Prosecution specifically asks for it. Law reforms dealing with child sexual abuse have been very slow to emerge. Until very recently (24 December 1997) Fiji’s Penal Code did not have any provision for pornographic activity involving juveniles. Under this amendment, the Commissioner of Police is required to keep a register of all persons convicted of producing pornographic activity involving juveniles. Persons convicted for this offence for the first time may be fined up to $25,000.00 or imprisoned for up to 14 years. Re-offenders can be fined up to $50,000.00 or life imprisonment or both. This amendment to the Juvenile Act was only made following the recent case on trial.

Prevention Models

  • Law reforms
  • Campaigns, lobbying and advocacy for law reforms
  • Community education to raise public awareness on the issue so that people can understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse, be aware of warning signals that inicate that a child may be abused, and to understand why many children do not report sexual abuse.
  • Memorandum of understanding such as that between Australia and Fiji for joint action to combat child sexual abuse and other serious crimes.

Recommendations

  • The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre feels very strongly that all agencies and organisations that deal with children, including health workers, welfare workers, sexual offences units and law enforcement agencies need to co-operate and work together to combat child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
  • The Inter-agency Task Force needs to be revived to ensure regular case-conferencing between organisations such as the Department of Social Welfare, the Child Protection Unit, Sexual Offences Units, crisis centres and health workers. Training is needed to provide survivors of child abuse, including adult survivors, with appropriate counselling and long-term therapy.
  • Memorandums of understanding between all countries in the Asia/Pacific region to work together to deal with child trafficking, prostitution, pornography and all other forms of child sexual abuse.
  • Responsibility for addressing the issue child sexual exploitation must be extended to those working in the tourism industry, (hotel proprietors), night-club owners, travel agencies, and the Immigration Department.
  • Measures must be taken against local middle persons who are involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. These are people who would act as go-betweens between children and the abuser. In Fiji they would frequent night-clubs in search of young people who are vulnerable to the advances of paedophiles.
  • The need for media sensitivity when reporting on cases involving child sexual abuse – we have seen several instances where either the victim or her home is identified and therefore public knowledge.

Copyright © 2017. Fiji Women's Crisis Centre.