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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Human Rights Issue- Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Universally, human rights are fundamental privileges to which all people have claim. As they are automatic entitlements to each individual who is simply a member of humankind, governments cannot grant nor withdraw human rights from anyone. Good afternoon teachers and distinguished guests. Human rights are reflections of the values of society, with the focal purpose of human rights laws being to set the public standards of what is and what is not acceptable treatment towards individuals, as perceived by society on the domestic and international levels.
            Although human rights are expected to be automatic entitlements to all individuals, sadly this is not always the case. For instance, one specific international human rights issue is the commercial sexual exploitation of children or CSEC. The term CSEC covers various activities that exploit children for their commercial value, including child sex tourism, child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. CSEC exists to some degree in every society. Recently there has been a rapid expansion of CSEC making it a problem of global proportions. Disturbing statistics continue to reflect this reality for instance, according to the UN around 10 million children around the world are being exploited. The causes are complex and include greed, poverty, discrimination, lack of education, gross inequality and war. Children's age, their nature and often their dependence on adults make them especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
            The Declaration on the Rights of the Child adopted in 1959, was the first UN statement devoted exclusively to the rights of children. It wasn’t until 1989, that a legally binding, Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN, which sets the standards to which all governments must aspire in realizing children’s rights. It is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights and is the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history, being ratified by every country in the world except two. By ratifying this instrument, national governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community.
            Built on varied legal systems and cultural traditions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations. It protects children's rights by setting standards in health care, education and legal, civil and social services. These standards are benchmarks against which progress can be assessed. States that are party to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child.
            Two Optional Protocols entered into force in early 2002, on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, were also adopted to strengthen the provisions of the Convention in these areas.
            Furthermore, the UN, in 1946 established UNICEF, an organisation committed to improving the basic health and living conditions of the world’s children. In August 1996, more than 1,200 delegates from 119 countries attended the first World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children.
   So where does Australia fit in terms of the global human rights infrastructure? Well unlike other major developed countries, Australia has no concrete bill or charter of rights, however it still holds strong piecemeal protections found within the legal system, such as the Australian Constitution, Common and Statue law as well as International obligations.
In terms of modern human rights, which also incorporates principles of childrens rights, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 is fairly limited. However, one crucial element that it does contain is in section 51 of the External Affairs Power. Within Australia, human rights legislation is state (not federal) jurisdiction; which means that the Commonwealth Government has no explicit legislative power over human rights. Under section 51, however, federal legislation has the power to overrule any state legislation, so that any international law implemented into the federal law consequently assumes state legislation. In this way, international law has a direct impact on the lives of Australians.

Furthermore, if an individual feels that his or her rights have been violated by the state, in NSW they may seek the assistance of the Anti-Discrimination Board to lodge the complaint, and in cases where discrimination has been found, may receive compensation. There is also the option of going to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commissioner, who can investigate the human rights issue, and if a contravention is found, the Commission may prepare a report and table it in Federal Parliament. Finally, where there are no effective Australian human rights protections or remedies, or where all municipal remedies are exhausted, an individual may lodge a complaint with a specialist United Nations human rights committee. The committees can investigate the claims and request the Australian Governments response. These are not legally binding, however they do have much moral and persuasive force. 

In addition, the Child Protection Enforcement Agency was established in July 1996 and is part of the NSW Police Service. It is the main investigative body that investigates serial child sexual assault, whilst also addressing child pornography, both of which are areas that have not yet been adequately addressed. However, in 1998 reformed laws were introduced into NSW parliament which would make the maximum penalty for the possession of child pornography 12 months to 2 years imprisonment, whilst the maximum penalty for publishing child pornography would be between 12 months to 5 years.     

   The value of international human rights law lies almost entirely on how it is implemented into the domestic law. In 1988 the Bangalore Principles officially established that international law does not automatically assume domestic law unless integrated specifically into municipal legislation. So although Australia has accepted most of the major United Nations conventions, ratifying an excess of 900, which includes the  Convention on the rights of the child, Australia has no legal obligations to abide by them. Where Australia upholds international principles, is due to the recognition that there are common and universal human values that need to be protected domestically. They have upheld their commitment to a certain degree by introducing legislation such as the Child Sex Tourism Act as well as amendments to the Crimes Act, all in an attempt to protect and promote the rights of children and help rectify the issue of CSEC, hoping that other countries will follow.

   The issue of CSEC still exists and is a growing concern. By 1990, increased international awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale of children led the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to create the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, whereby the mandate-holder is required to investigate the exploitation of children around the world and to submit reports on the findings to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, making recommendations for the protection of the rights of the children concerned. Despite the existence of such measures to help promote the rights of children in Australia and around the world and resolve issues of child exploitation, there continues to be a lack of implementation and enforcement. Just because these measures exist does not denote effectiveness because many may be unaware of the existence of such measures and options, particularly children who have a great reliance on adults. The difficulty remains to be that family and friends are the cause of almost 80% of cases in which children are abused and exploited. Neither statutory or non statutory measures to help aid the issue of commercial exploitation of children can be effective until such measures can be easily understood and accessible by children.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that human rights carry no weight unless people know them, unless people understand them, and unless people demand that they be lived. How can we ever demand that human rights be lived, if so many have no voice?

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