It has been just over one year since several African partners who attended the annual Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation (CESE) Global Summit in July 2021 expressed their desire for an Africa Chapter of the prestigious annual event. This included the call for a truly international, yet Africa-centric conference, where delegates from all walks of life, together with multi- and interdisciplinary speakers, would congregate to learn, network, and strategize together.
Bringing to fruition the dream of a CESE Africa Conference became one of the key objectives of the CESE Africa movement which was formalized in September 2021. CESE Africa includes individuals and organizations on the African continent involved in the spectrum of activities aimed at collaboratively exposing the harms of pornography and its links to all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness raising, information sharing, and research.
The inaugural CESE Africa Conference took place from September 20-22, 2022, in Pretoria, South Africa and was hosted by the University of South Africa as a hybrid event. At the nucleus of the conference was a focus on the overlapping issues of pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking, online child sexual exploitation and the protection of vulnerable groups. The event was co-organised by Dr Antoinette Basson from the Youth Research Unit of the Bureau for Market Research at the University of South Africa, and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s (NCOSE) Dr Marcel van der Watt, who assisted in the development and implementation of the 3-day conference. The event brought together a stellar list of more than 30 esteemed speakers and delegates from 26 countries from the African continent and other parts of the world.
Dawn Hawkins, CEO of NCOSE, delivered the welcoming address, followed by Mr. Errol Naidoo, Founder and CEO of Family Policy Institute (FPI) based in Cape Town, South Africa, whose keynote foreshadowed what was to be expected during this momentous event. He called upon delegates and leaders on the African continent to combat the gender-based violence pandemic with the same intensity and resourcefulness as was displayed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. Naidoo described the full decriminalization of prostitution as an “extreme policy justified under the guise of promoting human rights and equality” and warned against its inevitable harmful consequences should the South African government decide to adopt this model as part of its prostitution law reform process.
A moving call to action by Honourable Sarah Achieng Opendi touched delegates who were inspired by her deep concern for the well-being of the African continent and her boots-on-the-ground servant leadership in Uganda. Honourable Opendi, a Member of Parliament and Chair of the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association, shared multiple case studies of child trafficking in Uganda and her own grassroots interventions that have helped protect children who were on the cusp of being trafficked and exploited.
Alluding to the disproportionately large number of women in the audience, Mr. Jaco Booyens, Founder and CEO of After Eden Pictures, urged men to take up a more active role in protecting the fabric of society by not abdicating their responsibilities in the fight for justice, dignity, and the wellbeing of the child. Mr. Eugene Mashapa, a Senior Researcher at South Africa’s Film and Publication Board (FPB), addressed the impact of technology on media content regulation. He received the best local speaker award for his significant contribution.
Panel sessions included a conversation with survivors of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking that was co-facilitated by Ms. Emma van der Walt of Brave to Love, and perspectives from survivor leaders like Ms. Mickey Meji and Ms. Hilda Tlou on the fleeting promises of prostitution and its debilitating impact on marginalized communities.
Mickey Meji referred to prostitution as the microcosm of a society where exploitation is a general rule and a symbol of the contempt that men have for women. Inspired by the late Thomas Sankara, Meji called for the introduction of the Sankara Equality Model in South Africa that would create off-ramps for persons trapped in the system of prostitution while holding men accountable for the violence and consumer-level demand that fuels the sex trade. South Africa’s Centre Against Sexual Exploitation’s (CASE-SA) Liesl Pretorius and Stefanie Kotze provided a comprehensive legal overview and constitutional foundation as to why “the industry of sexual exploitation must be eradicated in its entirety. There is no eradicating sex trafficking without eradicating pornography and prostitution. These grow out of each other and as long as one exists the others will continue to plague society and exploit our vulnerable.”
The youth played a critical part in the conference proceedings and shared their perspectives on a range of issues, from online safety and cyber bullying, to calling upon Big Tech to be more responsible for what they create and make available to their global consumers. Resonating with the conference theme were the tones of beauty, human dignity, love, and freedom that were encapsulated in the performance by the Overkruin High School Choir.
Learners participated in a panel discussion facilitated by Mr. Brad Huddleston, author of Digital Cocaine and Digital Rehab, and Ms. Kate Farina, co-founder of Be in Touch. They were joined via live stream by members of a youth journalism community from Cape Town. What followed was a vibrant discussion that cemented the unmissable insider perspective of those closest to the online explosion – the youth.
On the third day of the conference, a special training session was presented by Ms. Sharon Slater and other representatives of Family Watch International. The training session focused on the protection of children from premature sexualization and sexual exploitation. The training session contributed to increased knowledge and skills development for professionals who deal with these issues within their respective work environments.
With an average of 560 daily online participants and 200 in-person attendees, the inaugural CESE Africa Conference was considered a critical connector of leaders in the arduous, yet hopeful journey towards ridding the African continent from all forms of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Delegates were convinced that this outcome can become a reality when they fully commit to collaboration and evidence-based practice and research. Listening to and considering the lived experiences of survivors, and including the voices and digital insights of the youth were important factors in the aspirational success equation.
Feedback from the delegates include:
- “The first-ever CESE Africa Summit exceeded our expectations. It presented a platform for Africa’s frontline workers to share stories, hopes and challenges towards ending sexual exploitation throughout the continent together. Investing into equipping people to derail the transportation of human trafficking victims through airports and harbours is an effective way to eradicate international exploitation to, from and across the continent.” ~Anita du Plessis
- “Thank you so much for inviting us to attend the conference this week. I must say that for me there was a massive learning curve, and it was amazing to meet such dedicated people who, like you, contribute to society.” ~Mickey von Maltitz
- “I just want to say thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to share with the world on the work we do in protecting children from sexual abuse.” ~Leah Nyalobo
- “It was such a timely conversation that calls for reasonable effort from every stakeholder. We shall ensure that we do our part as leaders and have this information cascade down to the grass root.” ~Honourable Gorreth Namugga
- “Again, well done! I cannot say that enough. We are so grateful for your hospitality and this amazing opportunity we have had in South Africa… we look forward to working with you both moving forward.” ~Sharon Slator
- “Once again, I want to echo how grateful we are for such an incredible, and dare I say ‘anointed’ summit. I cannot ever recall feeling such a sense of urgency and mission on an academic campus. God was truly there, and I want to thank you for all you did, with excellence, to make it happen!” ~Brad Huddleston
The inaugural CESE Africa Conference was opened and closed with the words by English anti-slavery advocate William Wilberforce:
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Sponsors of this memorable event included the Bureau for Market Research and the University of South Africa, International Centre on Sexual Exploitation (ICOSE), ECPAT International, Family Watch International, Family Policy Institute, Centre Against Sexual Exploitation South Africa (CASE-SA), the Marie Collins Foundation, and the Films and Publications Board (South Africa).