In 1990, researchers at a tourism consultation in Thailand first exposed the degree to which child prostitution was increasing in many Asian countries. The consultation ended with a determination to take action, and ECPAT was established as a three-year campaign focusing on ending the ‘commercial’ aspect of sexual exploitation of children.
The early years of ECPAT’s work was concentrated on expanding the campaign in the region; defining its strategy; and establishing relationships with the media, police authorities, state institutions, international organizations. In March 1991, ECPAT produced its first Newsletter and in 1992 the first book, ‘The Child and the Tourist’ was published.. The book revealed the real situation of prostituted children in Asia, as well as the degree of (or lack of) action being taken to end child prostitution.
The first international consultation to assess the problem was held in Thailand in March 1992, where it was agreed that the focus should not be limited to national laws in Asian countries, but rather it should address the international scope of the problem. It was the first time that children actively participated in such an event which gave added significance to the conference.
In 1993, ECPAT held the first International Consultation outside Asia, with Germany the host. Links were forged with European NGOs and international organizations, such as Interpol, the WTO and ILO. During the conference it was decided to continue the mobilization and campaign work of ECPAT for another 3-year period from 1994-1996.
With a grant from the Japanese Government, ECPAT moved to its current location. A documentary, ‘Children are not for Sale” was produced by ECPAT, describing the work and strategies of ECPAT. In 1996, a consultation called ‘Enforcing the Law’ was held in Bangkok, which brought together more than 50 law enforcement officers from more than 17 countries giving the opportunity to review new laws and refine strategies for monitoring, arresting and prosecuting exploiters.
In the same year, 1996, in partnership with UNICEF and the NGO Group for the Rights of the Child, ECPAT co-organised a World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in Stockholm, Sweden. The congress was hosted by the Government of Sweden, which also played a major role in attracting support and participation from 122 concerned governments.
By then, it was evident that CSEC existed and was growing in other regions of the world. Thus, ECPAT ceased to be a regional campaign and became a global non-governmental organisation (NGO) and network.
A Second World Congress against the CSEC took place in 2001, in Yokohoma, Japan and was attended by 134 governments, with double the number of participants, including many young people. Held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2008, the Third World Congress brought together 137 governments, representatives from civil society, UN agencies, the private sector, and children and young people.
The ECPAT network expanded its reach and impact worldwide. The first International Assembly of the ECPAT Network took place in 1999 in Bangkok, bringing together participants from over 50 countries.In Sept. 2002, a second ECPAT International Assembly took place in Bangkok demonstrating a growing movement for protection of children. Third and fourth International Assemblies took place in 2005 and 2008, respectively. The fourth International Assembly brought together 180 participants, representing 70 ECPAT groups from all regions of the world.
ECPAT has grown to become a global network whose membership reflects the richness and diversity of experience, knowledge and perspectives, which arise from working in widely different context. ECPAT has sought to nurture and harness the commitment underpinning these partnerships to ensure a collective presence and response to address the problem of sexual exploitation of children world wide.
The ECPAT network now consists of more than 80 members in over 75 countries working to end CSEC. ECPAT encourages the world community to ensure that children everywhere enjoy their fundamental rights free from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation.
The acronym ECPAT stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.
ECPAT has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).