//Protecting children from the onslaught of sex tourism

Protecting children from the onslaught of sex tourism

M Shamsur Rabb Khan

11/18/2006, Financial Express

Many of us who watched Madhur Bhandarkar's directed film 'Page 3' came out of the theatre with a heavy heart. The film takes a candid look into the lives of celebrities and stars exposing their misdemeanours, including child sexual abuse. The film penetrates through the façade of their 'hunky-dory' lives and reveals the hypocrisy, superficiality and shallowness that lie underneath. However, the most glaring scene in the film is that when small kids were seen with big business tycoons in their bedrooms shamefully engaged in nasty business. That is child sexual abuse behind the veil.

Sex tourism is a form of commercial sexual exploitation of children; it includes child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Sexual abuse of children is the most abominable violations of human rights. In fact, no crime can be as ghastly as using innocent children for sexual pleasure. The child sex tourism has exploded with rapidly growing tourism industry, the whole of Asia is vulnerable to child sexual abuse where an estimated half a million sex tourists visit every year.

In recent times, child sex tourism has gained popularity. It means that tourists, mostly men, engaged in sex trafficking by purposely travelling to known sex destinations, seeking anonymity in pornography or prostitution, or engaging in pederasty with young children.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 1.8 million children globally are exploited in the multi-billion dollar commercial sex industry, which includes child sex tourism. The most vulnerable children in South Asian countries are from poor and marginalised communities who have little supervision from their families. Children are lured into prostitution with money, clothes, pens, sweets, food and sometimes the chance to travel overseas.

India is slowly turning into a centre for child-sex tourists, says a path-breaking 748-page study called "Trafficking in Women and Children in India", which was sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission. The study said Goa, a small state in the western India, has become a sex destination for many tourists, and added that sex tourism had become a problem in Kerala, the most literate state of India. Many tourists are paedophiles who look for only small children (both male and female) to satisfy their sexual desires. The study quoted investigators as saying that many children mentioned that they had sex with a varied range of tourists for anything between 50-200 rupees.

There is an element of mind-boggling revelation in the study laced with startling facts and modus operandi. These paedophiles from various countries can belong to a highly organised network such as running orphanage, posing as Good Samaritan and making films and documentaries.

From south India, the problem is being spread to the eastern parts as well. The latest report in the Outlook magazine says that off the Puri's holy precinct, unholy sex tourism has made Pentakota, a small fishing hamlet, paradise for paedophiles. The entire sex trade is geared to service paedophiles, who flock to the Puri beach throughout the year. Children below 13 offer sex for a paltry sum of few hundred rupees.

In Pentakota village, some 20-odd massage parlours have been opened up during the last five years that offer child prostitutes to clients from abroad. Driven by extreme poverty, many families of this village have harnessed their children to the trade to supplement income. Government agencies, particularly the police and the local authorities have turned a blind eye to the problem.

News from Bangladesh is also no less serious. According to Trafficking of Women and Children in Bangladesh, a report by Centre for Health and Population Research, Dhaka, 2001, "13,220 children trafficked out of Bangladesh in the last five years; 300,000 Bangladeshi children work in the brothels in India; 200,000 children work in the brothels in Pakistan." The Global Fund for Children, 2002 reports that in Dhaka alone about ten thousand children are engaged in prostitution.

In Nepal, 5000-7000 girls are trafficked out of the country each year, primarily to India. It is estimated that Nepalese children constitute 20% (40,000) of the estimated 200,000 Nepalese prostitutes in India. Girls as young as seven years are trafficked from economically depressed neighbourhoods in Nepal and Bangladesh, to the major prostitution centres of Mumbai, Calcutta, and Delhi. In Mumbai, an estimated 90 per cent of sex workers started when they were under 18 years of age; half are from Nepal.

The greater risk that sex tourism involves is the escalation of HIV/AIDS among children, as the innocent lots are prone to infection and exclusion. In May 2006, the Associated Press reported that India has the world's largest HIV/AIDS population. The onslaught of sex tourism will help spread the disease among children. According to UNAIDS, India has approximately 5.7 million HIV cases, topping South Africa and its 5.5 million cases. However, Bangladesh's record regarding AIDS/HIV is of not much of serious concern at the moment. But there is likelihood of sex tourism in the country that would certainly lead to unchecked spread of the dreaded disease.

Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – to which Bangladesh is a signatory – says that the State must do its best to protect from all types of sexual abuse and exploitation. Bangladesh, though, has not been able to fulfill this international commitment. Section 10 of Repression against Women and Children Act 2000 also defines physical sexual abuse.
The problem needs immediate attention, as it affects a vast population. From policy to the implementation level, various stakeholders, such as government, academics, NGOs, researchers and officials are required to work towards the complete eradication of sex tourism, especially child sexual abuse.

The writer is Editor, Consumer Unite & Trust Society or CUTS, based in Jaipur, India