Stella Cárdenas Ovalle
Fellow Since 2001
This profile was prepared when Stella Cárdenas Ovalle was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
Stella Cárdenas is building new institutional protections against child prostitution and pornography in Colombia by persuading the government to extend the mandate of its ministry charged with protection of children, the Ministry of Family Welfare. Through a series of field studies presented to the public and the government on the real dimensions of the problem, Stella and her Fundación Renacer ("Rebirth Foundation") contributed substantially to the passage of Law 360. This law, passed in 1997, for the first time assigned penalties–fines or jail sentences–for anyone who draws children into prostitution. To achieve broad enforcement of the law and continue to influence policy, Stella is developing a long-term alliance of private citizens' organizations, including Renacer, which are all oriented toward child protection but have not worked together effectively before. In her estimation, the alliance will be the most powerful catalyzing agent in the fight against commercial exploitation of children. The network will continue to look for holes in the recent law and generate public debate. One particularly sensitive question, for example, regards presumption of innocence and the concept of "child"; presently the testimony of an exploited child over age fourteen is not valid to determine the guilt of an adult abuser. The network will also need to build social consciousness of the magnitude of sex tourism and its implications for Colombia, as well as hold the judicial system, which is widely perceived as corrupt, accountable to uphold the law on behalf of children. Stella has identified several avenues of persuasion, including Colombia's participation in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the tutela–a legal mechanism by which citizens can appeal official decisions that compromise basic rights–and growing interest on the part of governments and international organizations to attend to the problem of child sexual exploitation.