Southeast Asia a Haven for Pedophiles

ByABC News
August 17, 2006, 1:49 PM

Aug. 17, 2006 — -- The arrest of 41-year-old John Karr on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault in the 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey has shined a harsh spotlight on the country where he apparently resided -- Thailand, which has long seen as a destination country for pedophile sex tourists.

Karr was already being held in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges. He apparently disappeared from the United States in 2001, after he was released from jail, where he'd been held on child pornography charges.

Thailand has a reputation for engaging in one of the largest child sex trade operations in Southeast Asia. UNICEF estimates the number of Thai children involved in prostitution to be between 60,000 and 200,000, though the organization says the exact number is difficult to track.

The U.S Department of Justice said the growing popularity of the very profitable child sex tourism trade contributes to the problem. A Thai organization called FACE, the coalition to Fight Against Child Exploitation, claimed that 5,000 foreigners come to Thailand each year to have sex with children.

The organization described the average sex tourist as a middle-aged white male from either Europe or North America who often goes online to find the "best deals." One particular Web site promised "nights of sex with two young Thai girls for the price of a tank of gas."

Sowmia Nair, a Department of Justice agent, said the Thai government often "turns a blind eye" to child sex tourism because of the country's economic reliance on the tourist trade in general. He also said police officers are often corrupt.

"Police have been known to guard brothels and even procure children for prostitution," Nair said. "Some police directly exploit the children themselves."

A report from the International Bureau for Children's Rights said the majority of child prostitutes come from poor families in northern Thailand, referred to as the "hill tribes." With limited economic opportunities and bleak financial circumstances, these families, out of desperation, give their children to "recruiters," who promise them jobs in the city and then force the children into prostitution. Sometimes families themselves even prostitute their children or sell them into the sex trade for a minuscule sum of money.