ECPAT the Netherlands, together with ECPAT Germany, organized an expert meeting on March 8-10, 2009 about the multi-stakeholder approach to combat the sexual exploitation of children in tourism. The role of tourism professionals, as well as NGOs in tourism destinations and countries of origin, were discussed in relation to law enforcement. More than forty participants from law enforcement agencies, NGOs, and tourism businesses attended the meeting.
The sexual exploitation of children in tourism is still a large problem and probably will increase due to the economic crisis and the effect this has on developing countries. More families will become poor and more children and young people will be forced to work in the sex industry. Flight tickets and hotels become cheaper and funds to protect children from sexual exploitation will decrease. In many destination countries, the combat of sexual exploitation of children has no priority. Child sex tourists go to countries where there is a small chance to be caught.
The gathering of evidence in cases of child sex tourism is extremely complex. It is important to look for other evidence than the possible statement of the victim(s), such as another witness (like a tourist) or a medical examination or pornographic images (as a holiday souvenir). An interview with a victim should be done by trained law enforcement officials. There is a great need for specialized prosecutors. Cases are very time consuming and expensive when applying extra territorial legislation. For that reason, the extra territorial legislation should only be used as a last resort, only when suspects escape to their home land. Sending countries should help build capacity in destination countries, train local police, and help financing detention costs.
Travelers (both foreign and domestic) play an important role. Travelers can be potential offenders, but they can also be part of the prevention network. It is important that tourists know the risks and how to report suspicious behavior. The travel and tourism industry has a responsibility to inform them about this. Therefore, tourist staff needs training on when, what, and how to inform tourists about the sexual exploitation of children linked to tourism and how to report offenders.
Constraints that law enforcement experiences in the combat of sexual exploitation of children, is the difference in criminal intelligence, the lack of cooperation, the lack of harmonization of age of consent, corruption within law enforcement, the judiciary, and the slow flow of information at the national level (from national to local police departments) and international level between police forces.
The Code of Conduct aims to make tourists and tourist personnel more aware of the problem of sexual exploitation of children in tourism. It is a concrete and measurable expression for tourism and travel companies of sustainable and responsible tourism. The Code organization, at the international level, is currently changing its organization and structure.
The main challenge for the Code is to find a practical way of verifying the suppliers’ or key persons’ loyalty to their pledge. However, there are signs of possible interesting developments in an all-round adoption of the Code. Therefore, it is also interesting to look into whether a link with other systems is a possibility. More pressure should be put on governments, tour operators, key-persons, and suppliers to sign the Code. The Code of Conduct should be included in National Action Plans in countries of destination and origin.
Local partners, such as ECPAT must fulfill a clear role in the future as national contact and information point. For the success of the Code, it is very important to have strong local partners. NGOs of North and South should exchange more information and experiences.
International meetings, such as this meeting in Berlin, are very good for making contacts and sharing experiences. Cooperation between the different stakeholders is essential if we want to make a difference in protecting children at risk and prosecute and convict the child sex exploiters. Although it is important to cooperate informally, it is also helpful to formalize cooperation one way or the other in a Memorandum of Understanding or as in the Code.