International tourism figures in the first half of 2022, estimated by the UNWTO to be almost 60% of pre-pandemic levels, heralded the point of recovery back for the travel and tourism industry. While the numbers look promising for an industry that was at the brink of decimation, weak legal frameworks continue to exacerbate imbalances of power and children’s vulnerability to sexual exploitation. In destination countries, along factors such as poverty, social exclusion, wars, political instabilities and natural disasters, legal and policy reforms that clearly define and punish sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism and online context are essential for effective prevention and response to these crimes. Closing the legal and policy gaps remains a major factor necessary to creating protective environments for children as part of sustainable destinations.
ECPAT International developed regional overviews to help governments prioritise legal interventions and measures to improve their national frameworks. The regional overviews reflect the 24-points of the legal checklist based on the recommendation of the first Global Study on sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism. An Assessment Matrix explains how to measure evidence of national legislative and policy responses and explains concrete steps needed for States to meet the action described in the 24 checklist points. The legal analysis is currently available for over 44 countries in four regions: Africa, Latin America, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
In Southeast Asia, the General Assembly of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) adopted a resolution that took into account the endorsement of the legal checklist to be used as a tool to strengthen and harmonise child protection laws in ASEAN Member States. The South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) and the Regional Action Group of the Americas (GARA) also endorsed the legal checklist to better protect children in their respective regions from sexual exploitation though closing gaps in legal and policy frameworks.
Consult ECPAT’s country legal analysis for over 40 countries (Legal Checklist: Key Legal Interventions to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism) at www.ecpat.org/countries
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Out of the 44 analysed countries, nine (Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, Philippines, Bhutan, Gambia and Philippines), or 20% from the four regions established obligatory government-regulated child protection standards for the tourism industry., Another nine countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Madagascar and India) provided non-binding requirements as part of national codes, thus limiting their enforcement. Latin America is the leading region where tourism authorities take proactive action to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation of children through national codes, often with support of The Code, an initiative that provides support and tools to the industry to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.
It is crucial that all States establish government regulated child protection standards, such as obligatory national codes of conduct with a focus on child protection for businesses operating in the travel and tourism sector. These, should be complemented by voluntary standards, such as the international Code of Conduct to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.
The regional overviews show that in Latin America, only two countries (Chile and Colombia) require mandatory criminal backgrounds for people applying to work for and with children. In five countries, the submission of the criminal records can be demanded by employers, but does not constitute an obligation on the part of the job applicant. None of the countries, except Colombia, require criminal checks for volunteers. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam partially regulate this matter – the law does not make it mandatory for applicants to provide criminal checks but this practice has become customary. In South Asia, only India partially complies with this measure, while none of the countries requires criminal checks for volunteers. Africa fails to prevent sexual (re)offenders to come directly into contact with children. Indeed, none of the countries analysed requires mandatory criminal backgrounds for people working or volunteering for and with children, included as part of voluntourism packages that put children at risk. Visits to orphanages and/or residential care settings as a form of tourism activities are still allowed.
In order to prevent potential reoffenders from coming directly into contact with children, countries should amend their legislation with a view to establish mandatory criminal records checks for all people (national and not national) applying to work and/or volunteering for and with children, and prohibit by law visits to orphanage/residential care setting as tourism activities.
In Latin America, five countries (Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru and Uruguay) criminalise the solicitation of children (‘grooming’) for sexual purposes including through the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies, while seven countries do it partially. In Southeast Asia, only Malaysia and the Philippines explicitly criminalise grooming including online. In Africa, only Madagascar has criminalised grooming of children, while Ethiopia partially regulates the matter. South Asia fails to protect children in this regard, with none of the countries criminalising grooming.
Children are often exposed to the same kinds of sexual exploitation and abuse in both online and offline settings. The same person(s) may be responsible for online sexual exploitation and in the context of travel and tourism. Therefore, all countries should criminalise the solicitation of children (‘grooming’) for sexual purposes including through the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies, as it is a crime closely interconnected with sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism context. The law must criminalise the process offenders use of building trust with children, as well as situations where the sexual abuse happens online, for example, if a child is coerced, manipulated or convinced to send sexual content to an offender via online platforms.
Multiple factors, including gaps in extraterritorial jurisdiction and extradition legislation, means that sex offenders may also travel abroad to commit their offences and sexually exploit children.
Latin America is the most advanced region in this respect, with all countries fully or partially regulating this matter. In Africa, out of 11 analysed countries, only Ivory Coast prohibits to enter and to leave, or only under strict conditions, the territory for any person convicted of the sexual exploitation of children. Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania, and Uganda include provisions specific enough to deny the entry of foreigners convicted of sexual exploitation of children, but don’t include provisions to ensure the prohibition of persons convicted of sexual exploitation of children to leave the country. Out of the 10 countries analysed in Southeast Asia, Laos has explicit legal provisions that deny entry/leave to foreigners convicted of SEC offences, while other countries only partially regulate this matter. In South Asia, except for Bhutan, none of the countries provide for specific conditions and/or limitations for the travel of persons convicted of sexual offences.
All countries should provide in their legislation specific and clear conditions regulating the travel of persons (both nationals and foreigners) convicted of sex offences with a view to protecting children against sexual exploitation.
The regional and country analysis serves as a baseline to indicate and track the implementation status of the legal interventions within and across regions. ECPAT network is monitoring the actions taken by countries around the world towards ending the sexual exploitation of children.
For this, Global Progress Indicators were also defined, with measurable aspects of national responses towards protecting children. The country analysis and the Global Progress Indicators provide practical guidance – when changes have been seen in a country the assessments are updated to highlight country progress.
For the most updated information refer to the Global Progress Indicators and select an indicator to see global progress or click a country on the map for a national summary.