IN THE 1970s he was one of Britain’s most popular entertainers. Now Paul Gadd, alias the glam-rocker Gary Glitter, is among its most reviled figures. On August 19th Vietnam expelled Mr Gadd after he had served almost three years in prison for indecency with two girls aged 11. Four days earlier another high-profile paedophile, Christopher Neil, a Canadian teacher (pictured), was jailed by a Thai court for 39 months for molesting a 14-year-old boy. Interpol had launched a worldwide hunt for Mr Neil after photographs of him having sex with boys were found on another paedophile’s computer, with his face blurred in a swirling pattern.
South-East Asia has many of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, and some large populations of Western expatriates. But it also has weak law enforcement, a large sex industry and much poverty. So it has become a favoured destination for paedophiles. Mr Gadd, who has spent time in a British prison for possessing child pornography, was expelled by Cambodia in 2002 after allegations of importuning for sex. He later turned up in Vietnam, and was arrested in 2005. Mr Neil travelled Asia as a language teacher while seeking boys to molest.
In March a United Nations envoy on children’s rights, Juan Miguel Petit, accused Cambodia, along with Thailand and India, of doing too little to curb child-sex tourism, for fear of damaging tourism revenues. But there are signs that the authorities are starting to take action and that it is having results. Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), a charity, notes that Cambodia prosecuted 17 paedophilia cases last year, a sharp rise on previous years. Samleang Seila, APLE’s chief in Cambodia, says police are increasingly prepared to act when presented with evidence but are constrained by limited manpower.
Tom Steinfatt of the University of Miami, who studies the trafficking of women and children in South-East Asia, says under-age prostitution has declined sharply in Cambodia. It is now a “very small” part of the sex industry there. His studies suggest that the number of child prostitutes in Cambodia is far below earlier estimates of 15,000.
Mr Samleang says some countries are trying harder than others to stop their nationals going abroad to molest children. America and Germany, he says, are leading the way in issuing warnings about suspected paedophiles travelling to Cambodia. By contrast, in the recent prosecution of a Russian man for abusing boys, the judge said a Russian embassy employee had paid the man’s fines. Richer Asian countries, such as Japan, whose paedophiles travel to Cambodia, are also responding inadequately, says APLE’s Mr Samleang. Matthew Friedman, who runs a United Nations project to curb the trafficking of women and children, says such countries would not want to be seen as protecting their paedophiles: a bit of “peer pressure” from the more conscientious countries would easily persuade them to take a tougher line.
Some countries now have laws to prosecute nationals who molest children abroad and to curb paedophiles’ foreign travel. Britain this week announced a toughening of its laws, to allow for travel bans of up to five years on convicted paedophiles. But children’s charities criticise the government for making insufficient use of the existing law.
Catching foreign child-sex tourists is only part of the problem. Mr Friedman notes that South-East Asian governments still sometimes talk as if there were no home-grown paedophiles. Often, as used to be the case in the West, the powerful are used to being above the law, and children who complain of abuse are disbelieved. But again, things seem to be changing. Last year a former deputy speaker of the Thai senate was jailed for molesting under-age girls. In another case two Bangkok schoolteachers were accused of molesting pupils. Their school campaigned in their defence but their prosecution went ahead and they were each given 50 years’ jail.