What does the global research say about the sexual exploitation of boys? Read The Global Literature Review

Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism

The Issue

The Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism was the first-ever consolidated effort to understand its global nature and scope. This series of studies is the most comprehensive picture to date of this crime and includes input from 67 partners around the world, as well as contributions from experts and children themselves. It has subsequently led to detailed studies of the situation in every region and an ever-expanding list of countries.

The Global Study on SECTT brought this gross violation of children’s rights into the light and set out recommendations that require concerted action from the international and regional intergovernmental bodies, national governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector including travel, tourism and transportation sector, ICT industry and companies whose staff members travel for business. The Global Study recommendations provided a “roadmap” to protect children and their implementation contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals targets 8.9 and 12b, which call for sustainable tourism development, and targets 5.2, 8.7, and 16.2, which aim to end all forms of violence and child sexual exploitation.

Resources and Research

The Global Study provides a comprehensive overview of the sexual exploitation of children through travel and tourism – but it is not limited to a single report. Below you can also find studies of the situation in different regions and countries. Independent experts have also conducted research or written reports on different aspects of the issue, with perspectives from the travel and tourism sector, law enforcement agencies, governments, civil society, academics and international organizations.

This website is also a repository to share reports and research from other studies, organisations and institutions across the world working to end the exploitation of children in travel and tourism. We invite you to share your news, resources and practical examples on how to protect children in travel and tourism. Let’s create a central repository together!

Action

What is being done to tackle this crime?

Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face! No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents a unique opportunity to reverse this pattern and make all forms of violence against children part of our distant past. – Marta Santos Pais, UN SRSG on Violence Against Children (Madrid, June 2017).

The Global Study

The Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism was the first-ever consolidated effort to understand its global nature and scope. This series of studies is the most comprehensive picture to date of this crime and includes input from 67 partners around the world, as well as contributions from experts and children themselves. It has subsequently led to detailed studies of the situation in every region and an ever-expanding list of countries.

The Global Study on SECTT brought this gross violation of children’s rights into the light and set out recommendations that require concerted action from the international and regional intergovernmental bodies, national governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector including travel, tourism and transportation sector, ICT industry and companies whose staff members travel for business. The Global Study recommendations provide a “roadmap” to protect children and their implementation contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals targets 8.9 and 12b, which call for sustainable tourism development, and targets 5.2, 8.7, and 16.2, which aim to end child sexual exploitation.

See here for the full list of Global Study recommendations.

HLTF and IEG

The High-Level Task Force on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism (HLTF) guided the development of the Global Study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (SECTT). Its later mandate was the elimination of SECTT through the implementation of the recommendations of the Global Study and the Call for Action from the first International Summit on Child Protection. The HLTF built strong alliances and mobilized a wide range of stakeholders. Having significantly progressed the agenda on child protection in travel and tourism, in 2019 the HLTF decided to evolve its structure to an Independent Experts Group on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism (IEG), that continues to serve as an advisory group. See here the list of IEG members.

Global Action

The launch of the Global Study in May 2016 was followed by concrete actions at the global, regional, and national levels and led to concrete commitments by a wide range of the stakeholders. In July 2017, a Transition Meeting was convened at the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid to move forward in implementing the recommendations of the Global Study. The meeting concluded with a series of commitments and integrated multi-sectoral action plans that resulted in prioritizing child protection in the travel and tourism sector. See here for the Transition Meeting report.

In September 2017, to mark the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and its message – Travel, Enjoy, Respect – the UN World Tourism Organization approved the transformation the Code of Ethics for Tourism into an international convention, known as the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics in order to increase the commitment of all stakeholders to its principles.

On 11th September 2019, during the 23rd UNWTO General Assembly, the UNWTO adopted the international Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics. Article 5.3 refers explicitly to protecting children from sexual exploitation. This is a big step forward as UNWTO works to make the global tourism sector more ethical. Read more here.

The issue of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism has been also increasingly recognized and monitored as part of the scope of action of the international and regional intergovernmental bodies.

Regional Action

2017 also marked legislative progress in Australia and the United States, where laws were passed in relation to the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. The United States State Department began a policy of revoking passports of convicted child sex offenders, and Australia now restricts some convicted child sex offenders from obtaining passports and travelling overseas. Ireland looks set to be the first European country to follow with similar measures. The Australian government, in a world first also included ‘orphanage trafficking’ in its definition of modern slavery.

Regional entities South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Regional Action Group of the Americas (GARA – Grupo de Acción Regional de las Américas) committed to developing regional action plans for protecting children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.

In 2018, GARA approved its Plan of Action (2018-2020) at the XI Annual Meeting hosted by Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGUAT) in Antigüa, Guatemala. Watch their video here.

In 2018-2019 ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) implemented a project-based initiative on strengthening legal framework to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism and developed a legal check-list on key legal interventions to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism. The legal checklist was endorsed during the 10th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) Caucus meeting to guide legal interventions to protect children in Southeast Asia.

Action by Civil Society Organizations

Civil society organizations are doing their part to implement key recommendations of the Global Study – beyond providing direct service support to children, they build partnerships and facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.

