No child should be for sale. But unfortunately, an estimated 1.2 million children around the world are bought and sold into sexual slavery every year.1 Almost every country in the world has felt the ravages of this insidious industry, but the situation is especially dire in places where extreme poverty runs rampant. In the Dominican Republic, a hotspot for sex tourism, countless adults and children are forced to sell their bodies to foreign tourists just so they can afford a warm meal and a place to sleep at night. According to the International Justice Mission’s recent study of 412 establishments in 20 Dominican Republic towns, one in every 10 women working in bars, nightclubs and brothels was under 18, while one in every four sex workers in outdoor areas was a teenager, most aged between 15 and 17.2
Fortunately, there is a sliver of hope: heroes like 2011 Honoree Denisse Pichardo are committed to ending this vicious cycle of poverty and sexual exploitation. Her program, Caminante Proyecto Educativo, not only rescues and rehabilitates victims, but also prevents at-risk youth from ever entering the industry by empowering them with skills and support.
More than 20 years ago, Denisse began to study sex tourism in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. What she saw was appalling: foreign tourists leaving with local children, especially young girls, and families driven by poverty to give or sell their children into this dangerous industry.
Denisse refused to let this rampant exploitation of young lives continue, so she founded Caminante Proyecto Educativo, an organization that both rescues victims and prevents children from entering the Dominican Republic’s sex tourism industry. Caminanate’s work is twofold: not only does the program provide direct care for at-risk youth and victims of sexual exploitation, but it also works closely with communities and families to advocate for their rights.
In 2011, we honored Denisse with our Humanitarian Award and gave her $75,000 in grant funding to expand her work. Since then, she has made extraordinary strides to ensure more youth in the Dominican Republic have the knowledge, tools and care they need to reach their full potential.
Last year alone, 18 children were reintegrated into the formal education system; 226 teenagers received technical training; and 463 children attended summer camp, where they participated in activities teaching them their rights to joy, education and recreation. Another 87 children received school supplies from Caminante, dramatically enhancing their ability to go to school since families often cannot afford these extra costs.
In addition, 147 educational and recreational days were hosted by Caminante, teaching youth and their communities about abuse prevention, sexual and commercial exploitation, teen pregnancy, sexual health and more. Caminante also began training a group of Chicas Brillantes (Shining Girls) about how to make healthier decisions in their lives.
The result? Children who used to work on the beach are now enrolled in Caminante’s extended day program; youth who have completed a technical training course are now starting their own businesses; and parents and national leaders are more aware of the damaging issues facing their country’s children, and are working harder than ever to change the future for current and future generations.
Denisse is just one inspiring example of how your funding can make a difference in the lives of children in desperate need. Donate today to help our Honorees continue to make a life-changing impact. 100% directly supports their programs. worldofchildren.org/donate-now