Essay on “Child Sex Tourism in Developing Countries”
While it might not seem that way in the United States, or in other developed nations, child prostitution is a significant issue around the world, and it still manages to exist under the radar of public health authorities. Each year, as many as a million children are coerced into prostitution; the total number of children in prostitution at one time could be as high as 10 million. Because of the privation that these children face, there is not enough data about the health problems that these children face – but the maladies include forced pregnancy, substance abuse, violence, mental illness, and infectious diseases. Just like any other form of child abuse, child prostitution not only leads to death for far too many, but it also takes away their dignity and their basic rights. The purpose of this research is to analyze existing literature on child prostitution, particularly with regard to health issues as well as best practices in the tourism industry, and emerge with recommendations to help promote sustainable tourism in developing nations without resorting to the use of child prostitutes. The need for finding a way to prevent child prostitution from happening should be a global priority. There are several empirical models that have already been identified for tourism industries to follow in different nations, and this paper will call for the use of those models in practice, as tourism companies and government agencies have the ability to institute these professional practices and public policies, as long as they can eliminate some of the barriers that may yet be in place. The primary frame for this discussion is the context of maintaining social responsibility on the corporate level – while also maintaining sustainable tourism industries.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defined a child as anyone who is not yet 18 years old; child prostitution consists of forcing a child to carry out sexual acts for financial or other forms of compensation, or even offering the use of a child for sexual services. It differs from other forms of child sexual abuse because of the commercial aspect; however, because children cannot legally consent (or intellectually consent) to those activities, it is also quite similar to other forms of abuse. Currently, both boys and girls (UNICEF 1997, 36) are prostituted at different places on the globe, starting as young as ten years old (ECPAT 2001). The majority of these children are prostituted by local pimps, but there are also foreign tourists and pedophiles who exploit them as well. Many of these children will service five to ten customers each day. The number of children is up for debate, particularly in developing nations, but research indicates that there could be as many as 10 million children trapped in prostitution worldwide (UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2000). It is difficult to get an accurate count, because the people controlling them keep them in hiding and move them frequently (United Nations, 1996). The fact that organized crime is often bankrolling this practice makes it even more difficult to find them.
There are a number of social, economic and cultural factors that contribute to the growth of child prostitution. Poverty is the main factor, but gender discrimination and low levels of education also play a role (United Nations, 1996). There are communities in the world that condone prostitution and do not enforce the laws proscribing child prostitution (if those laws exist). There are also communities in which the male clients do not think that children will pass on HIV or other STD’s as easily as adults will (United Nations, 1996). Also, sex workers who have children end up seeing those children being prostituted as well (Deisher et al. 1989, 1163). Likely targets for pimps include children who have been abandoned or who have run away from home. Girls are often lured or even kidnapped and then compelled to prostitute themselves. International sex tourism has become a major cause for child prostitution in some countries (Focal Point against Sexual Exploitation of Children, 2001).
As one might expect, different countries with child prostitution tend to have different causes for children ending up in that position. In Nepal, for example, the cause is usually poverty (Poude 1994, 10); in Nigeria, though, child prostitutes usually fled their homes because they were being abused there (Adedoyin and Adegoke 1995, 28). Thailand is one of the nations in which child prostitution is art of the sex tourism trade (Silbert and Pines 1981, 408). The common thread, though, is that child prostitution brings in money. Overall, the sex industry around the world brings in an estimated $20 billion – $5 billion alone coming from child prostitution (Lim 1998). Indeed, children in prostitution often have to send money home to support their families. Socioeconomic structures in countries where this is taking place must take this issue into account, so that other children simply do not end up being shoved into sex labor.
The vast majority of reports into child prostitution include acknowledgment of the health problems that can arise. However, because of the difficulty of even finding child prostitutes, there is little in the way of reliable data on mortality and morbidity. Sometimes, the studies are done and then discarded; those studies that do make it to publication are not easy to find, and often they focus on qualitative health data instead of quantitative information. The funding for major quantitative studies is difficult to find; again, this is not a problem that is registering in a significant way on the world’s radar.
