Auckland, August 14, 2020
Pacific attracts paedophiles from countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Coordinator Shamima Ali has said.
Exploitation of children in the Pacific rears its ugly head in many forms. This includes child sexual exploitation and pornography, child domestic work, child soldiers, the recruitment and involvement of children in armed conflict; the use of children for criminal activities including the sale and distribution of narcotics and the involvement of children in harmful or hazardous work.
I decided to explore child sexual exploitation in the Pacific a little deeper and interviewed Ms Ali.
National Survey data
Commercial sexual exploitation of children is the Pacific is very real but is very hidden in Fiji.
Data from the national survey 2011 shows that 16% of women surveyed were sexually abused as children before age of 15.
“We believe there are higher rates applicable to Fiji and the rest of the Pacific,” Ms Ali said.
‘Pacific Women Against Violence Against Women,’ a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), of which she is a member, shares data regarding sexual abuse across 13 Pacific countries.
Study shows that commercial sexual exploitation of children is very high in the Solomon Islands as well as in Papua New Guinea.
Child sex tourism is prevalent in the Pacific and the perpetrators are mainly from countries such as Australia and New Zealand and some parts of Europe such as Germany.
Poverty, a major factor
Ms Ali said that a lot of it has to do with poverty.
The main victims are children from poverty stricken families and homes where there is violence. Street children, both girls and boys, are also targets of commercial sex exploitation.
Street children are very vulnerable and have often run away from home because of abuse.
Families also act as pimps and agents.
Ms Ali said that this problem is prevalent in Fiji.
Reports over the years show that men prostitute their wives and daughters including girls between the ages of 9 and 11 years.
She cited a Police case in which a group of men and women in Fiji were luring young girls from homes with problems into a life of prostitution. This case has been dragging on for the past six years due to issues such as parents dropping charges.
Ms Ali said that paedophiles have lot of money and they often settle in Fiji and become part of the community. They support schools and people shut up whilst the paedophiles throw money around.
‘White is Right’ mentality
She said that Fiji still harbours a “white is right mentality”, and that people in Fiji are naïve and do not suspect paedophilia and even when they do become suspicious they don’t do anything.
Many in the tourism industry throughout the Pacific are among the commercial sex exploiters of children. The other industries include mining, logging and fishing. This is common in the Solomon Islands where the victims are sold to miners and loggers as partners to older men. The victims are as young as 10 years old.
In Fiji, children are sold to the crews on Asian fishing boats.
Ms Ali said that the laws around child rape has grown stronger in Fiji over the last few years and reporting of sexual abuse has also increased.
“However, implementation of child protection laws are still poor and there are a lot of things lacking in the Pacific region,” she said.
Citing an example, she said that social welfare officials and volunteers are unable to do their job properly as they are under resourced, under funded and over worked.
And in many Pacific countries there are no homes to look after victimised children.
Ms Ali said that there are several homes in Fiji, one of which is run by the NGO Homes of Hope, that works with victims of forced sex. However they are also under resourced.
Child rape problem
Child rape is also difficult to report as 80 % of the offenders are known to the child victim and 50% of those are family members.
“We love having children. Their protection is low priority. People don’t talk about child sex abuse,” Ms Ali said.
She said that by way of solution and protection of children, there needs to be better resources from the government, a need to streamline laws and training for Police and organisations involved in child welfare.
According to Ms Ali, there is also a growing need for increased awareness and policies that alleviate poverty. “Educational institutions and those in the tourism industry should address this issue and people should stop being bystanders. There is a dire need of regional organisations to monitor human rights and child rights in the Pacific,” she said.
She said that organisations such as ‘Save the Children Fund’ focus on education rights.
“We lack an organisation that looks at sexual exploitation of children. FWCC works on awareness and counselling of children who are sexually abused and raped. They also refer victims of commercial sexual exploitation to Homes of Hope,” Ms Ali said.
Rowena Singh is a freelance journalist, photographer and videographer. She lives in Auckland. Email: Rowena.Singh2017@gmail.com