First Nations reserves may not have a visible child prostitution problem, but they are fertile ground for the sexual exploitation of children, said Bev Poitras, director of justice for File Hills Qu?Appelle Tribal Council.
Poitras was presenting the video Lives Worth Living to the Special Committee to Prevent the Abuse and Exploitation of Children Through the Sex Trade. The video is to be shown to school children to discourage them from taking up prostitution.
The committee hearing was held on Nov. 22, and included presentations from First Nations child welfare groups that fight against child prostitution. It is made up of seven Saskatchewan MPs, who will recommend changes to the way the courts, law enforcement and social service agencies handle child prostitution cases.
?In Saskatchewan, the child welfare system has failed us,? said Daryl Dubois, director of Touchwood Family Child Services. He said almost two-thirds of children involved with Saskatchewan?s department of Social Services are Aboriginal.
?In most cases, there is nothing for those children being exploited.?
He said social workers and other officials combating the causes of the child sex trade, including child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and family breakdowns, are overworked, and the children are caught between jurisdictions when they seek help.
In his report, tribal council president Ron Crowe said part of the problem may be the fragmented approach governments and non-government organizations have to fighting the problem and its root causes.
More than 100 non-government organizations in Regina provide services for children at risk, he said. Many are offering the same service in order to combat child prostitution, child abuse and child poverty. He suggested working together to make a more effective attack on the problem.
?We sense a need to co-ordinate the development of programs to combat this social issue.?
In an interim report released to the provincial government last summer, the committee said as many as 300 child prostitutes work the streets of Regina. A similar number are on the ?strolls? of Saskatoon. Almost all those children involved with the sex trade?some as young as nine years old?are Aboriginal.
Poitras said tribal governments also have a role to play in combating child sexual abuse, through a holistic healing approach. They must help break the cycle of poverty and child sexual assault that has made child sex prostitution possible, she said.
She recommended that the province pass legislation to allow children, when contacted by police or social service agencies, to be taken from the families and placed in the care of responsible people or programs.
In many cases, parents are either unable to stop their children from taking to the streets, or are themselves forcing their children to have sex for money in order to provide for the family or for a drug or alcohol addiction, Poitras added.
If parents are found responsible for their children?s activities, they should be required to undergo treatment as well, she added.
She also called for the court system to prosecute those purchasing sex from children to the law?s fullest extent.
?The laws are there to prosecute them, but predators do not fear them,? she said. ?Child sexual predators are not being dealt with as if children are our future and our most valued resource for our survival.?
Poitras said social programs on the reserve have to be strengthened.
?Our people return to the reserves when AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, violence, gangs and drugs afflict them. Many of our youth return to our reserves to be buried.?
In his report to the committee, RCMP staff sergeant John Clarke said there?s no evidence that child prostitution exists in Fort Qu?Appelle, however some of the children on the ?stroll? in Regina might come from area reserves. He said Regina street gangs were also moving into the child sex trade business, and may be recruiting rom reserves surrounding the city.
?We know that these street gangs are involved in all aspects of illegal activity in Regina. By extension, this would also include exploitation of children through the sex trade.?
A co-ordinated effort from a community?s political and social leadership, as well as from police, is needed to fight the child sex trade, he added. Just because there?s no evidence such a trade exists inside Fort Qu?Appelle gives residents no reason to feel complacent.
?Individual communities must also take their share of the responsibility. They must provide the necessary programs and skills to equip young people with the tools to evade this trap,? he said.
?There is truth in the old saying, it takes a village to raise a child.?
The Special Committee to Prevent the Abuse and Exploitation of Children Through the Sex Trade is to deliver its report to the legislature in time for the next session to open February 2001.