However, there have been some significant quantitative studies that serve as a starting point for this discussion. One example was the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) study of 176 children who were in prostitution in six countries. Rates of HIV infection varied from 5 percent in Vietnam to 17 percent in Thailand (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2000). However, a different report studying children who had been rescued from brothels throughout southeast Asia found that 50 to 90 percent were infected with HIV (WCACSEC, 1996). Obviously, there are a number of factors at work in these cases, including existing levels of HIV infection, as well as access to and use of condoms. There are some communities in which the total population of sex workers has an HIV infection rate of as high as 86 percent – adult and children combined (UNAIDS, 2000). Every time an adolescent girl has unprotected sex with an infected partner, she has a 1 percent chance of getting HIV (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1999). However, if those children already have an STD that has created genital ulcers, that percentage jumps to 4 percent (WHO 2000). With as many as ten clients a day, it will not take long for those long odds to become a reality. Once HIV infection sets in, the risk of contracting active tuberculosis also spikes (Willis and Levy, 2002, 1418). With regard to other STD’s, the numbers are even more grim. Within the ESCAP study, STD rates among prostituted children ranged from 36 percent in Cambodia to 78 percent in China (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2000). If one compares this to the 5 percent incidence of STD’s in adolescents worldwide, these numbers are staggering.
The numbers as far as pregnancy are also eye-opening. Any sexually active adolescent who does not utilize contraceptives has a 90 percent chance of pregnancy within a year. Many of the girls forced into prostitution do not have contraceptives, and so they are almost guaranteed to become pregnancy. Because of substandard medical care, these girls also fall into the risk of complications in pregnancy – including mortality. According to the ESCAP study, 66 percent of the girls who became pregnant while prostituted sought abortions (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 2000). On a worldwide level, between 1 and 4.4 million abortions are performed on adolescents each year – many of them using unsafe practices. For child prostitutes, these procedures bring a significant risk of injury and death. Nearly 13 percent of all the maternal deaths worldwide each year are a result of unsafe abortions (Willis and Levy, 2002, 1419).
Of course, there are many other harmful outcomes for child prostitutes. A study of 475 sex workers in five countries found that two-thirds of them fit the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) (Farley et al. 1998, 407). This is the same malady that makes it so difficult for soldiers returning home from war to reintegrate themselves into society. Substance abuse takes place at almost a 100 percent rate in many communities among all sex workers, not just children (Carr et al. 1996, 491). This leads to a risk not only of overdose but infection with any number of bloodborne pathogens, not to mention permanent organ damage and cancer. Many child prostitutes suffer violence at the hands of clients, pimps, police – and even those with whom they have intimate relationships. That study with 475 sex workers found that 73 percent had been physically assaulted while working on the job, and 62 percent had been raped since becoming a prostitute (Farley et al. 1998, 411). For children, these experiences can be deadly.
Developing Sustainable Tourism
In 1987, the Brundtland Commission presented the idea of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). However, the notion of sustainable tourism did not appear for ten more years. In 1997, Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry appeared, composed by the World Tourism Organization, the Earth Council, and the World Travel and Tourism Council. There were several reasons for the delay in developing these ideas specific to the tourism industry, such as the wide variety of tourist activities around the world (WTO, 2001). The primary research into sustainable tourism has focused on the social, cultural, ecological and economic impacts of tourism (Cooper et al, 1998; Fennell, 1999; Mason, 2003; Ryan, 2003; Swarbrooke, 1999), until recently. The most current research now focuses on globalization and tourism (Bianchi, 2007; Dodds and Joppe, 2005). Because of a wave of neo-liberal governments coming into power and driving economic philosophy, the questions of the responsibility for business to push sustainable development have come to the forefront, and so corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business ethics have also entered the realm of study (Tepelus 2008, 100).
