Historic summit unites delegates in vision of ending sexual exploitation in Africa ‘in our lifetime’

PHOTO: OCHA/Alioune NDIAYE/odihpn.org

The first-ever Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) Africa Summit took place in Pretoria from September 20 to 22. The three-day programme was filled with invigorating, terrifying, sobering, and hopeful presentations on the why, what and how we can bring to an end the scourge of sexual abuse and exploitation on the African continent. 

The CESE Global Summit has been held annually since 2014 (the 2022 Global Summit will be held in November), and has become a significant rallying point for the global anti-exploitation movement. The African continent, however, is unique in terms of its peoples and cultures, and the challenges and solutions to the problem of sexual exploitation. In 2021, CESE Africa was established out of the CESE Global Summit. CESE Africa exists to defend the dignity of people against the harms of pornography and its links to all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation on the African continent.

Air of hope
People from all over Africa came together at Unisa’s Muckleneuk campus in central Pretoria for the event. Each participant, speaker and organiser walked away with a fresh sense of being part of a movement much bigger than themselves, their organisations or institutions. There was an almost tangible air of hope, mutual support and encouragement pervading the summit. Although all present had some knowledge of the reality of sexual abuse and exploitation on the continent, and were presented with undeniable evidence of its gravity, knowing that we are not alone in this great pursuit – to eradicate sexual exploitation on the African continent in our lifetime – added fuel to the fire for a movement determined to challenge the disastrous status quo.

The summit drew together over 30 local and international speakers, and delegates attended both in person and virtually. Topics ranged from online sexual exploitation and pornography, to prostitution, sex trafficking, child sexual exploitation, the protection and empowerment of vulnerable groups, and comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).

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At the heart of the summit was the realisation that, “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.” (A well-known quote by late President Nelson Mandela.)

Higher standard
The first day left no room for anyone to doubt that sexual exploitation is tearing at every part of our society and we need to act to make equal concern and respect for others and valuing the inherent worth of human beings a reality. Jaco Booyens, founder and CEO of After Eden Pictures, gave a presentation where one could hear a pin drop, calling delegates to a higher standard, that will no longer allow us to stand by as children and women get exploited, and where governments are held to account for the horrendous violations taking place on the African continent. New and up-to-date data and research are vitally important in this quest for justice and exposing the facts of what is happening. The stark reality, however, is that if knowledge and evidence do not lead to the specific action of safeguarding children and women, it means nothing. 

Throughout the three days, the narrative was reinforced that we all have a duty to keep standing in the fight against sexual exploitation — especially for the sake of vulnerable and marginalised victims of the prostitution, sex trafficking and pornography industry, including children who are least able to speak up for themselves. This message was brought home on the second day with the Overkruin High School choir performance and engaging in honest conversation on how they believe children can be better protected from online sexual abuse and exploitation.

The Centre Against Sexual Exploitation, South Africa (CASE-SA), had three contributors to the discussion on prostitution and prostitution law reform. CASE-SA programme director, Ryan Smit, was responsible for putting together the prostitution parallel session on 20 September. CASE-SA attorney Liesl Pretorius gave a presentation on the links between prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking, pointing out that these are not siloed exploitative industries, but are interconnected and mutually reinforcing causes and effects fuelling and driving one another. CASE-SA legal administrator, Stefanie Kotze, presented on the human rights and public policy rationale for reforming prostitution laws, and looked at legitimate solutions flowing from such analysis to eradicate the exploitative system of prostitution. 

Parenting books
CASE-SA also exhibited and offered for sale their two read-aloud parenting books, Good Pictures Bad Pictures (for children ages 7 – 13) and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Junior (for children ages 3 – 6) by best-selling author and speaker, Kristen Jenson. The books empower parents to start and develop one of the most crucial family conversations in our current porn-drenched society, telling the story of a mom and dad explaining to their children what pornography is (how to recognise it), why it is harmful (understanding the dangers) and how to respond when confronted by it (empowering children with a plan to stay safe). The books are also available for purchase online in South Africa at www.goodpictures.co.za

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” — These are the famous words that the English anti-slavery advocate William Wilberforce, uttered when showing his society the horrors of slavery in the 18th century. No-one who attended the CESE Africa Summit in Pretoria can say they do not know about the horrendous sexual exploitation taking place on our continent in the forms of online sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse material and pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking. The implications of Wilberforce’s words are clear: If we do nothing, we are complicit in the exploitation of the vulnerable and marginalised. This is why we need to take the research data and evidence to our state officials and keep them accountable to fulfil their mandate of protecting citizens from harm. When we lock arms and stand together throughout the African continent, change will happen. We will see a transformed society based on respect for the dignity of all people.

Looking back over the summit, there are three key takeaways that stand out. Firstly, it gave up-to-date, accurate data and research about the realities of sexual exploitation being perpetrated on the African continent. No country is exempt from one of the most disgraceful of human failures. Even though this might have been a shock to some, the only way forward is to face reality and work from there. Secondly, it called everyone to a higher standard to act on the data and research at our disposal. Data and research, even though very necessary, mean nothing if we do not use it to make better laws and policies to protect and bring justice to the most vulnerable in society. Thirdly, it catalysed and strengthened a community of like-minded people to broaden and deepen their mutual support and encouragement of each other. Every person left the summit knowing that they are not alone on the African continent in standing for human dignity and against sexual exploitation. The shared hope that we have and aspire to make a reality is that — Together we can #EndSexploitation in Africa in our lifetime!

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