Experts at an international conference in Bangkok say the number of tourists in Asia seeking sex with children is on the rise, and an increasing number of the pedophiles are Asians themselves.
Cheaper airfares, the opening of countries once closed because of war or politics, and the advent of the Internet have provided more opportunities for tourists looking for underage sex partners.
ECPAT, an organization that fights the sexual exploitation of children, arranged the two-day conference at the U.N. regional headquarters in Bangkok. The meeting was aimed at representatives from tourism authorities, tourism training institutes and the travel industry, to discuss ways to stop sex tourism and sex offenders.
Christine Beddoe, Program Director of ECPAT, says the advent of the Internet has globalized child sex tourism. Countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam have been well-known destinations for such tourists, but now Thailand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are gaining similar reputations.
“The Internet has become one of the greatest tools for sex offenders,” Beddoe said, “ to exchange information on places to go where they won’t get caught or where laws are weak. It’s also being used for the spread of child pornography, and this is a destructive and awful thing. We must start to work together with the Internet providers to come up with some solutions.”
Beddoe says it is impossible to isolate the problem. She believes that offenders are increasingly coming from within Asia itself, particularly Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese tourists and businessmen working abroad.
Lack of Political Will Cited
Nevertheless, some progress has been made. Several European airlines are now showing in-flight videos on preventing child sex tourism, for example, and at least 23 countries have laws allowing prosecution of their citizens at home for sex offenses with children overseas.
But bringing offenders to justice remains tricky because of difficulties in compiling a court case using child witnesses, who are often either poor or homeless.
Beddoe suggested a lack of political will in governments, and reluctance on the part of the tourist industry, as the main obstacles to effective action.
“We can’t really prioritize where child sex tourism is worse than somewhere else because what we’re noticing is that new areas are increasingly being targeted: The South Pacific region, Latin America, even Africa and Eastern Europe as well as Asia. So it truly is a global phenomenon, and we must see it as a global problem.”
Delegates came from Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.