Sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism

It can be defined as “the sexual exploitation of children by people who travel from one location to another and there engage in sexual acts with minors”.

Sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism is not a form of tourism. This is why ECPAT recommends no longer using the term “sex tourism” but instead recommends using the phrase “sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism”. Indeed, this particular form of exploitation is directly linked to child prostitution but takes place within travelling and touristic environments occurring outside the perpetrator’s residential area. Often, they travel from a richer country to one that is less developed, but they can also be traveling within their own countries or region. 

A growing phenomenon

The recent spread of this phenomenon is linked to different factors, such as increasing poverty rates in developing countries and rising numbers of travellers, which is due in particular to the ease and affordability of international travel. The trivialization of the commercial use of the human body and the climate of anonymity created by the travelling experience, which disconnects the traveller from the social conventions that normally govern behavior in the home country or area, are other explaining factors of this developing phenomenon.

 Most affected countries

Countries such as Thailand and Brazil are notably known to be a hub for this type of sexual exploitation of children; however, destinations of such sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism frequently evolve and change. For instance, as soon as prevention and protection efforts are intensified in a country, a neighbouring country can become the target of such phenomenon. This “migration of harmful behaviour” has occurred in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, due to the implementation of policies in Thailand for the prevention and repression of sexual exploitation of children in tourism. Beyond Asia, a number of Central and South American countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and African countries such as South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal, Morocco, Cameroon as well as Eastern European countries, have fallen victim to this type of scourge.

 Originating countries of offenders

In contrast, originating countries of offenders are predominantly western countries such as countries of Western Europe, Australia, United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and Japan as well as Korea, China, Russia and many more. The economic supremacy of these originating countries and the lack of adequate legislation on this matter in the recipient countries, are some of the reasons explaining these travelling flows.

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