Child sex tourism is defined as the commercial sexual exploitation of children by people who travel from one place to another to engage in sexual acts with minors (under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is anyone under the age of 18). Child sex tourists may be domestic or international travellers who may make a short or extended stay in a particular location. Every year, an estimated 1.2 million child victims are trafficked globally for sexual exploitation or cheap labour.
Whilst tourism is not the cause of child sex tourism, it is a channel that provides offenders with a way to gain access to children. Child sex offenders use facilities and services offered by the travel industrytravel agents, airlines, hotels, taxis, tour operators, etc – and as such the tourism industry is well-placed to play a vital role in protecting children. Interactions of the tourism sector with the child sex trade can be defined in different levels: direct, indirect or potential. Direct interaction corresponds to those businesses who knowingly publicise, promote, and receive sex tours as well as to the operators of establishments and premises where abusers meet and sexually exploit children, namely accommodation facilities, entertainment centres, leisure areas, etc. Indirect or potential interactions also correspond to tour operations, travel agents, other carriers and airlines, when they are used as vehicles carrying potential sex offenders to the destinations.
In light of the above, there have been several initiatives and campaigns to encourage the tourism industry to collaborate and respond against the use of its networks and establishments for child-sex tourism, some of these prominent ones include:
The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism is an industry driven responsible tourism initiative in collaboration with ECPAT International, funded by UNICEF and supported by the UNWTO. The Code (also known as tourism “Child-Protection Code”) serves as a tourism industry tool to protect children. Suppliers of tourism services adopting the code commit themselves to implement the following six criteria:
To establish an ethical policy regarding commercial sexual exploitation of children.
To train the personnel in the country of origin and travel destinations.
To introduce a clause in contracts with suppliers, stating a common repudiation of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
To provide information to travellers by means of catalogues, brochures, in-flight films, ticket-slips, home pages, etc.
To provide information to local “key persons” at the destinations.
To report annually
As of June 2009, there were 992 company signatories globally, out of which 117 companies are from Asia including Mongolia, Pakistan, Thailand and Japan. The Code addresses the entire tourism supply chain. At corporate level, companies are required to have ethical policies, and to train their staff both in origin countries and in destinations. On the demand side – companies are asked to inform and educate travellers.
The Rio de Janeiro Declaration and Call for Action to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, from the global forum – World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents held in Brazil in 2008, called for the “Increased support of companies operating in tourism and travel by signing the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.”
The Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (GCET) is a set of principles to guide stakeholders in tourism development. In specific reference to children, Article 2 point 3 states “The exploitation of human beings in any form, particularly sexual, especially when applied to children, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism; as such … it should be energetically combated with the cooperation of all the States concerned and penalized without concession by the national legislation of both the countries visited and the countries of the perpetrators of these acts, even when they are carried out abroad.”
The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria are an effort to come to a common understanding of sustainable tourism. In reference to children, B.6. on Exploitation includes a criteria that “The company has implemented a policy against commercial exploitation, particularly of children and adolescents, including sexual exploitation… adding that Tourism businesses can play a key role in ensuring the protection of local populations at destination by not buying products produced with child labor; not allowing use of tourism premises for sexual exploitation of minors and denouncing these practices to local authorities.“
Southeast Asia Conference on Child Sex Tourism in March 20, 2009 in Bali, Indonesia included a recommendation where “We call on the private sector to increase their efforts to protect children from child sex tourism; produce and display education materials to raise awareness and empower children to protect themselves from child sex tourism; and sensitize clients and customers to understand their roles and responsibilities to protect children…”
What role is and can the tourism industry play?
With the plethora of guidelines and recommendations and also media reports on child sex tourism hitting the headlines in the last couple of years, how is the tourism industry responding to this unwanted phenomenon? Some of the better known responses are highlighted below:
Some travel-related companies have contracted relevant NGOs to conduct child protection training specifically targeting staff and relevant operators who have direct contact with tourists including hotel staff, tour guides, travel agents, taxi drivers, restaurant staff, photo shop staff, karaoke staff, tourism police and other tourism sector representatives.
Production of in-flight videos to warn travellers against sexually exploiting children in destination countries. The video has been shown on a number of airlines (Air France, Corsair, Nouvelles Frontieres). In-flight videos have also been developed by Lufthansa and Austrian Air. The Air France video is available for reproduction by any airline wishing to join the campaign. Ticket pouches for distribution by tour and travel operators have been produced to remind travellers to respect the rights of children to their sexual integrity in destination countries.
Accor Hotels and Accor Services (a European leader in hotels and tourism operating in nearly 100 countries) is also a signatory to the Code of Conduct. They conduct staff training on how to prevent this risk (to detect suspicious behaviours and know how to respond) and raising customer awareness. Among the concrete results have been statements for child protection that have been featured in 5 million ticket jackets worldwide, bar, restaurant and lobby displays, stickers in hotel rooms, and the featuring of the ECPAT video in the hotel TV, and the inclusion of the issue on the internet and intranet of Accor.
Whilst there seems like a fair amount is being done in this area, some points come to mind:
A business case even for smaller players? – It is true that those working within the tourism industry are in a unique position to increase awareness and report on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, however is encouraging their involvement about appealing to their conscience or is it better business sense? Understandably for the larger travel-related companies who have a global brand to protect and a growing educated clientele to retain, these issues such as reputation risk and customer retention make the business case to implement the tourism child protection Code of Conduct. However as offenders are increasingly travelling to remote communities and using alternative accommodation (such as smaller stand-alone hotels and home-stays), how does the Code of Conduct effectively protect such children at risk? It is hoped that once the Code of Conduct gains momentum amongst the larger players in the travel industry, this will trickle down to the smaller companies.
The role of the media – Whilst the media can play a positive role in raising awareness on sensitive issues such as child sex tourism and getting businesses to respond, in the same token, media reports can also cause some companies to shy away from responsible business practice by signing up and implementing the Code of Conduct for fear of being further scrutinised by media and the public. Earlier this year, a Swiss journalist went undercover and visited some of the hotel partners under the Kuoni group (signatory of the Code of Conduct) and others in Pattaya, Thailand. The journalist approached bell-boys whether they could provide under-age boys for him. In most cases, the journalist was accordingly assisted. After the airing of an undercover report, some hotel chains in Thailand who were reportedly considering to sign up to the Code of Conduct are now rethinking this decision as they fear they will then become the target of the next campaign. Having said that, for the companies who use this as a reason (or excuse) for not implementing CSR, surely further down the line, if the issue (be it child sex tourism or other concerns) is not being properly handled in its business operations, this will ultimately resurface in the future affecting the business eventually.
Another box in CSR to tick off? – The point of the Code of Conduct is not just a policy to sign on and tick-off. It involves training, reporting, monitoring and essentially integrating it within the day-to-day business operations and included in standard operating procedures for it to be effective and sustainable, this takes time. Companies in the travel industry who are committed and have signed up are a step up and whilst the Code is not a perfect tool, to date, it is the only tool (and process) being developed by experienced NGOs and development agencies to work with the industry to protect children from child sex tourism.
It is clear that those businesses operating in this sector cannot afford to ignore this issue, especially in Asia. Tools are available and responses have been trialled, like the Code of Conduct, to assist businesses to tackle the issue and reduce their risk of exposure in this area. The issue could also be much broader in this region – when your staff travel on business, do you know what they choose to do in the hours when they aren’t working, could this be a significant risk for your business if they are representing your company?
Companies in the travel industry who are keen to find out more about the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, please contact Giorgio Berardi, Programme Officer for Combating Child Sex Tourism, ECPAT International.