Limited understanding of child sexual abuse in the South-East Asia puts children at risk

Children in South-East Asia are at greater risk of being sexually abused because of their communities’ limited understanding of what constitutes child abuse, a new report by World Vision revealed today.

Sex, Abuse and Childhood, the 70 page report released in Bangkok today, found that most children and adults interviewed in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam only thought of sexual abuse as the rape of girls. Other sexually abusive acts, such as inappropriate touching, exposure to pornography or sexual abuse of boys, were not generally recognised as such.

Limited understanding of child sexual abuse by children and adults means that clear cases of sexual abuse are going undetected, World Vision’s Project Childhood Prevention Pillar manager Aarti Kapoor said.

“We know that child sexual abuse often begins with grooming children, inappropriate speech and touching and escalates to more serious forms of abuse over time,” Ms Kapoor said.

“Child sex offenders are often known to the family and target both girls and boys; however there was little understanding of this amongst the people we talked to.”

The report, the latest step in the project which aims to combat the sexual exploitation of children in tourism in the Mekong sub-region, interviewed more than 600 children and adults in the four South-East Asian countries.

Of all the groups interviewed, parents had the lowest levels of understanding on the issue of child sexual abuse. The lack of basic awareness means that parents are unlikely to identify risks and cases early within abusive relationships and might miss opportunities to intervene.

Released to coincide with the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, the report recommends child sexual abuse prevention education, particularly for parents and carers, children and community members.

“We know from international experience that education on child sexual abuse prevention is an effective preventative mechanism to build resilience against abuse in vulnerable communities,” Ms Kapoor said.

“Children and adults need the information, skills and strategies to protect children from all kinds of sexual abuse – whether committed by a stranger, foreigner, local person, friend or family member.”

The report is available for download at

Aarti Kapoor, World Vision Program Manager of Project Childhood Prevention Pillar is available for interview, please contact: Gabrielle Brophy on 0407 575 112 or

Notes to Editors:

About Project Childhood

Project Childhood is a 4-year Australian Government initiative to combat the sexual exploitation of children in tourism in the Mekong sub-region which is completing in June 2014. Project Childhood has built on Australia’s long-term support for programs that better protect children and prevent their abuse. Project Childhood brought together World Vision and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to address the serious issue of sexual exploitation of children in tourism. The project worked in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam and took a dual prevention and protection approach.

World Vision took a child safe tourism approach in working with governments and communities to prevent children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation in travel and tourism. Through the use of education and training, public campaigns, and strengthening of child helplines; governments, communities, and tourism industries are better aware of the vulnerabilities of at-risk children to sexual exploitation in travel and tourism and better equipped to build a protective environment. UNODC worked with law enforcement agencies to protect children through strengthening law enforcement responses. Through the increased knowledge of law enforcement and stronger regional and international cooperation, governments are better equipped to identify and counter child sexual exploitation.

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