Child Sex Tourism Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Mon, 02/12/2007 - 00:00 -- ประชาธรรม

The globalization of the child sex trade (CST) is a fast growing phenomenon throughout the world and sadly enough, Thailand has become somewhat of a poster child. The United Nations defines CST as tourism organized with the primary purpose of facilitating a commercial-sexual relationship with a child, classified as under the age of 18.  Sex tourists can be male or female, wealthy tourists, or budget backpackers. Most tend to travel from wealthy, economically developed nations to lesser developed countries with well established and commercialized sex tourism industries.  Some are pedophiles, while the majority is situational offenders taking advantage of the availability of children. It is an interwoven set of networks that provides services such as tour guides, brothels, and massage parlors, which not only serve foreign sex tourists, but local customers as well.  

The child sex trade is a highly lucrative and secret practice in which children are sold into prostitution worldwide.  CST is an issue that is rarely reported upon with statistics too differing to trust.  Due to its underground nature, mostly all published figures are highly debatable. Notwithstanding this, the extent of the epidemic is astounding.  

In 2004 Cory Rennell, Senior Editor at the Harvard International review wrote that in 2003 the International Labor Organization claimed that the child sex industry in Thailand contributed between 14 to 16 percent of the national gross domestic product. The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than several hundred thousand children are currently forced into prostitution in Thailand alone, however Thailand is just a fraction of this global issue. On a macro level, the United Nations Children’s Fund states that more than 1 million new children worldwide enter the industry every year.

Offenders who seek sex with children to fulfill their adult narcissistic fantasies while abroad do so for a number of reasons. Anonymity plays an important part in CST; being away from the moral and social constraints that normally govern their behavior in their home country, can frequently lead to abusive conduct in another. Often times, justifying their behavior by claiming that it is culturally acceptable and/or that they are helping the child by providing money.

While tourism is not the cause of the sexual exploitation of minors, it does however, facilitate access to minors who are vulnerable and curious about such differences in wealth. Often times throughout Chiang Mai, in the evening children frequent heavily touristy areas pedaling strings of flowers. They even mix in with cars at busy traffic intersections in less touristy areas. People look at them as thieves and beggars, but really they are just innocent children and work environments such as these put them at risk of being approached by potential offenders.  

With the widespread current trends in global tourism, supply of and demand for children, and the lack of enforcing child protection legislation, CST is set to grow. By 2008, Thailand aims to be a leading tourist destination, attracting 20 million visitors (Renton, Prospect, 2006).  Since the sex trade is a major tourist draw, measures need to be in place to protect minors who are the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation with the growth of tourism and its sometimes cancerous effects. 

There are the push factors, factors in which children are pushed, persuaded, or forced into CST, and pull factors, reasons for which children are almost magnetically drawn into the sex industry. Push factors include extreme poverty, being tricked, traded, or lured, and urbanization. Pull factors are generally associated with the curiosity of consumerism and the comparative wealth of foreign tourists.

Extreme poverty is both a push and pull factor that can lead not only to the trafficking of persons but to the sexual exploitation of children as well. Often times a drastic prevalence of poverty has become the basis for which sexual exploitation is bred - grown and expanded.  

ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) defines trafficking as “all acts involved in the recruitment or transportation of persons within or across borders, involving deception, coercion or force, debt bondage or fraud, for the purpose of placing persons in situations of abuse or exploitation such as forced prostitution.” 

The trafficking of children has become an increasingly transnational and highly lucrative industry, facilitated by advanced communication technologies and porous state borders. Trafficking and its repercussions exploit children in a manner that clearly constitutes a form of coercion and abuse and amounts to a contemporary form of slave labor.   

Chiang Mai’s development in the past 20 years is a prime example of urbanization, the creation of a city for economic development and advancement opportunities. Lack of social support for families who migrate attempting to find employment in urban centers can result in many homeless families where members end up working in marginalized or unsafe conditions. Profound effects of the urban migration are poverty and destitution, which are attributed to the sustainability for the demands of the commercial sexual exploitation of children.   

Emergencies, natural disasters, and political conflict situations exacerbate disastrous conditions for both parents and children as they become displaced or migrate. According to the US Dept of Labor, a high proportion of child victims of sexual exploitation in Thailand is aggravated by the arrival of minors from neighboring Cambodia, China, Laos, and Burma. 

The sexual exploitation of children has serious repercussions on the psycho-social development of millions of children.  Minors are lesser able to comprehend the notion that they are fundamental objects of sex, violence, and abuse, leading them to believe that this is their only means of basic human survival in society. Such exploitation undermines a child’s development and essentially robs them of their dignity and basic human rights.  

Children involved are at a greater risk of contracting STD’s, including HIV/AIDS. Many offenders believe that their chance of contracting diseases from children through intercourse is lessened, but this is not true. Children cannot properly defend themselves against forceful clients who demand unsafe sexual practices. With their underdeveloped bodies, weaker immune systems, and greater susceptibility to lesions and internal tissue damage incurred during sexual relations, children are more likely to contract such viruses. ECPAT reports that according to one Cambodian non governmental organization, as many as “70% of the girls rescued from brothels have been infected with HIV.”

Notorious destination countries such as Thailand in the east and Brazil in the west, have become more vigilant and have stepped up preventative and protective measures. Because of this, we are seeing CST destinations beginning to shift. This move is apparent in Asia between the traditional choice of Thailand and the new preference of Cambodia and from Brazil to Costa Rica in the Americas.

The Tourism Ministry in Brazil (Embratur) has set up a police hotline which encourages both visitors and nationals to report instances of child sexual abuse. It also has a poster, leaflet, and ticket jacket campaign with the slogan, “Beware, Brazil is watching.” Other changes can occur for mere convenience or exoticism. Costa Rica is presented in the United States as “Thailand in the backyard”. To counteract, Costa Rica too is following suit with its own prevention campaign.

Thinking globally and acting locally. At the global level, extraterritorial jurisdiction has had a big influence in curbing the sex tourism industry. This permits a country to persecute their citizens’ for breaking the law of their home country while abroad. To date 32 countries have enacted extraterritorial legislation, including Japan, Germany, Australia, and the United States.

To help combat local abuses in Chiang Mai help raise public awareness by talking with colleagues, friends and other community members about the issues. You can report via phone or e-mail a person abusing a child, a person buying or selling a child, or a hotel or travel agency facilitating the exploitation of children.

Sidebar 1:

Stop the Child Sex Trade, Take Action, Report Offenders

Between 9:00-17:00 call 1300

After 17:00 call 08-130-72111

E-mail details to [email protected]

Or, report it to the Offenders Embassy in Thailand.

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