World Travel

The dark side of sex tourism

David Whitley
Gary Glitter, the notorious UK has-been celeb, arrested for having sex with 10 & 13 year olds in Vietnam (AAP Images)
Gary Glitter, the notorious UK has-been celeb, arrested for having sex with 10 & 13 year olds in Vietnam

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.

The impact

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.

User comments
Sex Tourism is essentially a white European problem. The bulk of the perpetrators of this act tend to fit that description, in fact they almost all fit that characterization. This is similar to the slave trade where relatively rich white people sought to exploit the poverty of others. It is only when the buying stop that there can be any real steps toward eradicating this problem. Western Governments need to enact laws that will hold their nationals responsible for crimes against children committed abroad. The deterrent regime must start in the home countries of these tourists. The problem has to be elevated to a similar status as drug trafficking. There should be signs in the airports outlining the consequences of sex with children, similar to those in the case of drug trafficking.
Lets summerise, Adult Sex Tourism isnt illegal by Australian standards, and you can not get prosecuted in Australia for it. Child Sex Tourism is illegal, and you will get prosecuted in Australia if the authorities find out. It also means that you can get prosecuted for having sex with a 15yo in Australia where the legal age of consent in the country you had sex with the person is 14yo. One point that I am unsure on is, is it considered illegal to pay for sex with a 16yo in a country where it is considered legally acceptable without fear of prosecution in Australia. Considering legal age of consent is 16yo, but legal age to be a sex worker is 18yo in Australia.
What i would like to know, is how these sick people end up doing going down this disgusting path in the first place. Was it their upbringing? Maybe their lives a dud so they take the problems out on children. I hope that when these people realise what they have done, are doing, they either put a bullet in their own head or are shot on site. If i ever come across a person who has done such a despicable act, i will personally ruin their life as they have with these kids. The world is full of pr1cks, hopefully one day it will be free.
I cant believe how many people defend the adult sex tourism thing!! Have none of you seen the movie TRAFFIKING?? Just because their of age, doesnt mean they are there by CHOICE!! And as for anyone who has even housed the idea of having sex with a child or supporting this industry, you will have your day and God will be your judge. I would be shaking in my boots if I were you!!!
No mater what we say sex has been used as a comodity since before bibical times. We the modern socity do not like what others call entertainment ie, sex with very young people, male or female. I seem the recall certain religions or cultures where female babys are betrothed to older males, and some are even concermated before her age has reached double figures, but the general public do wish to hear or belive that such things do happen. Also it was not very far back that youg female children were openly sold to pimps or madems without much protest from western society. The first thing that we have to do is educate the poor and remove that culture of selling sex as a comodity, by both young and older persons of both sex. What was that line they were saying a short while ago, something about "keeping it in your pants until you get back home"
Even the people of legal age have most allways been child prostitutes..As adults they know know different and are trapped by the need to survive the only way that they learnt..
Don't try to sugar coat this issue. These are CHILDREN that we, as adults are sworn to protect. If you know someone who is doing it, it is your DUTY to turn him in. How would you like it if it turned out to be your child? It's not a matter of underfunding, it's a matter of people turning a blind eye, or, in the case of "Disbelief, TX", not doing anything. Disbelief, don't wonder what to tell your son, TURN HIM IN!! Don't expect him to do it. By keeping quiet, you are allowing the abuse, rape, torture (physical and mental) of children by not saying anything. You are just as guilty! You disgust me and many others.
The comments on here amaze me more than this story. Men on here defending themselves for going to these places and "having a good time". How dare you justify your good times by destroying poverty stricken peoples lives. Are you that repulsive that you can't get a woman in your own country? One person even said the girls have a good time??? What rock did you crawl out from. What young woman has a good time having sex with some revolting old men who can't pick up a woman otherwise? The real issue here is the children anyway. I notice none of you even comment on that.
All of you commenting who are expressing outrage, GO TO THE CHILDWISE WEBSITE AND DONATE. If you want to stop these things happening, the best move you can make is to donate to this organisation. By coming on here and saying "Oh, won't someone think of the children", does absolutely nothing. What will help will be to donate money to this organisation. The most frustrating thing is when people get worked up for 10 seconds, write a post, then go back to their lives without thinking about it again.
What can I tell my grown son who likes to visit places like Thailand for sex? He does see anything wrong with it.