Sexual Exploitation of Children Assailed

Vatican Delegate Points to Poverty and Family Breakdown

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YOKOHAMA, Japan, DEC. 24, 2001 ( Sexual abuse involving children is a criminal act that demands «more political will» to battle it at the international level, a Vatican representative told a conference.

The second World Congress Against the Commercial Exploitation of Children, was held in Yokohama from Dec. 17-21. The Holy See´s delegation to the congress was headed by Janne Haaland Matlary.

In her address, Matlary emphasized that children «have a right to an innocent childhood. Children are by nature lovely, innocent, and trusting of adults, yet some of them are today increasingly robbed of their very childhood. They are preyed upon by media, market forces, and people who exploit them sexually.»

«Both trafficking in women and children, sex tourism, and child pornography on the Internet have increased enormously since the first conference on the commercial exploitation of children in Stockholm in 1996,» Matlary continued. «The combination of an amoral free market and sexual decadence, and poverty and weak family structures explain this shocking truth.»

In the view of the Holy See, «there can be no tolerance of commercial exploitation of children, either in the name of free expression or free choice,» she added.

«Children are never consenting sexual partners; they are always victims,» the Vatican representative said. «We must be attentive to any attempt to relativize the crimes here committed. Sexual abuse is evil, a criminal act, and punishable. We must gather much more political will to combat these crimes against our weakest, and we must strengthen both international law, instruments of extradition and extraterritoriality.»

She continued: «The sexualization of childhood, driven by market forces, contributes to robbing children of their natural innocence. The presentation of sex as something normal at an ever earlier age, also leads to a sexualization of childhood which in turn invites abusers and may even allow them to seek normalization and legitimacy of their crimes.»

The Vatican representative said that «the combination of poverty and weak family relations often explains why children are involved in sex tourism or become the victims of trafficking.»

«Poverty must and can be combated through more development aid,» she said. «Here both international organizations and local communities must have a say. The shameful sex tourism in many developing countries must be combated on the supply side as well as on the demand side.

«The poor family in the developing world can and must be helped, and the clients-exploiters can and must be detected and punished effectively through international legal cooperation. Here promising developments involving extraterritorial legality are important. Both sex tourism and Internet child pornography are global phenomena, and must be combated with truly global political weapons.»

Matlary underlined the importance of the family: «Only in the family can the child have the necessary protection against a predatory society that does not have the best interest of the child in mind. We must now face up to the fact that not only are poor children from failed or poor nations abused, but also children from the very heart of Western society, with its affluence and consumer richness. There is a major moral crisis at hand.»

«Family breakdown and weakening happens, while society becomes more predatory in the area of sexuality,» she added. «As research shows, child abusers are not only pedophiles, but also adolescents and adults who have a thwarted view of sexuality. The combination of sex and violence in media, entertainment, and the normalization of sexual experimentation easily lead to perversions that involve abuse not only of women, but of children.»

«Once we see human beings as objects, once we forget that they have been created by God with an unalienable dignity, they can simply be used and abused,» the Vatican representative continued. «Sexual abuse of children is the logical extreme of such a view of the human being. Therefore, we must analyze the root causes of this crime while at the same time we must fight its occurrence in all the various ways suggested in the draft plan of action. We must do so with more vigor and greater political will.»

Matlary welcomed «the great effort made to bring this work forward by the combined effort of UNICEF, the government of Japan, and all the parties present at this conference. The Holy See will do its part, according to its specific nature and competence, to combat the evil of commercial sexual abuse of children, a crime that must never be compromised with or excused.»

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