Tourism of An­other Kind

While tourism is a grow­ing in­dus­try in South Asia, it also brings with it sto­ries of child ex­ploita­tion.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asra Khur­shid Asra Khur­shid is a stu­dent at the La­hore School of Economics. She reg­u­larly con­trib­utes ar­ti­cles on so­cial is­sues.

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.

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