Confronted by the rise of child sexual abuse in Fiji, two NGOs warn in some instances girls as young as 12 years old are involved in prostitution.
A joint survey conducted by Save the Children and End Child Prostitution and Trafficking International revealed the exploitation of children continues to occur in Fiji.
Save the Children’s Fiji executive, Sharaina Ali, said she was deeply disturbed by the findings.
But Ali said she was even more saddened to learn of the reasons young people were engaging in prostitution.
“There is poverty at home,” she said. “These children are also being neglected by their parents.
“They are school dropouts so they don’t have much to do and they are looking for easy ways of getting an income.”
Ali said in order to access items such as recharge cards and the internet, some children “engage in sexual activities to obtain money to be able to buy those things”.
She said Save the Children was forming community-based child protection committees to tackle the issue.
She said these committees would act as custodians for children and monitor their well-being.
But Ali claimed the true picture of child trafficking and prostitution in Fiji remained hidden.
“It is quite an organised network,” she said.
“We have taxi drivers involved, we have people from the community involved so we do know it is happening.
“There is a market for it as well particularly in the tourist areas so there is all sorts of vulnerabilities children are facing at the moment.”
The survey also found children in street situations had resulted from urbanisation.
It said children were vulnerable to multiple forms of labour and sexual exploitation, including prostitution and trafficking.
Ali said cases they were aware of had been handed over to the Child Services Unit.
Police said since 2013, three people had been jailed for domestic trafficking, sexual servitude and pornographic activities involving children in Fiji.
Fiji child exploitation rife: UN
Two weeks ago, a United Nations report found that commercial sexual exploitation of children continued to occur in Fiji.
The UN Pacific Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of Covid-19 in Fiji Report was presented to the government before its announcement of the 2020-2021 National Budget in July.
The report found incidents of abuse were “usually performed by family members, foreign tourists, taxidrivers, businesspeople and crew on foreign fishing vessels.”
The UN report said the most common forms of child sexual exploitation were prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking.
The report also found that often children trapped in these activities were involved in all of them.
Human rights chief urges ratification
Meanwhile, Fiji’s Human Rights Commission has joined calls for the government to ratify the United Nations Protocol under the Conventions on the Rights of the Child – on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
In its submission to the parliamentary select committee on defence and security, the commission said the UN Optional Protocol would strengthen the government’s resolve to fulfil its obligations of protecting its children.
The commission’s director, Ashwin Raj, said the UN Protocol also criminalised the sale of children, and the use of children in prostitution or pornography.
Raj said the ratification specifically targeted offences committed domestically, transnationally, by an individual or as an organised crime.
Fiji had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993 and signed the Optional Protocol on 16 September 2005 but is yet to ratify it.
Since December 2019, 176 countries have been party to the Protocol.