In 1994, Denisse Pichardo was asked to study sexual tourism and children working on the streets in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Denisse was moved to action by what she saw: foreign tourists coming and going with local children, especially young girls, and extremely poor families driven to give or sell their children to these tourists. Her work on this project inspired her to establish Caminante Proyecto Educativo (Caminante Educational Project), an organization dedicated to empowering the most vulnerable youth in the emblematic sex tourism center of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, with impact in neighboring Haiti and beyond.
An estimated 1.2 million children around the world are bought and sold into sexual slavery every year. Every day, these children are denied their basic human rights.
In Boca Chica, Dominican Republic — the country’s hub for sex tourism — children are often forced into prostitution because of poverty.
Caminante Proyecto Educativo makes sure all children in the Dominican Republic have the opportunity to live up to their full potential and are not forced into the sex tourism industry. Caminante also rescues and shelters victims. Services include educational support, technical training, therapy, health care, legal guidance, and extracurricular activities.
To date, Denisse and her organization have changed the lives of over 12,900 youth affected by sex tourism. She has prevented the sexual exploitation of countless children, reducing violence in the community, while also rescuing and healing youth affected by prostitution and other violence.
Since Denisse was first honored by World of Children in 2011, Caminante has served over 17,000 children and adolescents. Over the past few years, Denisse has seen more and more vulnerable children and teenagers coming to live on the streets and beaches of Boca Chica, where they often end up in the commercial sex trade. As this has become a larger threat to children, Caminante has focused more resources specifically on preventing this type of exploitation. Thanks in large part to her recognition as a World of Children Honoree, Denisse and Caminante have received recognition and support from UNICEF and have also been able to expand their work with the Hoteliers Association of the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation in Tourism.