How tourists can help stop child sex trafficking
When U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas said last week that 40 percent of foreign men who visited the Philippines were sex tourists, local authorities were quick to play down the issue, arguing the statistic was unsubstantiated.
While the veracity of the figure may be in question, there is no disputing that sex trafficking remains a pressing issue worldwide.
Read all about The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery.
An estimated two million children in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia -- some as young as five years old -- are enslaved as sex workers, according to statistics recently published by U.S.-based NGO, World Vision.
“Child sexual exploitation occurs when poor and developing countries with weak laws and law enforcement become host nations for wealthy tourists,” said World Vision's Aarti Kapoor.
“The disparity and desperation combined with the legal impunity creates an environment where children can be exploited.”
Kapoor is the manager of "Child Safe Tourism," a campaign that encourages tourists to become part of the solution instead of potential enablers.
“In Southeast Asia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are all confronted with this problem and have charged foreigners with abusing children,” Kapoor added.
Thailand’s visitor arrivals are growing 26 percent annually, while Laos hosted 2.5 million visitors last year. NGOs are increasingly nervous -- as the number of tourist surges, so does the risk to vulnerable children.
The child sex trade is especially intense in popular tourist destinations where adult prostitution is already rampant, according to World Vision.
“A quick overview highlights ongoing identification of cases in the coastal resort cities of Pattaya and Phuket in Thailand and Sihanoukville in Cambodia,” said Kapoor.
While the governments of both countries have attempted to crack down on the criminality, it’s hard to stamp out the activity completely. Offenders simply pack their bags and resume their business elsewhere, Kapoor said.
How tourists can help
Tourists may be able to help where governments have failed, as visitors often come into contact with vulnerable children on their travels. Here are a few of Kapoor’s tips to reduce risks to the young.
1. Don’t give money to child beggars
Giving children money can encourage them to approach other potentially dangerous strangers.
“Buying from street-vending children late at night or in red-light districts could be seen as helping the activity remain profitable,” Kapoor pointed out.
She advised tourists to instead donate to a local charity, school or children’s clinic rather than giving money and sweets directly to children.
2. Volunteer with caution
When signing on to “voluntourism” agencies, only pick reputable ones that strictly vet applicants, and supervise all volunteers’ access to children.
“Organizations and orphanages that allow unsupervised access to children are putting them at risk,” Kapoor said.
“Child sex offenders will use all such loopholes to gain access to abuse vulnerable children.”
More on CNNGo: The price of volunteering in Thailand
3. Support responsible businesses
Tourists can act against child sex trafficking by patronizing businesses that help street youth through training and employment.
“One example is the Child Safe Network in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, where businesses and community members have signed up to this commitment,” Kapoor said.
She also recommended travelers keep an eye out for restaurants that employ former street youth and victims of abuse.
Panelists include prominent figures from the fields of politics, business and law.
Hear them discuss whether governments, businesses and individuals are doing enough to inspire genuine change at ANZ Pavilion, Arts Centre at 6 p.m. (100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne).
The panel discussion will be followed by a screening of "Nepal’s Stolen Children" in which actress and anti-sex trafficking activist Demi Moore partners with the CNN Freedom Project in a compelling documentary.
The event is free and open to the general public.