Travel news show BBC’s Fast Track interviewed ECPAT International to discuss the problem of sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism in Thailand and around the world. The travel and tourism industry has been growing at an extraordinary rate, and unfortunately, so have the numbers of travelling offenders. To fight this, NGOs are working with the police and travel and tourism companies to try and crack down on offenders and help put an end to this crime.
Sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism is committed by a person or persons who travel from their home country to have sexual contact with children. Travelling sex offenders can be preferential or situational abusers (e.g. those who intentionally seek sexual contact with children, or those who do not usually have a sexual preference for children but take advantage of a situation in which a child is made available to them).
Travelling offenders can also be domestic travellers or they can be international tourists.
This form of exploitation can involve the exchange of cash, clothes, food or some other form of compensation to a child or to a third party for sexual contact. It occurs in multiple venues, from brothels in red-light districts to beaches or five-star hotels and in urban, rural or coastal settings.
Since 2009, the number of international tourist arrivals globally has increased by almost 100 million to 980 million in 2011 (UNWTO). When this is combined with the opening up to tourism of new destinations where economic success is the main priority, vulnerable populations can be severely affected.
In Thailand, tourism is a major source of income, accounting for 6-7% of GDP and bringing approximately 14 million visitors per year.
Furthermore, some recent years have seen around 144 million domestic travellers within Thailand. Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, and while Thai laws on child prostitution are fairly comprehensive, it is reported that child sexual exploitation in the context of prostitution is still widespread and that law enforcement remains weak. Under the Thai Penal Code, offenders can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison for crimes associated with child sex tourism.
The travel and tourism industry plays an important role in stopping the exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism, through awareness, education and reporting. One of the biggest challenges however is fear from some travel and tourism businesses that tourists will be deterred or offended by the industry profiling the issue within their services.
To counter this, ECPAT International works with its partner organisation The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, an industry-led initiative to heighten responsibility in combating the exploitation of children in travel and tourism. The Code works with all manner of tourism businesses from tour operators, hotels and airlines that adopt and sign The Code committing themselves to informing their customers on their child protection policy, training staff on how to identify and report instances of sexual exploitation, reporting cases of exploitation and the application of other measures to protect children. By promoting responsibility within travel and tourism, we can end this crime.