The issue: Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Bogotá
Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) continues to be a significant problem in Colombia. Between 2011 and 2013 Colombian Social Services removed 2,135 children from situations where they were being sold for sex. 45% were under 11 years old. Organisations working in this field have estimated that over 35,000 children are involved in CSEC in Colombia but large numbers of cases go unreported.
Bogota has some of the highest levels of CSEC in the country, and Santa Fe and Martires are two of the zones in Bogotá with the highest levels of CSEC. It is believed that the risks are so high there because of the very visible presence of sex workers. Santa Fe is a designated ‘tolerance zone’ where sex workers are permitted to operate without prosecution and can be seen in large numbers at all hours of the day.
This means that just on their way to and from school children pass groups of sex workers, and people who pay for sex, on the streets. The police rarely enter these neighbourhoods, as a result of which there are also high levels of gang activity and drugs. Children and young people living in these areas are therefore extremely vulnerable to CSEC and other forms of physical and sexual abuse.
How ACJ Bogota is addressing this issue
ACJ Bogotá works with children, young people, families, schools and local community members to protect children from CSEC.
What does the project do?
Children Change Colombia began working with ACJ Bogotá in 2016 to reduce children’s risks of abuse. 120 children from these communities are learning about the different forms that CSEC can take and what to do if threatened by it. They also learn that CSEC is not normal but a violation of their rights, and that they are not to blame if they experience it.
Young adults who are already involved in sex work/sexual exploitation are also participating in activities to help them gain the confidence to escape it, find other ways to earn money, and where necessary to provide support to their own children. In addition to this, ACJ is working in nearby schools to raise awareness of CSEC among students and teachers, and to make sure that teachers know what they should do to protect children.
To encourage long-term protection of children, community members, including street vendors and shopkeepers, are taking part in activities to raise their awareness of CSEC, enabling them to identify it when they see it happening and encouraging them to take action to stop it.
Case Study: Sandra's story
"My story is a hard one to tell. After my parents separated when I was 11 years old, a friend of theirs sexually abused me. I got pregnant but lost the baby after a few months. Shortly after, I ran away from home and started dealing and taking drugs. I had two children but their father left me to raise them without any money or any support. I felt there was no other option – I started working as a prostitute.
It was then that ACJ approached me and started to help me. Before I enrolled in their project, my children stayed indoors all day because I was too afraid for them to go out and play on the streets. Now, they participate in workshops which teach them how to avoid sexual exploitation and drugs. They are a lot happier and so am I as I know they will have a much better childhood and life than I did.
I have also been participating in ACJ's project for one year. With the support, guidance and opportunities they have given me, I have finally managed to leave sex work. I am now studying and thanks to the family workshops, I am now much more committed to my children. These workshops have reassured me and helped me gain access to my rights, participate in beauty training and made me realise I want a fresh start in life. I am looking for a job to provide a better future and life for me and my children."
Thank you for your interest in this project
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