Action by the Private Sector

A growing commitment has been observed on the part of the private sector. Major hotel and travel companies that have been standard-bearers in the application of child protection policies have been joined by other non-traditional service companies. Hotels, airlines and travel companies successfully prevented cases of sexual exploitation of children. The importance of training and awareness-raising has been cited in several incidents where hotel employees, flight attendants or taxi drivers were able to spot children in danger and report suspicious cases to the police. The Code (short for “The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism) is one of the tools that supports the private sector in implementing child protection policies.

See here for the full list of The Code members.

In April 2019, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) announced the establishment of a global task-force to help the industry prevent and combat human trafficking – including of children for sexual purposes.

The First International Summit on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism

The Colombian Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of the Capital District of Bogota (IDT), the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Colombian Child Protection Authority (ICBF) and ECPAT Colombia – Fundación Renacer and with the participation of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) organized the first International Summit on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism (June, 2018). The co-organisers of the Summit included the High-Level Task Force on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism (HLTF), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and ECPAT International. The Summit brought together over 500 participants and resulted in a strong commitment to ensure the protection of children in travel and tourism and to end impunity of traveling child sex offenders.

See here for the Declaration and the Call for Action.

The Call for Action from the Summit built strategic and synergistic alliances as part of an ongoing process of promoting and ensuring child protection in travel and tourism. It called upon all key stakeholders to adopt a comprehensive, child rights-centered and multi-stakeholder framework where all actors actively work together to end impunity of the traveling child sex offenders through:

  • Strong and sustainable evidence-based awareness
  • Proactive, comprehensive, context-specific and sustainable prevention
  • Strong and effective legal frameworks
  • Access to child and gender-sensitive justice, protection, comprehensive care, and full recovery.

How you can get involved

We encourage everybody to share your initiatives and actions through this website, which serves as a repository of information and existing resources to make them accessible to everybody and to provide practical guidance.

The Code

The Code (short for “The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism”) is a multi-stakeholder initiative with the mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

The sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism encompasses a broad spectrum of exploitation of children; including in prostitution and pornography; for the production of online child abuse material; and in the sale and trafficking of children in all its forms. Voluntourism, orphanage tourism and mega sporting events are all examples where offenders can easily access and exploit children.

Many offenders take advantage of hotel and other tourism facilities and services to commit their crimes. That’s why working with the travel and tourism industry is essential to keeping children safe and ending the impunity of offenders.

By becoming a member of The Code, travel and tourism companies gain access to tools and resources to use in their daily operations. These member companies are demonstrating their commitment and leadership in the industry to keeping children safe.

CHILD PROTECTION IN TRAVEL AND TOURISM

Why is the travel and tourism industry in a key position to protect children?

Fuelled by cheap flights, globalization and new technology, the travel and tourism industry is expanding at an extraordinary rate. International tourist arrivals increased from 528 million in 2005 to 1.4 billion in 2018. Many developing countries that were once considered ‘remote’ have now opened up to international visitors and in many countries, domestic and regional travellers now outnumber international visitors. 

However, the growth of this industry and the infrastructure that supports it has not been adequately matched by a growth in measures for child protection. In places like hotels, airports, tourist attractions, restaurants, bars, massage parlors and even on the street in plain view, children are at risk from travelling child sex offenders, who take advantage of poverty, social exclusion and vulnerability to abuse and exploit. 

The travel and tourism industry is one of the largest economic sectors accounting for 1 in every 10 jobs and generating prosperity around the world. The industry has multiple economic and social benefits, and because of its potential to lift millions out of poverty, many of these benefits carry over to children. In recent years, a growing number of global, regional and national entities have taken innovative measures to ensure that as the travel and tourism industry grows, child protection is taken into consideration. 

Why does sexual exploitation of children still happen? 

Harmful social attitudes regarding gender, childhood and cultural norms coupled with silence or even tolerance gives offenders, particularly travelling sex offenders, a feeling of anonymity and impunity. There is a clear nexus between the sexual exploitation of children by travelling sex offenders, early and forced marriages, the online sexual exploitation of children and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Moreover, various travel products put children at risk of exploitation, such as voluntourism, orphanage tourism or mega events. 

According to the Global Study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (the first and, to date, the only research initiative by 67 partners that has attempted to bridge this knowledge gap) no country is immune to this crime and child protection needs to be urgently prioritized through multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approaches. 

Few countries have effective legislation to stop travelling child sex offenders – and the challenges are huge. Among these challenges is the fact that it is difficult to gather accurate and comparable data on the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT) also due to a hidden nature of this crime. 

Why is there no typical offender? 

The situation is dynamic. A few decades ago, the prevailing assumption was that travelling child sex offenders came almost exclusively from western countries and went to poor, developing countries. Today, we know that the lines between destination, transit and source countries are blurred and the profile of offenders is diverse. Travelling child sex offenders can be domestic or regional travelers, as well as tourists, business travelers, volunteers or ex-pats. This crime can be committed by anyone and against any child, although some children are more vulnerable than others. 

Adding to the risk is increasing innovation in the tourism and travel industry. Advances in internet and mobile technology have contributed heavily to SECTT, allowing anonymity and hidden pathways for direct contact between offenders and victims. 

What is the solution? 

International and regional intergovernmental bodies, governments, law enforcement, civil society organizations and the private sector, that is a key ally, need to actively work together to end impunity of the travelling child sex offenders and stop the sexual exploitation of children – from prevention to awareness-raising, and from reporting to blocking the pathways exploited by offenders. 

The real goal is to promote and ensure rights for all children by prioritizing action that protects children in the travel and tourism industry. 

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