2017 Fellow Chloe Baury, ECPAT International – Thailand
Chloe Baury is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow based in Bangkok, Thailand with ECPAT International, where she conducts research and analyzes information on national laws and legal procedures related to the sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia and Mauritania. Chloe graduated with a Master’s degree in International Law from Assas University (Paris) and a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from Jean Moulin University (Lyon) in 2015. She also studied European Human Rights Law at Oxford University and has done volunteer work in Cambodia and for Cameroon. In this post, Chloe reflects on how she was able to put her education and experience into practice working for the protection of children’s rights.
Joining the Fight against Child Sexual Exploitation
by Chloe Baury
After graduating from university, it took me time to find out what I wanted to dedicate my life to. I had spent a number of years studying law but could not picture myself working in a law firm; I wanted to make a real difference and work for a non-profit organization. So I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations, and during this time I quickly developed a strong interest in children’s rights. Following graduation, I left for Cambodia to work in the field of access to education. When I returned to France, I wanted to apply my newly acquired skills and knowledge to a research role in an NGO focusing on children’s rights. As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I soon joined the international secretariat of ECPAT in Bangkok in June 2017. ECPAT is an international NGO network dedicated to the fight against sexual exploitation of children.
When I arrived, I quickly realized that my knowledge of the subject was limited. In my mind, the sexual exploitation of children was an issue that mostly happened in developing countries and was related to tourism or trafficking. However, what I learned at ECPAT was that this phenomenon happens everywhere, and can take many forms: sex tourism, pornography, trafficking, child marriage, prostitution. Children—girls and boys—are at risk in low, middle or high-income countries. No child is immune, and no country is untouched.
Since I had lived in Cambodia, my first task was to write a report on child sexual exploitation there. I had to collect information on facts, the legal framework in Cambodia, preventive measures, international and regional cooperation mechanisms, child-sensitive justice and child participation measures. The amount of reports and articles on the matter was impressive, even though accurate data is difficult to obtain due to the secretive and clandestine nature of this crime. While writing the first draft, I thought back to all the bars and karaoke places I had seen in Cambodia where ‘child prostitution’ can potentially take place, and I realized that I might have crossed many children who were being sexually exploited whilst walking around the riverside neighbourhood of Phnom Penh or in the streets of Sihanoukville.
I then wrote a report on Mauritania and faced the opposite problem: a complete lack of information on sexual exploitation. Sexuality was a strongly taboo subject, and many customs were strongly entrenched due to religious laws and beliefs; so even when such customs were detrimental to young women, the crime was pushed underground. However, I soon realized that there were also common challenges that were most likely shared with many other countries: a lack of law enforcement, and cultural barriers that would instill a fear in victims to report such crimes. Law enforcement officials are often corrupt, and victims often are ashamed or fear social exclusion. Even worse, victims of trafficking themselves are sometimes punished for engaging in prostitution, even though they were coerced to do so. Young girls are often treated as criminals, by way of local beliefs and traditions, because they are perceived as having had extramarital sexual relationships.
Whilst writing these reports, I felt frustration, anger and a strong urge to join the fight against child sexual exploitation. The reports illustrate how vital it is to change states of mind, to raise awareness among communities, and to work with governments as well as religious leaders. Preventive measures are as important as any protective measures.
My family and friends often ask me if it is not too difficult, emotionally speaking, to read about cases of abuse and exploitation every day, all day long. I answer that I can handle it, but never get used to it. My colleagues and I are often gasping discreetly when we read testimonies or data reports. It is also difficult not to think about it outside of work: every now and then, when I cross middle-aged foreigners with a local girl or boy, I cannot help but think: “Is this girl/boy underage? Is this a case of child sexual exploitation? Should I do something?” I am now more aware of the extent of this crime, and I hope the reports will contribute to raising awareness and creating solutions to fight it.
These past four months of my fellowship have been both professionally and personally rewarding. The fellowship made it possible for me to put my education and experience into practice. The Coalition provided me with online training courses to further improve my knowledge on the protection of children’s rights. I have learned a lot and I cannot thank enough my supervisors and colleagues at ECPAT for their teaching and guidance. The experience has reassured me that working for the protection of children is the professional path on which I wish to continue.
(Photos courtesy of the author)