The Catholic University of America

Professor Mary Leary, seated at right, has found that getting many voices to speak as one is neither easy nor fast.

Clarity at Issue in the Fight Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children

For any civilized society, signing a forceful and unambiguous document condemning the world-wide problem of the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents would seem an easily achieved goal.

Not as easy as one might think, says Professor Mary Leary.

Leary is several weeks returned from serving as the head of delegation for the Holy See at the Third World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, held in Rio De Janeiro in late November.

The meeting was the largest of its type so far, attracting 3,500 participants from 170 countries. There were hundreds of workshops held on various aspects of the problem of child sexual abuse, including the selling of minors as sex slaves.

Leary's status report on the congress's activities, given on Jan. 14 to the Columbus School of Law's Advocates for Life, was a frank assessment of the difficulty of getting a global conference to stay on message - even one as compelling as the evil of exploiting children.

Her remarks to students, "The Practicalities of Advocating a Culture of Life in an International Forum," described her eye-opening realization while most governments take seriously the battle against common forms of exploitation such as child sex tourism, children in prostitution and child trafficking, consensus on how an international statement should actually read may prove elusive. She described some of the challenges advocating for a document that would be both strong and acceptable to all. She further discussed the need to always keep the children the focus of the document and the reality that failure to meet consensus could mean a failure for the children at issue.

While honoring the overall goals of the Third World Congress Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, Leary told the students that the inevitable political, social and cultural divisions to be found within any global conference make the process of producing a consensus message much more difficult that most people realize, but at the same time an extremely rewarding opportunity to influence children on a global level.