Child Sex Tourism in Southeast Asia
Child sex tourism under siege in Southeast Asia
The three-day Southeast Asia Conference on Child Sex Tourism ended on Friday, March 20, 2009 in Bali, Indonesia with a declaration by 205 participants identifying the current challenges and a plan of action towards approaching governments in members' states from the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) region, as well as the private sector and the general public.
In a written statement, participants declared: “We, representatives from governments, non-governmental organizations, human rights institutions, the private sector, law enforcement and legal community, researchers, academics, civil society, and children, have gathered together in Bali, Indonesia at the Southeast Asian Conference on Child Sex Tourism. We have reviewed the progress of the steps taken by governments in the region in addressing the child sex tourism.”
Participants also said: “We commend many local, national, and regional efforts to promote the rights of the child and to combat child sex tourism. However, we witness an increasing incidence of this crime against children. We urge all sectors of society, particularly the ASEAN member states, to immediately escalate action to protect children and prosecute offenders. We recognize the importance of regional and international cooperation to ensure offenders are brought to justice.”
In the document titled, “Bali Commitment and Recommendation,” participants recognized that one of the most prominent challenges facing child sex tourism in the ASEAN region is poverty. The participants were unanimous in their belief that “poverty remains a root cause of child sex tourism.” Other factors include limited access to education, gender relations, and weak law enforcement capacity. Technological advances, in particular the pervasiveness of the Internet and child abusive images, have contributed to the current magnitude of the sexual exploitation of children.
In addition, participants also felt that there is no international agreement on the term “child sex tourism.” They agreed that some tourism stakeholders are concerned about the possible undesirable effect on the tourism industry. “Moreover, the term may not accurately capture the phenomenon, as long-term visitors, foreign residents, and domestic travelers are increasingly committing this crime,” participants said. “An alternative term used by law enforcers is ‘traveling child sex offenders.’”
Delegates also said they believe the current economic crisis will increase children’s vulnerability to child sex tourism, and that there are some inconsistencies between customary law and state law, in particular in the context of consent to marriage. “While all ASEAN member states are state parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), not all national legislation is compatible with the obligations of the CRC,” participants claimed.
They added that offenders are increasingly traveling to remote communities and using alternative accommodation (such as home-stays). “Education and awareness in these areas is very limited.”
According to the delegates, there is limited coordination and collaboration across different government agencies and also between civil organizations, and that there is limited engagement and support by the private sector in efforts to combat child sex tourism.
In issuing the aforementioned challenges, the 205 participants from 17 countries called on governments and the private sectors, as well as civil society in the ASEAN region to help combat child sex tourism.
In their joint statement, participants said: “We call on ASEAN member states to ratify the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, if they have not already done so; enforce legislation to prosecute child sex offenders and where relevant, collaborate regionally and internationally to ensure successful prosecution; harmonize national legislation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and where relevant, to consult with the religious leaders to resolve inconsistencies between customary and state law; enhance technical support for law enforcers, such as prosecutors and judiciary; address root causes of child sex tourism, including by ensuring that every child has equal access to education; initiate or enhance further inter-sectoral collaboration and cooperation to protect children from child sex tourism; meet annually in a regional forum to monitor the implementation of actions to protect children; support and implement The South East Asian Plan – A Sustainable Regional Response to Preventing the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism (2009-2013); enhance mechanisms for child protection, including recovery, reintegration, and compensation for children affected by child sex tourism; promote and provide opportunities for active participation of children in responding to child sex tourism; and develop curriculum on sex education and reproductive rights for children in school.”
They added: “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 and specifically for Internet providers, to establish an Internet-based reporting mechanism.”
And finally, the 205 participants jointly said: “We call on civil society and international agencies to strengthen collaboration and coordination to ensure effectiveness of activities and programs to protect children and prevent child sex tourism; and participate in the process of the ASEAN Charter to ensure the protection of children and promotion of a caring society.”
The three-day event was held under the auspices of End Child Prostitution Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT), which is an organization that has been at the forefront in fighting child sex tourism. Visit the group’s website at www.ecpat.net to learn more about their latest efforts.
Dwi Yani contributed to this report.