Date: Mon, 18 Sep 1995 12:59:53 -0400
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## date : 15.09.95

UNESCO Supports Struggle Against Sexual Exploitation

Beijing, 13 September, 1995

Beijing, 13 September - Prostitution has many faces. It can be disguised as the hundreds of thousands of Filipino "entertainers" at Japan's nightclubs. It can appear in American newspapers advertising Asian and Russian mail-order brides. Or it can look like Susana, a 12-year-old girl with dark circles under her eyes who once walked the streets in Santiago, Chile.

"For me, prostitution has one face," said Marlene Sandoval, holding a black-and-white photograph of Susana. "Many people in my country refuse to recognise that prostitution exists," said Ms Sandoval, director of the Centre for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Study in Chile. "I don't know where Susana is today. I cannot find her."

Ms Sandoval was among the scores of women at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and the recently-concluded forum of non-governmental organizations who gathered here to devise strategies on combating sexual exploitation and violence against women, girls and boys. At several meetings organized with UNESCO's support by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, they examined prostitution's various facades and the language to be adopted later this week in the Platform for Action.

The debate centred on voluntary versus forced prostitution and on distinguishing between prostitution and trafficking. Participants differed on whether females who sell their bodies should be labelled as "sex workers," entitled to labour benefits, or as "prostituted women," poor and abused women and children.

"To address these issues effectively, we must change our focus from seeing sexual exploitation as victimising not only women, but the entire society," said Wassyla Tamzali, head of UNESCO's co-ordination unit for activities related to women.

Some women here are lobbying to legalise prostitution. "I am against forced prostitution," said Claudia Colimoro, 38, who identified herself as a prostitute from Mexico. "Those of us who have decided to work as prostitutes should be able to do it in the best conditions with rights to social security and retirement."

Others want to adopt measures to make prostitution and trafficking a violation of human rights. "The word 'work' has dignity," said Janice Raymond, the coalition's co-executive director. "But it doesn't dignify the worker. It dignifies the sex industry. Do we as non-governmental organizations view prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation and violence against women? Or do we say that some forms of prostitution are okay?"

The coalition and other private groups with UNESCO's backing have drafted a new convention that makes prostitution a human rights violation, decriminalises prostitutes and punishes sex traffickers and clients. It seeks to broaden the Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. Since the United Nations established this framework in 1949, the nature of prostitution has changed considerably, according to several UNESCO studies.

Prostitution and sexual exploitation are now so widespread that they have turned into large-scale industries often boosting economic development. As former socialist countries struggle towards democracy and a market economy, prostitution and pornography are expanding into commercial commodities.

In developing countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Viet Nam, hundreds of thousands of women and children are exported as prostitutes or brides. Women from the Philippines often work abroad as OPAs, or overseas performing artists, in beer houses, beach resorts and health clubs. These women form a network with hotels, tour operator and airline companies in providing a lucrative source of foreign exchange and income.

In the Dominican Republic, more than 100,000 women work in sexual tourism, said Zoraida Ramirez Rodrigues, the coalition's representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. Their income represents one-fourth of this country's foreign earnings, she added.

Poverty, barriers to education, broken family ties and social unrest are often the root causes of prostitution and sexual exploitation. "Poverty is not evoked enough," said Sabine Missistrano, vice present of the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues.

In the industrialized countries, magazines, newspapers, home videos, cable television, the Internet and other technology are spreading and legitimising pornography. In the United States, pornography represents about USD8 billion to USD10 billion annually, according to several studies.

"Some advertisements in 'important' journals in many 'advanced' countries are shameful and a clear affront to women's images," said UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, referring to the promotion of sex tours. "This kind of publicity constitutes sexual exploitation," he said during his address to the plenary session of the women's conference.

"There is a direct correlation between the absence of laws dealing with pornography and its production, distribution and consumption," said Kathleen Mahoney, a Canadian lawyer. For instance, pornography is the third largest industry in Denmark, a country whose laws do not prohibit pornography or bar it from television or transmission by computer, she said.

The changing face of prostitution and its widespread commercialisation have rendered the 1949 convention outdated, many women said. It does not specifically recognise sexual exploitation as a violation of human rights and does not punish perpetrators or customers.

The proposed convention expands the definition of sexual exploitation beyond rape, incest, physical abuse, pornography and prostitution. It now includes military brothels, mail-order brides, sex tourism and trafficking in women. For the first time, it proclaims all sexual exploitation as a human rights violation.

The next step is to convene an international conference on trafficking and sexual exploitation, several human rights groups said. After meeting Tuesday with Queen Fabiola of Belgium, they agreed to make a formal request to the United Nations Secretary-General to set up an ad hoc committee within the UN Commission on Human Rights to address these issues.

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