Tourism Industry Works To Protect Children's Rights - My Family Travels

Find out how ECPAT and UNICEF have been working internationally with the tourism industry to curb child sex tourism.

When ECPAT began working in the brothels of Thailand in 1991 to educate prostitutes about health and provide counseling and career options for girls who’d been sold into the sex trade by impoverished families, it was hard to imagine that in five short years they would be co-sponsors of the First World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Since then, the number of non-governmental agencies (NGOs) working with support from the Swedish and Japanese governments, yet under the umbrella of ECPAT, has grown to 72 groups in 65 countries. While some success has been achieved in regulating the industry, such as outlawing sex tour operators and educating prostitutes about HIV and their own health, the campaign to stem the tide of children getting involved in this lucrative industry has failed. ECPAT estimates that US$250 billion is spent annually on nearly 3 million young prostitutes, with the trade most prevalent in Kenya, Philippines, South Africa, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Today, several factors have enlarged the pool of unskilled, under-age labor whose only livelihood is commercial sexual exploitation:

• the increase in AIDS (because clients wrongly believe that unprotected sex with minors is less risky than with adult prostitutes)
• a stagnant world economy (when rural families are no longer able to feed their children, they sell them into sexual slavery)
• the rise of the Internet (clients interested in child pornography can more easily target victims)
• the spread of war throughout Africa and the Middle East (chaos in war-torn countries and increased demand from military troops makes prostitution a popular profession)

While ECPAT acknowledges that tourism is not to blame for this epidemic, they need the industry’s help to prevent it, saying, “A traveler who is searching for sex uses an infrastructure that is supplied by the tourism industry” to arrange it.

According to UNICEF, which joined ECPAT and the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in publishing the “Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism,” there are an estimated 2 million children, most of them girls, being sexually exploited around the world. Of these, UNICEF estimated 325,000 minors at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States alone at the end of 2000.

One of the tools bringing UNICEF and NGOs together is Operation Predator, an initiative of the Dept. of State’s Trafficking Office that gives US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers the power to arrest any US resident or citizen who has attempted to, engaged in, or has furthered the sexual exploitation of anyone under 18, anywhere in the world.

The Protect Act allows ICE to use local informers such as hotel management, brothel owners, tourists, flight attendants, bartenders and others in travel and tourism to find any US citizen or resident participating in or aiding sex crimes, and extradite them to the US for trial, where they will receive a prison sentence up to 30 years. ICE units are particularly focused on Mexico, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Carlson Wagonlit, ACCOR hotels and resorts, Kuoni Scandinavia tours and TUI Thomson UK are among the pioneering travel and tourism businesses which have taken the lead in promoting awareness of this difficult subject. Their respective staff and clients have been educated about the Code of Conduct and identifying clients traveling for exploitation.

FTF encourages all travelers to report any known incidents of the commercial sexual exploitation of children to ICE at 866/347-2423 (international toll-free number).

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