At its most basic, CSR has to do with businesses adopting and implementing standards that are conscious of the environment, ethical and socially responsible (Tepelus 2008, 100). The European Commission (2001) defined CSR as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”(European Commission 2001, 8). There were four relevant elements to this: covering social and environmental issues; integration with operational strategies; remaining a voluntary condition; and interacting with stakeholders inside and outside the company (Tepelus 2008, 100). Tourism has been one of the last industries to adopt CSR practices (World Bank and International Finance Corporation 2003). Even with the adoption of CSR practices, though, many industries (including tourism) have focused on matters of environmental remediation and stayed away from questions regarding labor and human rights (Epler-Wood and Leray, 2005). Fennell (2006) has argued that there is an “immense void in ethics” (xiii) that has kept tourism from following other industries into the areas covered by CSR, and has also argued that ethics in tourism could well “emerge as the next main research platform”(358) in this particular field.
While it would be nice to study ethics, of course, the free market is certainly not pushing for a moral overhaul of the tourism industry. Both the industry and the consumer are motivated by price: as Brackenbury (2003) noted, “price competition and its consequences of productivity improvement, and not product innovation, has occupied the minds of senior managers in this sector over the past ten years” (8). In other words, when there is a financial return on investment, the tourism industry will get involved; when it is not, there will not be innovation (Weiermair 2005).
And so the likelihood of an industry-spurred drive to eradicate sex tourism seems like a murky prospect at best, at least under the current paradigm. However, the lack of ethical concern in the industry has made sex trafficking and child sex tourism a widespread practice (Payne and Dimanche, 1996). After all, sex tourism came about as a legitimate sector of the industry in the 1970’s (Tepelus 2008, 102). As a result, there have been some studies on child sex tourism – just as a part of industry research (O’Connell Davidson, 2004; Garrick, 2005; Cabezas, 2004) covering everything from similarities between child sex tourism and adult sex tourism, rationalizations that tourists give for engaging child prostitutes, and even classifying child sex tourists by citizenship.
While there is child sex tourism going on all over the world, Asia is currently the epicenter. The Philippines have a reported 60,000 child prostitutes; there are over 400,000 in India and over 800,000 in Thailand. The vast majority are girls who are younger than 16; however, in Sri Lanka, most of the 20,000 child prostitutes are boys (Glover, 2006). However, as has been already noted, the tourists are not the only ones to blame, as there is a specific set of cultural conditions that have to be in place for child prostitution to be condoned. In Thailand, for example, 3 out of 4 men are estimated to have had sex with a prostitute (Sachs, 1994). Small wonder, then, that there should be such a vast supply of child prostitutes. The problem is global – and it is deeply entrenched in certain corners of the planet.
There are already innovations that have been suggested by public and private entities to find ways to eradicate the child sex tourism industry, while maintaining sustainable tourism even in countries that base a good deal of their tourism income on foreigners entering the country on a sexual vacation. My research objectives are as follows:
- Identify existing ideas for innovation that could lead to the reduction and removal of child sex tourism from common practice in developing nations
- Identify barriers to the implementation of those innovation
- Compare and contrast the various ideas for innovation and appraise the ones that are most likely to be effective, based on the cultural contexts involved
- Develop a series of recommendations for public and private entities based on the research
My research will be primarily qualitative in nature. The quantitative documentation about the problems that lead to child sex trafficking and tourism in developing countries is fairly exhaustive, based on both private studies and research carried out by governmental and intergovernmental agencies. Learning more about the specifics of sexually transmitted diseases and the average of child prostitutes will not contribute significantly to the existing body of knowledge on the topic; for this reason, my focus will be primarily on ways to implement and improve existing suggestions for innovation within the tourist industry and within public policy.
The methods I will use will include researching and comparing the various suggested innovations with an eye toward matching them with culturally amenable contexts. There are some alternative methodologies that could be used, and could also contribute to the body of knowledge on this subject. For example, these three methodologies would also be quite useful:
- Conducting a quantitative attitudinal study of adult males in the countries in which child sex tourism and child prostitution are the most widespread
- Performing a longitudinal study on the economic indicators of countries that depend heavily on child sex tourism for industry income
- Conducting a quantitative attitudinal study of sex tourists who visit one (or several) of the countries in which child sex tourism is most widespread.
