Empowerment of child victims and children at risk of sexual exploitation, A literature review

* By Nikoleta Lydaki Simantiri, researcher on child sexual exploitation

In January 2016, the Down to Zero Alliance started implementing a 5-year programme to jointly address the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in 11 countries in Asia and Latin America. The Alliance is a collaboration between Terre des Hommes Netherlands, Defence for Children-ECPAT, Free a Girl, ICCO and Plan Netherlands, with sponsorship from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For more: http://downtozeroplatform.com/dtz/site/index.

The programme aims to end CSEC by empowering child victims and children at risk in targeted communities by ensuring protective environments exist for these children.

The literature review, written in June 2018, concentrates on the literature of the last 15 years on the topic of empowerment of children and young people who are affected by sexual exploitation, aiming to provide the current state of the art on the issue, while answering the main learning question of the Alliance: “what are effective child empowerment strategies, taking into account age and gender?

Empowerment of child victims and children at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has been defined by the review as the process or/and outcome by which child victims and children at risk of CSE have gained control over their lives and power to exit the situation of sexual exploitation, make strategic life choices, effect change and carry on with their lives. Empowerment strategies allow children to feel safe, be aware of CSE related matters, develop confidence, strengthen their competences, support their peers and become active agents of change; therefore, be empowered.

Children and young people are the most important resource in the fight against CSE, as they are the ones who are most affected. They have imagination, knowledge, experience and motivation to move out of exploitative situations. Hence, empowerment is their ally against this fight and effective empowerment strategies their weapons.

The review found in the literature methods that allow victim identification and disclosure of CSE, as well as discussions and actions specifically against CSE, and help children develop agency and a sense of control over their lives. These methods have been presented as empowerment strategies and include successful engagement with practitioners, life skills training and youth participation. Youth participation programmes are particularly empowering, since, implementing the children’s right to be heard and influence decisions in matters of concern to them, such as CSE, grant children an important role in shaping the services that are designed to support them, by being involved in their care and supporting their peers.

The process of empowerment is unique for every child, as is the experience of CSE. Age, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, ethnicity, faith, family background, relationship to the perpetrator, context and severity of the abuse, as well as level of personal resilience and availability of support, are all factors that determine each case of CSE and what empowerment strategies should be applied. Empowerment strategies are not standardised procedures but adapted on an individual basis, they can thus take into account children’s identities, such as age and gender, as well as their needs, capacities and potential.

For access to the literature review, please contact Nikoleta Lydaki Simantiri