La Muralla ¡SOY YO! | I Am The Wall!
Fighting Child Trafficking in Cartagena, Colombia
ECPAT-USA just wrapped up its latest Advocacy Journey, to Cartagena, Colombia, a beautiful and growing beach-front tourism destination. Besides lovely beaches it has historic architecture, warm weather, and great restaurants—all the ingredients for a spectacular vacation. It is also a country with a large income disparity between rich and poor. This combination creates the risk for sexual exploitation of children by foreign tourists.
Child sexual exploitation exists in every country. ECPAT members in Latin American note that in their region “the presence of open, tolerated zones and facilities for the sex trade catering to adults often facilitates the use of children.” The recruitment of children is increasing and public tolerance of commercial sexual exploitation of children is reported. Victims are often perceived as criminals, not victims.
But in Colombia the non-profit and public sectors are taking on the challenge to protect their children. Under the campaign name, I Am The Wall! led by ECPAT member Fundación Renacer, a city-wide project invites citizens to build safe environments to prevent and confront commercial sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism.
As a protective measure our group did not meet directly with the young people in these programs. We did meet with many of the local activists involved with I Am The Wall!, which was truly an honor.
Fundación Renacer is a comprehensive child-rights organization working throughout Colombia. We visited their shelter in Cartagena for 50 children between the ages of 12 and 18 years old who have been victimized by commercial sexual exploitation. They offer specialized counseling, education, and shelter services. Our delegation proudly presented the staff with bags of toys, sports equipment, and clothes to distribute to the young people in the program.
Fundación Juanfe works to protect children and teen mothers who live in extreme poverty. They have a beautiful facility that provides career training, daycare, and a full array of health services to give young girls from very poor communities an opportunity to get an education, job training, and a brighter future.
We met with staff at Aldeas Infantiles, the Colombian branch of SOS Children’s Villages. They offer services and build families for orphaned, abandoned, and other vulnerable children.
One of the most important initiatives in Cartagena is by the travel industry itself. Under the leadership of Fundación Renacer over a hundred companies have signed the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct, a voluntary set of steps that companies take to prevent child exploitation. Renacer has trained thousands of people in the industry. Among them was the manager of the hotel where our delegation stayed, Puertas de Cartagena. He took time out of his busy day to tell us about the training that all staff members receive but also about the passion that the hotel’s owners and managers feel for the cause. Many of the best restaurants in Cartagena have signed the Code as well.
On the beach in beautiful Bocagrande, we met with a Fundación Renacer-trained law enforcement officer who patrols the beaches; and one of the local beach workers, Victor Padilla, certified by the tourism police who helps prevent sexual abuse in minors and teenagers in the beaches. He described the pride he takes in his job of intervening when a foreigner is suspected of abusing or exploiting a child.
All of our Advocacy Journeys are aimed at giving travelers an educative perspective about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children along with sharing the inspiring work being done on the ground to combat it. It was great to be in the company of ECPAT partners in Colombia. Our travelers have come back to the U.S. motivated to help end the scourge of child trafficking and are already taking action. Won't you join us?
The next ECPAT-USA Advocacy Journey is to Thailand in October. Learn more.