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The goal of this collaborative project is to limit the opportunities Swedes have to abuse children in foreign countries. Here, Britta describes a rather special trip. Childhood, together with ECPAT, has received money from the Swedish Postcode Lottery to work with the national operations department of the Swedish Police, the national organization against trafficking under the Swedish Gender Equality Agency and Child Safe Movement on a project that is intended to limit the opportunities Swedish perpetrators have to abuse children outside the country.
Who are they? How do they contact children? How do we find them and, above all, how can we stop them? Children are so clearly vulnerable in so many ways. The four-year-old helping mom prepare food on the street. The grandma sitting on the back of a scooter and holding her sleeping grandchild — a little baby without a helmet — in the middle of rush hour traffic.
The grubby boys collecting plastic recyclables to sell for a pittance. Such great need! There need to be many of us working together. Even if we have a special responsibility to prevent Swedes from abusing children in foreign countries, all of our work needs to strengthen protection for all children and to reduce the burden on local police so that all abusers are arrested, regardless of nationality.
A lot has happened in the last 10 to 15 years. Before, even regular tourists could see small street children flocking around Western men who then drove away with them in a tuk-tuk. White men holding hands with small Cambodian boys on the beach. Intensive intelligence work and tough reactions from local police, civil society, the travel industry and individual tourists have made the open sexual exploitation of small children in countries like Thailand and Cambodia disappear almost entirely.
But no one we talk to would say that it no longer exists. Abusers have just been forced to develop more subtle strategies. Become more invisible. We know that they now rent large houses in the countryside, where they can establish contact with and groom entire local families in peace and quiet by playing the role of the benevolent helper. They look for work or volunteer opportunities at orphanages, schools or churches, where they can come into contact with children who are especially defenseless.