COM 06/2016

“States Have a Duty to Protect Children’s Rights”: An Interview with Mark Capaldi

Dr. Mark Capaldi is Head of Research and Policy at ECPAT International, Bangkok


Q: Could you explain the procedures of your work for ECPAT in general, your goals and potential challenges?

Research on children involved in commercial sexual exploitation is a highly sensitive topic of a hidden population. Therefore, all the procedures of my work for ECPAT are performed under the guidelines of strong ethical principles.

When performing research and authoring reports on this kind of issues, it’s essential to define a priori the key issues to focus on. Pulling together information from a number of different sources could be difficult and tricky, especially in a sector where quantitative and qualitative data is scarce. Focusing on fewer sources could be easier but less comprehensive. Circumscribing the specific information needed is the only way, in my opinion, to provide accuracy, quality, and above all effectiveness to ECPAT’s reports, studies and publications, which is obviously my ultimate goal.


Q: Could you give us an example of a project and tell us about problems that may occur?

ECPAT International’s biggest and more long-lasting project is, without a doubt, the production of Country Monitoring Reports (CMRs) which examine the status of action in a country against the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Following the First World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children which was held in Sweden in 1996, ECPAT took up the challenge of monitoring the commitments of States to the Stockholm Agenda for Action and disseminating information on the progress of the Agenda for Action. Over the past decade, ECPAT has produced over 150 first, second and third edition CMRs on CSEC. CMRs provide a comprehensive baseline of information on all manifestations of CSEC in a country and an assessment of achievements and challenges in implementing counteractions (including the participation of children themselves) to eliminate CSEC. CMRs have also been submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (part of the UN Human Rights Council) when conducting their national reviews.

Our approach to research for CMRs is based on a primary glance to the “appearance” of the legal and social systems involved in order to understand their peculiarities and differences. Then we focus on the primary sources of law, with a particular attention to jurisprudence and recent case law. Subsequently we search quantitative and qualitative data related to the actual implementation of rules within the countries in order to rough out the strengths and the weakness of the systems taken into account.

The main problems that may occur during the drafting of these resources are the lack of reliable information and data and, of course, the language and cultural related issues. Luckily ECPAT, thanks to its broad network of local ECPAT member groups, knows how to take into account the peculiarities of the specific legal system as well as the social substratum. For this reason, our reports are enriched by on the ground information crammed with a deeper analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of national legislation and case law related to children’s rights and living conditions.


Q: To what extent is the governance and the current law already supporting your work and what improvements would you hope for?

According to international and regional human rights instruments, States are the primary duty-bearers in regards to children’s rights. This means that they have particular obligations and responsibilities to ensure that children fully enjoy their rights. One of the most effective means that Governments have to guarantee a specific and special protection to this vulnerable category is an extensive child-focused legislation. Therefore, from a legislative perspective, the most relevant step that States took – and should take – to support ECPAT’s work, goals and mission is providing laws and regulations which are in compliance with the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography to the CRC.

Narrowing down the discussion to Governments’ contribution to ECPAT’s research efforts, I would say that increasing accessibility to national gender and age-disaggregated databases as well as national courts’ case law could be the most effective way to support my team’s work and implement a strong and dynamic collaboration among Governments and our network of NGOs.


Q: Can you tell us about your personal career and how you came to ECPAT?

My first two academic qualifications are in agriculture and I studied to be a farmer! However, after I volunteered as a young man in Africa as an agriculture advisor I realised that I wanted to focus on humanitarian and development work overseas.

My first big job brought me to Southeast Asia and 25 years later I’m still here. Over the years I have moved away from purely agriculture related projects to community development, child rights programming and also into organisational management. Over the last two decades, much of my work was with child-led organizations on issues such as street children and working children, children in conflict with the law, on violence and abuse against children and addressing the vulnerability of children of internally displaced persons and as child migrants. Much of this work has been with international organisations such as Concern Worldwide, PACT Inc., Save the Children UK and over the last decade with ECPAT International. I was particularly drawn to ECPAT International as it is a grassroots advocacy organisation made up of local civil society organisations. It has a very clear mandate to eliminate one of the worst forms of violations of children’s rights.