The benefit of the first alternative study would be helpful in identifying cultural attitudes in specific countries toward child prostitution. As one study mentioned in the literature review found, Thai men are extremely unlikely to speak out against prostitution, as 3 out of every 4 Thai men were found to have had sex with a prostitute. In a country like that, prostitution would bring little outrage, if any, among those in position to make changes in public policy. Child prostitution would be less likely to inspire a similar outrage in a country in which prostitution is so common, because sexual partners would be more likely to be viewed as things to use or consume, rather than people.
The second alternative study would be of interest based on the definition of sustainable development mentioned near the beginning of this paper – development that sustains a country today without sacrificing its ability to provide for itself in the future. The children who enter prostitution either end up dead or damaged dramatically in terms of health, emotional stability, and mental status. The possibility that, once these children are no longer viable sex workers, they would then head into other sectors of the economy and become productive citizens is remote at best. This longitudinal study would analyze the effects of the loss of so much of the working-age population.
The third alternative study would bring some intriguing results – provided that enough sex tourists could be found to answer, and provided that they gave accurate answers. After all, if someone is going to travel to another country for a sexual vacation, it is likely that the topic is not one that he (or she) would be squeamish about discussing on an anonymous basis with a researcher. Finding out the motivations that lead one to travel abroad for sexual activity would be of some interest, but a greater area of contribution to this study would be to learn the attitudes of sex tourists (who are more likely to feel a sense of liberation than the general population in sexual matters) about child sex tourism. At what age should sex be legal? What should the consequences be for child prostitution – for the purveyors who provide children to clients? Those answers would be of interest, more from a sociology perspective. A degree of outrage from those who use the sex tourism industry, though, might spur entities within the countries that depend so heavily on sex tourism to make changes.
Obviously, in a highly qualitative study like the one I propose, there is little in the way of analysis – at least in the statistical kind. Instead, the discussion will focus on finding existing methods of innovation and identifying barriers – and recommending ways to overcome those barriers. While this might seem to be covering some existing ground instead of being innovative, it is clear that the barriers have not yet been overcome as a result of the research that is already out there. Because of the epidemic that child sex tourism continues to comprise, it is necessary for research to take place that will persuade those who are in positions of authority, both in the industry and within halls of government, to find a different way to bring in tourists and their cash.
Researching Innovations to Eliminate Child Sex Tourism
As has already been mentioned in this study, there is not much existing knowledge about child sex tourism and trafficking, and there has been minimal research done on the connections between sustainability and CSR and this touchy subject. Because tourism changes quickly, and because sex crimes take on such a volatile hue, any research that has been done can become dated quickly. However, there have been some innovations taken on by public and private entities to prevent and even end sex tourism for children and trafficking. Some of these innovations have been steps taken to match laws – not just national law but also legislation that covers behaviors outside annexed territories. The first step seems to have been finding ways to build awareness within the tourism industry about the ways it could keep children from being sexually exploited; subsequent steps have been to give tourism businesses the wherewithal to exercise that ability, to find alternative socioeconomic opportunities for the children who are at most risk for coercion into prostitution, to build awareness among the public at large, and to generate incentives to turn in child sex tourists and traffickers.
Innovation Models from Nongovernmental Organizations
ChildWise is an organization that is focuses on eradicating child sex tourism in international destinations where Australians travel. ChildWise is the Australian wing of ECPAT International, which is a consortium dedicated to the elimination of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Founded in Thailand in 1962, ECPAT now has offices in 63 countries and was one of the initial groups that fought back against child prostitution in tourisn in Asia (ECPAT International, 2007). ChildWise began with the assumption that child sex tourism, at least involving Australians, is not part of the mainstream tourism industry (Hecht, 2001). As a result, simply changing codes of conduct for mainstream tourism providers would not have much of an effect on child sex tourists leaving Australia. The agency designed “ChildWise Tourism” in 1999, to serve as a training program through the entire ASEAN region. This program includes educational materials for tourism students, teachers, and practitioners in the industry. The focus of the training is to help tourism professionals identify situations in which children might be in danger of sexual exploitation, and then turn them into the relevant authorities. All seven of the ASEAN countries allow ChildWise to come in and hold training sessions in the community: Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand (ChildWise 2007). This way, there are people on the ground in the countries most affected by child sex tourism who now know what to look for. ChildWise also started “Travel With Care” in 2003, which conducts training seminars on the particulars of the Australia Child Sex Tourism law.
