HPC Fellow: Kevin Ryu, ECPAT, Thailand

Originally from South Korea, Kevin Ryu is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow based in Bangkok, Thailand with ECPAT International, an NGO fighting to end the sexual exploitation of children around the world. As a legal research intern within the Research and Policy team, he conducts research on relevant national laws and legal procedures as well as information on preventive measures and cooperation mechanisms.

Kevin completed a Dual Master’s Program with a degree in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes from the UN University for Peace (Costa Rica) and in International Law and Human Rights from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (South Korea). In this post, Kevin reflects on why he is determined to protect children from exploitation and how his fellowship with ECPAT has provided him with training and knowledge to make a meaningful impact through his work.

A Drop of Water Transforms Rocks
by Kevin Ryu

My current career path stems from an unfortunate childhood experience. At that time, there was no one to help me escape that situation. I was alone, confused and unable to understand why it was happening to me. Having endured such a traumatic and painful incident during a very crucial time in my life left me with a desire to help others in similar situations.

As I got older, I began to think about the help that I could have received, and began to wonder what, if anything, I could do to help other children that are going through similar or worse experiences. However, I am from South Korea, where a heavily consumer-driven society almost forces people to follow career paths that promise a well-paying job. I felt this pressure while studying as an undergraduate student. However, I could not picture myself working in a standard corporate environment where I did not feel I belonged, at a company I could not identify with. So despite this pressure, I decided instead to pursue what I really wanted to do, and immediately after graduation, began searching for a Master’s programme in Human Rights, specifically International Human Rights Law. Later, I entered the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. During a course on “International Protection of Vulnerable Groups and Persons,” I was immediately drawn to the issues of children involved in abuse and exploitation.

After completing the Master’s Programme, I took advantage of an opportunity to intern at the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which not only allowed me to hone my interests and skills, but also allowed me to use the knowledge I had accumulated throughout my studies. However, I wanted more. The internship with the CRC further developed my interests in child protection, and I applied for another internship at an NGO. I joined the ECPAT International Secretariat based in Bangkok, Thailand in September 2017 as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow. ECPAT is an international NGO network dedicated to the fight against sexual exploitation of children.

As a member of the Research Policy Team, my primary duty is to draft Country Overview Reports on Sexual Exploitation of Children (SEC). I thought my previous experience and academic background would help me draft the reports, but I soon realised that I was still not an expert on the issue. ECPAT introduced me to the extensive literature focusing specifically on sexual exploitation of children, which takes many different forms: sexual exploitation in prostitution; online sexual exploitation; sale and trafficking of children for sexual purposes; sexual exploitation in travel and tourism; and child, early, and forced marriage. I also learned that it is not only children in vulnerable situations or from developing countries who are targeted, but that every child in the world has the potential to be sexually exploited.

Since I am intimately familiar with their specific contexts, I was assigned to draft reports on Japan and South Korea. I had to collect information and conduct research on the country-specific context of SEC, national legislation, regional/international commitments, preventive measures, child-sensitive justice mechanisms, and child participation measures. While writing these drafts, I was first shocked, then frustrated, worried and eventually angry. Thinking about those exploited children and the horrific crimes committed against them gave me a burning urge to join the battle against child sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, I simultaneously felt helpless, and questioned whether the changes or differences I may make in my career will have any significant impact. The current reality of socially or “culturally” accepted SEC, a lack of enforcement, and ignorance among relevant stakeholders are all huge obstacles to this work.

However, I decided to think of myself as a drop of water: even though a tiny drop of water is indeed nothing on its own, the constant efforts of many drops of water will gradually transform a giant rock to tiny grains of sand. I hope that many others like me will also gather their strength so we can participate together in the fight.

These past five months of my fellowship and internship have definitely enhanced my dedication, devotion and expertise for the career field that I am pursuing. This fellowship has allowed me to renew my passion. Moreover, the Hilton Prize Coalition provided me with a variety of online training courses to further expand my knowledge. I firmly believe that the time I have spent as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with ECPAT will have lasting impacts on my professional path. Lastly, I want to express my sincere gratitude towards my colleagues and my supervisors at ECPAT, who did not hesitate to teach, guide and help me.

About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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