Sex tourism expanding into new destinations says new ECPAT report


The Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism released on 12 May by the ECPAT International on the 20th Anniversary of the First World Congress against commercial sexual exploitation of children, paints a depressing picture of a growth in sex tourism fuelled by cheaper travel and the increasing use of the internet.

The report, the first of its kind, aims to raise awareness and to spur action from governments, the tourism industry and civil society organisations to end the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT). The report shows that despite 20 years of efforts, the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism has expanded across the globe and out-paced every attempt to respond at the international and national level. It confirms that no region is untouched by this crime and no country is ‘immune’. In an increasingly interconnected world, more people are on the move and even the most remote parts of the planet are now within reach, thanks to cheaper travel and the spread of the Internet.

The Global Study has collected and analysed qualitative and quantitative information on the SECTT in all regions of the world, including case studies and good practices. The findings from 9 regional reports (East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, North America, The Pacific, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa) reveal similarities, such as an increased diversification of travel and tourism infrastructure and the increased use by offenders of mobile technologies, while also highlighting challenges that are specific to each region. Some of the key findings of the study include the need for a broader view on SECTT given its spread and the need for a clear global definition of SECTT that would be mirrored within national legislations.

Compiled with information from more than 70 global child protection agencies, the report shows that SECTT is much more complex and widespread than the traditional image of wealthy Westerners travelling to developing countries.

“Twenty years ago the offender was seen as a white, wealthy, middle-aged male paedophile from a developed country vacationing in a developing country with the intention of having sex with a child,” it says. “Now we understand that more children are being abused by tourists and travellers from their own country or region than by people who have travelled from other parts of the world.”

The report notes, for example, that Japanese, Chinese and South Korean tourists are now more likely to be offenders in Southeast Asia – a traditional sex tourism hotspot – because they travel through the region more regularly than Westerners. Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in countries such as Cambodia are areas of particular concern.

“Special zones established in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and the Philippines coincide almost precisely with the locations in Southeast Asia where [sexual exploitation of children] is known to be particularly widespread,” says the report.

“The creation of these special zones undermines the status of local residents while magnifying the power and status of tourists, creating a perfect storm of opportunity for the sexual exploitation of local children,” it adds.

Children in the UK and Europe, long seen as source countries for travelling child sex offenders, have also experienced an increased risk of sexual abuse by foreign and in-country travelling offenders.

In Europe, Moldova, Portugal and Ukraine have emerged as new destinations for sex tourism, according to Mark Capaldi, ECPAT’s head of policy and research.

Capaldi added that countries developing their tourist industries often ignore the risks unfettered tourism poses to children, and lack the laws to protect them. Everyone would benefit if government did risk assessments before trying to cash in on international tourism, he said.

The report emphasises the need for cross-sectoral partnerships and aligned approaches in SECTT prevention and interventions, recommending that partners across sectors around the world should come together to push for effective laws, strong enforcement, the end of impunity for offenders, and most importantly better protection of children.

Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, Chair of the High-Level Task Force for the Global Study on the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, said: “We must all share the burden of ending sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. It is a moral obligation to act now to protect all children from this shocking crime wherever they are.”

Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), says:

“We need to raise our voice against any form of child exploitation in tourism and work together to prevent, fight and eradicate this scourge from our sector. The Global Study provides us with much-needed evidence-based research which I trust will strengthen our common advocacy efforts and make our case stronger”.

The study, funded by the Dutch Government, contains contributions from the global ECPAT Network, partners and experts, including Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, as well as other law enforcement agencies, governments and universities. The Global Study, regional and country reports, and numerous expert papers, can be downloaded from

This article was first published on CABI and is reprinted with permission here. 

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