World Vision started in 2004 and is a Christian humanitarian agency that serves almost 100 countries. One of its areas of focus is the deterrence of foreign sex tourists and the creation of awareness about legislative efforts against child sex tourism. The slogan “Abuse a child in this country, go to jail in yours” was used widely in Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Cambodia – and was primarily aimed at American tourists. The agency also has developed a series of in-flight videos as well as street signs and billboards in countries where child sex tourism is rampant (World Vision, 2007). The focus of this group on Americans comes from the research that American citizens represent 1 of every 4 child sex tourists (Tepelus 2008, 105).
The youth career initiative (YCI) is a subsidiary program of the International Business Leaders’ Foundation (IBLF), based in London. The main purpose of this initiative is to boost the employability of young people in the hotel industry, and so to reduce the number of young people who are forced to turn to prostitution in order to survive. Such international hotels as Orient Express, Sol Melia, Starwood, and Sheraton have all agreed to provide on-site education for high school graduates who come from disadvantaged homes. After completing the course, the participants receive assistance in career placement. Since this program began in 1995, more than 1,300 youth have completed the program; now it runs in eight countries: Poland, Brazil, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Australia, Indonesia and Romania (IBLF, 2007). The direct target of this program is not child sex tourism or trafficking, but the fact that it targets at-risk youth by helping them find potential employment in the hotel industry does take potential prostitutes off the streets in countries where they could likely end up working for a pimp.
Innovation Models from Government Organizations
One of the governments that took the lead in fighting child sex tourism has been that of Brazil. In 1997, the country started a “no child sex tourism” campaign, and its logo for the campaign fighting the exploitation of children was adopted by the UNWTO for the worldwide campaign (Tepelus 2008, 106). In 2002, the government created the Ministry of Tourism, and within the National Tourism Chamber, a “Sustainable Tourism and Childhood Thematic Chamber” was established. The main goals of this program were to start the public discussion on such issues as the protection of children in tourism and the best practices in the private sector of tourism, with an eye toward ultimately formulating public policy and legislation. From 2004 through 2007, the Ministry of Tourism held a World Tourism Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development as part of its “Sustainable Tourism and Childhood” campaign. This led to the first declaration against child sex tourism on October 26, 2005, in Rio de Janeiro, and a combined South American campaign against child sex tourism, to begin 2007 in 12 countries. Also, the Brazilian government reached out to such entities as Save the Children Sweden and World Childhood Foundation Brazil to research other ways to help bring child sex tourism to an end (Gorenstein 2007).
Innovation Models from Intergovernmental Organizations
From the very earliest efforts to fight child sex tourism, the UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization) has provided input to interested organizations, including the first two Congresses against Commercial Exploitation of Children. In 1997, the UNWTO set up a Task Force to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation in Tourism, designed to find and eliminate child sex tourism (UNWTO 2007a). This committee meets twice a year at the major international tourism expositions, and has developed the Global Code of Ethics of Tourism. The part that is relevant to child sex tourism reads:
The exploitation of human beings in any form, particularly sexual, especially when applied to
children, confl icts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism; as such, in accordance with international law, it should be energetically combated with the cooperation of all the States concerned and penalized without concession by the national legislation of both the countries visited and the countries of the perpetrators of these acts, even when they are carried out abroad ( UNWTO, 2007b , Art. 2, point 3).
In addition to the GCTE, though, the UNWTO has put together a set of guidelines that would inform the creation of a voluntary mechanism for implementing changes in tourism policies on the national level, and has created a World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE) to intervene whenever there might be a dispute. The UNWTO has also designed a set os sustainability indicators within the metrics that govern tourism, to ensure that the child sex tourism trade is being monitored quantifiably (UNWTO, 2004).
