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Inspiring Compassion

Child Protection is Investing in a Nation’s Future

By Snow White O. Smelser, UNODC, for the April 2015 issue of Forbes Thailand Magazine

Children should be viewed as a country’s most valuable resource, so when they are abused and exploited, the annual economic costs to a country can be quite phenomenal. Even if there were no economic costs, children should still be protected from abuse. In 2014, a UNICEF study estimated that the costs to economies in East Asia and the Pacific were as high as USD$ 205.5 billion. Sexual abuse of children alone cost $39.2 million dollars.

Abused children become a nation’s liability because these same children end up consuming resources for treatment and rehabilitation. Abuse also stunts a child’s creativity and their ability to contribute productively to society, therefore not helping their nation’s GDP reach its fuller potential when they reach adulthood. Some victims repeat the cycle of abuse. 

Cost of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is a deeply-embedded private wound, seldom revealed to even the child’s closest friends and relatives. Many of the children who disclose the abuse are met with disbelief and lack of understanding. These children are further traumatized with accusations of lying about the abuse or being the instigator of the abuse. 

The life-long impact of sexual abuse not only inhibits a child’s psycho-emotional development, but also affects their educational achievements and their productivity. Child victims of sexual abuse also have difficulty concentrating in school and achieving their full academic potential, in turn resulting in limited opportunities to earn well-paying jobs. A lack of emphasis on self-improvement, poor academic performance and poor job performance result in losses to a child’s real contribution to society when they become adults. 

Saving Livelihoods, Saving Money

Researchers have found that the most effective way to estimate the global costs of physical, psychological and sexual violence against children is to calculate the productivity loss of a country. With Thailand’s GDP standing at USD$ 387.25 billion in 2014, the productivity loss in the same year due to violence against children is estimated at USD$ 30.98 billion (8% of Thailand’s GDP). As the annual GDP continues to increase, so will the economic costs of violence against children.  If Thailand invests in programs to protect children, we can save money that would otherwise be lost in treatment and rehabilitation costs.

Source:  Estimating the Economic Burden of Violence against Children in East Asia and the Pacific – (UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, 2014)

Collaborating with Key Partners

The prevalence of sexual abuse in Thailand is widespread and no single agency alone can take on the challenge of addressing the impact of abuse. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security is addressing several social issues such as human trafficking and elderly welfare, and appear to be already stretched to capacity in providing support and care to victims. 

In 2013, the Ministry of Public Health reported that over 19,000 children in Thailand were treated at public hospitals as a result of abuse, with 70% of these children treated for sexual abuse. This figure is a conservative estimate and represents a small percentage of victims presented for medical intervention to hospitals. Even fewer reported their abuse to police.

Thailand in Action

An emerging trend in the ASEAN region is the live-streaming of child sexual abuse images which is viewed daily by hundreds of thousands of predators around the world.  To be able to produce such material, a child would be sexually exploited and/or abused whilst being photographed or filmed by a sex offender or their co-conspirator.  

Many child sex offenders possess, produce, distribute, purchase, and view child sexual abuse material. Offenders collect, sell and trade such material, and use it as a ‘currency’ to obtain entry into private online and offline communities made up of people who are aroused by sexual activities with children.  The demand for child sexual abuse material means that offenders are constantly looking for opportunities to produce new material, meaning that more sexual activities with children will take place. 

Offenders also use child sexual abuse material (formerly known as “child pornography”, also known as “child abuse material” and “child exploitation images”) to groom other children into believing that sexual activities between children and adults are normal and acceptable.  Besides it being a tool for grooming victims, child sexual abuse material is concrete evidence that a crime has been committed against a child and should therefore be considered a crime scene by law enforcement officials. 

Approximately ten years ago, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security proposed a bill called “Materials Inciting Dangerous Behavior Act”, which attempted to directly criminalize child sexual abuse material. It was an ambitious bill that attempted to address several issues and it relegated the issue of child sexual abuse material to a less serious offence. To disrupt the marketing chain benefiting from the abuse of children, legislation needs to be available for law enforcement agencies to intercept, arrest and prosecute offenders.  

In 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific recommended that the Thai Government address the issue of child sexual abuse material within its legislative framework and made the following recommendations: That Ministry of Justice… 

  • develop a specific and comprehensive child sexual abuse material offence with robust penalties, including criminalization of the possession and the production of child pornography, whether or not the possession or production is for trade, distribution, or public use
  • ensure that child sexual abuse material offences can be interpreted to cover a wide range of material and adapt to new technologies

In February 2015, the National Legislative Assembly proposed its first bill to the Thai Government for consideration.  The bill – supported by Protection of Children’s Rights Foundation Thailand – recommended a definition of child sexual abuse material that met with the recommendation made by UNODC but also one that went beyond the scope required by the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The bill also prescribed punishment of up to 5 years of imprisonment for simple possession of child sexual abuse material and up to 7 years for trade and distribution of child sexual abuse material. 

The criminalization of the possession of child sexual abuse material means that the production of new material by offenders through the abuse of more children will be against the law in Thailand.  If this law can be effectively implemented, children in Thailand can continue to remain an asset, contribute positively to the growth of the nation and not become a liability.   

What You Can Do

Help ensure a healthier, more productive future for children and for Thailand by: 

  • Encouraging the government to invest in long-term child protection programs 
  • Exploring opportunities with your company to invest resources on child protection initiatives
  • Learning what opportunities exist to work with other agencies  and 
  • Signing the petition at http://www.change.org/childabuse to support the amendment of Thai law to include possession of child sexual abuse material as a specific offense.

Update

In December 2015, the Thai National Legislative Assembly passed the bill criminalizing the possession of child sexual abuse material nearly unanimously, with 193 of 196 members voting in favor of the law.

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