Children are innocent, they are also impressionable, they live what they learn. They learn ABCs, phonics, arithmetic, English and other subjects related to their development. They also learn about sex and engage in sex too, if given the opportunity. Sex tourism is a growing phenomenon where children are used for transactional sex across the world.
In Jamaica, several children go missing each year and it is believed that their disappearance may be related to sex tourism of children.
‘ripe for her age’
Aisiharelates the story of her 16-year-old sister who went missing for a year after taking a trip the United States for summer vacation. When she left for New York for her usual summer holiday, she was upbeat and excited about meeting up with a man whom she met via the Internet.
“My sister was bright, had good grades in school and was ‘ripe for her age’. Rumour had it that she was one of those drug mule children who skipped school for a day, head to Miami on the first flight and returned in the evening; she denied this story.
“Our parents never married and mother was off to New York and did the ‘marriage thing’ to get her green card. She is still waiting but the remittances come, so we can put food on the table and pay rent for the small apartment in the inner city. My sister landed in New York and in a week she was off to Europe with her male companion. Mom agonised when she did not return and there was no word from her, days turned to weeks, to months, to a year and two days, when she called mother from Las Vegas. I tracked her down to get the true story.
“We were close in growing up and after much coaxing she confessed about her year’s disappearance. She was involved in child prostitution, or sex tourism, her pretty face and almost perfect body were luring, she had big dreams had always wanted to ‘step up in life’. Big money for sex had her hooked and the new-found friend became her manager, making the international contacts and setting her up.
“She lost out with the money as her Internet suitor had tricked her in Vegas, where he gambled out her money and disappeared after going to the restroom. My sister is in New York trying to put her life together with her mother. Her advice to young people is to stay in school and heed the guidance given by parents and other caregivers.”
Sex tourism of children is defined as travelling to another country with the intention of engaging in sex with a child under age 18. Though illegal in most countries, sex tourism has gained international attention, especially in Thailand and other south eastern countries. Statistics indicate that in Cambodia, a 1995 survey found minors from 13 to 17 comprised about 31 per cent of sex workers. In Costa Rica, the capital city of San Jose was home to more than 2,000 child prostitutes.
When there is economic hardship, housing shortages, vocational failure, problems in the home and civil unrest, international sex handlers target young children and tempt them with the promise of money and a glitzy life. Very often, young children take to the streets for survival and engage in survival sex or exchange of sex for food or money, shelter, drugs and protection.
Tourism is touted as the answer to economic growth and development. However, tourism brings with it attractions of money for pleasure in gambling and in sex as a commodity. According to Charlotte Bunch, writing in the Intolerable Status Quo: Violence Against Women and Girls, the growing consumerism that usually accompanies tourism may be a contributing factor to the increase in sex tourism of children. Once children become engaged in sex to meet their needs, they may become more promiscuous because of the lack of affection and the guilt they feel because of their reckless behaviour.
Sexual predators target and victimise our children because of obscurity, availability, affordability, lack of child-protection laws in foreign countries and low risk of detection. In resorts where prostitution is widespread, sex tourism of children may go undetected because it is promoted by small tour companies with international contacts.
The Internet has contributed to the revolutionised sex tourism of children. A visit to a chat room, message board or site will promote sex tourism and give detailed instructions as to how to get involved. The Internet offers support for newcomers through communication with others who have already engaged in this sex activity. It is easy for children to sit in their homes, make contact with promoters of sex tourism, who help them plan a vacation, purchasing tickets online.
Readiness for sex?
Are our children ready for sex? Should they engage in prostitution, one of the oldest professions in the world? We know that sexuality develops in stages from conception to adulthood, with each stage providing for the next in male or female development. As children develop, they become curious about their bodies and sexual developments.
Hormonal changes of puberty often begin by age eight or nine and continue to influence sexual arousal and the desire for pleasurable experiences. However, the genitalia of girls may not be fully developed in order for sexual penetration to take place. This often leads to medical trauma and gynaecological complications.
What is critical at this stage of the child’s development is the reaction of parents to childhood sexual behaviour, including masturbation. Parents should not scowl, scold or punish children who explore their genitals, or children may get the feeling that this type of behaviour is bad. Parents need to acknowledge and explain sexuality instead of discouraging it, to strengthen a child’s self-esteem, build a positive body image and promote assertiveness.
From a very early age, parents should teach children that self-touching is appropriate in private and to guide personal values of sex. Parental guidance about sex is important, as children face competition with information or misinformation about sex, from friends, relatives, television, magazines or from their own imaginations, based on what they observe in their environment.
Children who engage in sex tourism are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, by engaging in sex without a condom. One theory for the use of children in sex tourism is that they are more willing to engage in oral sex, which is requested more frequently today than intercourse.
As we focus on our children during Child Month, let us try to provide them with age-specific stimulating activities to keep them interested in academic work and social interactions.
William Defoore, in Anger, writes, “We know that the outcasts and misfits are the children most likely to become violent, so it only follows that we must pull them into the arms of love and/or acceptance, and find a place where they fit. If our system doesn’t have a place where a child fits, there’s something wrong with the system, not the child.”