Previously unaffected areas are now being targeted by tourists intent on sexually abusing children, a charity has claimed.
Child sex tourism has become a global problem, according to End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (or ECPAT for short).
"Sex offenders are going to countries all over the world," says Melbourne-born Christine Beddoe, the director of the UK branch of ECPAT. "They are increasingly targeting places in which they don't think they'll get caught."
What is sex tourism?
Put simply, sex tourism is when someone travels with the primary purpose of paying for sex at their intended destination. But it is split into adult sex tourism and child sex tourism.
The former involves consenting adults, and often prostitution, whether legal in the country in question or not, but with the laws not enforced in practice. It usually involves an organised element, such as specialised tours, and notorious red light districts. Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Bangkok are probably the best-known destinations.
Child sex tourism
Child sex tourism is a lot more complex, and more difficult to pin down. Some of the victims are child prostitutes, some are essentially slaves and others are "groomed" by rich Westerners posing as good Samaritans.
According to ECPAT, many offenders will spend time ingratiating themselves with the child and family, leading them to believe they are trying to help them out of poverty. ECPAT also believes the use of the Internet has had a significant impact in recent years, both in terms of spreading child pornography and the exchange of information.
For the children involved, the impact is clearly devastating. The risk of sexually transmitted diseases is high, and the emotional and mental damage of abuse is well-documented. Victims can end up being socially ostracised, addicted to drugs and pregnant by their abusers.
There are also issues of erosion of trust. In areas where child sex tourism is rife, single white Western males can automatically be looked-upon with suspicion. This can potentially have an impact on the area's economic development, making it hard for the likes of aid agencies. A distrust of foreigners can also hamper legitimate tourism development.
The new hotspots
Local and international police action has largely concentrated on areas well-known for child sex tourism such as southern Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
According to Beddoe, this has led to offenders broadening their horizons. "I do think that what we're seeing is an increase in new destinations," she says. "Offenders are going to areas such as northern Thailand, off-the-beaten-track parts of Africa and the Pacific Islands."
India has also seen increased sex tourism traffic in recent years.
Another major concern is institutions such as orphanages. Beddoe says a lack of checks and balances over the backgrounds of foreign volunteers can lead to the most vulnerable children being abused.
In many cases, offenders can turn up at a poorly funded third-world orphanage, offer their assistance and be employed without question.
What can be done to stop it?
According to ECPAT, one of the major problems is that the onus to stop child sex tourism usually falls on the country in which the abuse takes place. These countries usually have poor, underfunded police forces that simply cannot afford to monitor suspicious foreigners 24 hours a day.
A common call is that the responsibility should be shifted to the richer countries from where the offenders come from, but there is often the issue of evidence.
Another problem is a lot is dependent on co-operation between police forces in the respective countries. Australia, for example, has close ties and bilateral agreements in place with some countries, but doesn't have the apparatus in place with others.
ECPAT is calling for powerful international or regional agreements that cover the issue, but this is easier said than done.
Australia is more progressive than many other countries on child sex tourism. Since 1994, it has been illegal for an Australian citizen to have sex with children overseas, and under the law, offenders can be prosecuted on their return to Australia.
What can you do about it?
The Australian branch of ECPAT is called Childwise. Donation forms can be downloaded from the Childwise website for those wanting to directly give funding towards protecting children from sexual abuse overseas. The site also details the extent of the problem and staff are available to discuss concerns with anyone who suspects abuse is taking place.
Those with concerns can also contact the Australian Federal Police's specialist Child Protection Operations Team or call 1800 813 784.
There is also an international group of travel-related companies that have signed up to a Code of Conduct, pledging to do all they can to prevent child sex tourism. These include hotel chains, tour operators and travel agents. Travellers to areas affected by sex tourism can choose to use these companies if they are worried about their money potentially going to companies that benefit from child abuse.