Tourism of Another Kind
While tourism is a growing industry in South Asia, it also brings with it stories of child exploitation.
South Asia has been a tourist attraction for many, especially as a holiday destination. In recent years Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and even Bangladesh have seen seen considerable growth in tourism. With a high turnout, these South Asian countries have a good ratio to contribute to their GDP. Sadly, with the good tourism comes the bad, including people who travel overseas to have sex with young boys and girls.
The peak tourist season attracts skilled labor for work – and also vulnerable children and their families who are exploited and exposed to unsafe or even harmful work conditions just to make money. Such families have little or no other option to earn and survive, hence they are exploited. The children engage in begging or other forms of child labor and are also subjected to sexually abuse.
The growth of sex tourism has been increasingly noted in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal, catering primarily to demand from foreign tourists. The majority of child sex abusers are often regular users of commercial sex workers who buy children for sex as part of the mainstream sex trade. In Sri Lanka, the problem of child prostitution, primarily among boys, is highly visible in beach resort areas. Their ages generally range from eight to 15 years. These young male sex workers are usually school dropouts, nurturing the dream of ‘quick and easy’ money.
It is now becoming more common that tourists give incentives of good money to such children in return for sexual pleasures. If not so, they scheme or plan out a way to trap them and abuse them sexually by raping them or exploiting them through other means. Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is, in fact, a social stigma that has greatly flawed the reputations of many South Asian countries.
The number of visitors to South Asian countries is growing exponentially. The tourist industry has seen a boost in India, but with that growth has come the perversely repulsive trend of child exploitation. Now Kerala has overtaken Goa in exploiting children to boost its tourism industry. In places like Alleppey, Kerala, foreign tourists stay in houseboats, making sex tourism a new and thriving concept. This is a safe method, as there are hardly any raids on houseboats. The victims are often projected by agents as college girls in search of fun and excitement or wanting to earn a little extra money. Therefore it becomes hard to measure such incidences of child sex tourism as it is difficult to conduct quantitative research on an underground and illegal industry.
For many developing countries, tourism is an important way to grow the economy and provide jobs for adults and children. Some jobs that children do are relatively safe, such as selling souvenirs on the streets or working at tourist spots or hotels. Such children are able to continue school while working. But these jobs also take children out of school and make them vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. Even “safe” jobs like selling souvenirs and legitimate services to travelers can bring the young lot into risky contact with people who may abuse them.
The term “child sex tourism” does not convey strongly enough the damage being done to children and the illegal, abusive actions of the perpetrators. as the new term is ‘child sexual exploitation’ in the travel and tourism industries. Sexual exploitation has longlasting and devastating consequences for children. They can end up with unwanted pregnancies, HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases or become addicted to drugs. They are also rejected by their families or stigmatized in their communities.
Apart from local organizations that provide counseling and recovery, trauma centers for the victims demonstrate how such acts can be prevented to provide children with their rights and save them from misfortunes that could cripple their future life. Now international human rights organizations are are emerging to look into this ever growing problem in South Asia.
There are many ways in which children can be protected or helped to abandon sexual exploitation. has All concerned can play a part in ensuring child-safe travel and tourism and it often begins with the right knowledge.
Children, their families, and their communities need to know about the dangers of sexual exploitation through travel and tourism and how to protect themselves and each other. People working in the tourism industry need to know where and how these crimes happens, and how they can observe and report suspicious situations. Such people would include airline crew and people workimg for travel companies, hotels and entertainment venues, taxi drivers, tour guides and even government officials. All businesses, whether big or small, related to tourism and travel must adhere to policies or codes that protect children.
Tourists and travelers must also take responsibility and play their part in stopping sexual exploitation of minors. They need to know the inherent consequences for children and perpetrators, what to look for, and how to report a suspected case. They can also help poverty-stricken families find safe ways of earning an income (e.g. help children’s access to education and their legal rights).
The authorities should create community reporting systems such as hotlines or community watch groups to identify suspected cases of abuse. They should also provide drop-in centers, outreach programs and live-in programs for survivors of sexual exploitation to help them recover and reintegrate into their communities. There should be programs to increase public awareness of the crime and support to children for safe travel to raise awareness among travelers and travel service providers.
Most importantly, governments in the region need to be much more strict and vigilant and must take the perpetrators to book. They must collaborate and share information with each other to identify and prosecute travelling sex offenders and impose severe penalties on companies and individuals that break the law.