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) comprises the largest security organization assigned to a region in the world. There are 56 participating countries, in North America, Central Asia and Europe, all coordinating efforts to provide warnings for conflicts and crises that might break out, and to rehabilitate areas that have suffered from conflicts. In 2003, the OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OSCE-OCEEA) office was given the charge to find ways to bolster efforts in the private sector to fight human trafficking by building awareness of the problem and distributing best practices, specifically including guidelines for designing policies, instituting self-regulation, and writing codes of conduct. Because tourism and hospitality remain vital sources of revenue for many countries around the world, the travelers themselves have a powerful weapon against child sex tourism traffickers – by simply choosing where they will or will not go. However, the tourism providers themselves can work together to build an environment that refuses to condone human trafficking – particularly the sexual exploitation of children. The OSCE promotes the building of a code of conduct to raise awareness and has suggested the extension of that code to cover companies that do business in southeastern Europe, which is also an area that can be susceptible to human trafficking. The OSCE has gained industry and government commitments to fight child sex tourism and human trafficking (Telepus 2008, 107).
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the agency within the United Nations that fights for children’s rights around the globe – which includes the responsibility for such issues as child sex tourism and child trafficking. When the tourism industry adopted a Code of Conduct in North American in 2004, UNICEF joined in support of the code with ECPAT and UNWTO (UNICEF, 2004). This agency has enacted awareness campaigns about the issue of child sex tourism in such countries as Gambia, Kenya, Spain, Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic, and has lobbied governments for laws against child sex tourism in countries throughout the Caribbean and Central America (Telepus 2008, 107).
Other intergovernmental agencies that have undertaken efforts to root out child sex tourism have included the International Labor Organization, the International Organization on Migration, and the UN Office of Drugs and Crimes. The ILO put together the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor to fight child labor in countries that lack national legislation protecting their youngest, and all three organizations have enacted training programs designed to prevent and fight human trafficking. None of these agencies have done work specific to tourism, but their efforts on the other end of the supply chain all affect the funneling of children to tourists.
Perhaps the most important measure that has emerged from the fight against child sex tourism came from industry itself: the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism. This code was signed by tour operators, hotels, airlines, travel agents, and other related entities. All of the signatories committed to six measures:
- Developing company policies against child sex tourism
- Training staff on ways to identify and prevent child sex tourism
- Informing travelers about child sex tourism in particular destinations
- Adding language to contract boilerplate with suppliers in which both parties repudiate the practice of child sex tourism
- Working with government and private entities in destinations to prevent child sex tourism
- Giving an annual report on the internal implementation of these commitments (Tepelus 2008, 106).
This code came about in 1998, through the efforts of ECPAT Sweden and the UNWTO, and it was finally launched in North America in 2004. Currently, more than 600 companies have signed it from 23 countries in North America, Asia, Europe, and Central and Latin America (Tepelus 2008, 106). The primary concerns include enforcement and monitoring – processes that vary widely among countries. Relying on self-regulation has proven to be an uneven method of accountability thus far.
In The Scarlet Letter, the first observation that Nathaniel Hawthorne makes is that the first two things a new town needs are a cemetery and a prison, as the two certainties are death and wrongdoing. The personal tastes that lead tourists to go to other countries and seek out sex with children are distasteful to the vast majority of people – which is why they are illegal just about everywhere in the world. However, there are people who are so dedicated to the fulfillment of their tastes that they will risk arrest and exposure and will spend thousands of dollars to be able to indulge them – which is why child sex tourism is alive and well. Without demand, there would be no reason for anyone to provide supply.
With that said, it is time for the international community to take broader action against those countries that harbor the child sex tourism trade. The creation of a code within the tourism industry and a set of best practices from international organizations is certainly a start, and it would be impossible to argue that these steps have not made a difference. Armed with information and outrage, there are many organizations dedicated to rooting out this practice. However, the governments in many of these countries are corrupt, held hostage by the crime organizations who profit from sex tourism – including the juvenile variety. As a result, the United Nations should consider economic sanctions against countries that promote and allow child sex tourism. The simple fact that…