Child sex tourism

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Child sex tourism (CST) is tourism for the purpose of engaging in the prostitution of children, that is commercially facilitated child sexual abuse.[1] Child sex tourism results in both mental and physical consequences for the exploited children, that may include "disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possibly death", according to the State Department of the United States.[1] Child sex tourism, part of the multibillion-dollar global sex tourism industry, is a form of child prostitution within the wider issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Child sex tourism victimizes approximately 2 million children around the world.[1][2][3][4] The children who perform as prostitutes in the child sex tourism trade often have been lured or abducted into sexual slavery.[5][6][7]

Users of children for commercial and sexual purposes can be categorized by motive. Contrary to popular belief, pedophiles are not the majority of users. There are preferential abusers, that is those who may prefer children because they perceive the risk of venereal diseases to be lower. There are also situational users, those who do not actively seek out children but for whom the actual act is opportunistic; there may be a lack of concern to check the age of a prostitute before engaging in sexual activity. The majority of the exploited children are under 12 years old.[4]

Pedophiles use the Internet to plan their trips by seeking out and trading information about opportunities for child sex tourism and where the most vulnerable children can be found, generally in areas of low income.[4] A few governments have enacted laws to allow prosecution of its citizens for child sexual abuse committed outside of their home country. However, while laws against child sex tourism may deter situational offenders who may act impulsively, pedophiles who travel specifically for the purpose of exploiting children are not easily deterred.[4]


Child sex tourism has been closely linked to poverty, armed conflicts, rapid industrialization, and exploding population growth.[8] In Latin America and Southeast Asia, for instance, street children often turn to prostitution as a last resort. Additionally, vulnerable children are easy targets for exploitation by traffickers.[8]

Child sex tourism has also been complicated by varying ages of consent laws where, for example, the age of consent is 13 in Japan while it is 21 in Bahrain. See Ages of consent in Asia

Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico have been identified as leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation.[9]

In Thailand, the exact number of child-prostitutes is not known, but Thailand’s Health System Research Institute reports that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand.[10] In Cambodia, it has been estimated that about a third of all prostitutes are under 18.[11][12] In India, the federal police say that around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution.[13] Up until recently Brazil has been considered to have the worst child sex trafficking record after Thailand.[14] As per Chris Rogers report on BBC World[15] "Now Brazil is overtaking Thailand as the world's most popular sex-tourist destination". DLN reports that "Brazil at the moment is on a high trend of child sex tourism and is all geared to take up the first spot beating out Thailand." [16]

Sex tourism targeting children creates huge monetary incentives for traffickers. Human trafficking impacts an estimated 1.2 million child victims.[17][18] The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) recently stated that 79% of all global trafficking is for sexual exploitation, which is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world.[18]

UNICEF notes that sexual activity is often seen as a private matter, making communities reluctant to act and intervene in cases of sexual exploitation.[18] These attitudes make children far more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Most exploitation of children takes place as a result of their absorption into the adult sex trade where they are exploited by local people and sex tourists.[18] The Internet provides an efficient global networking tool for individuals to share information on destinations and procurement.[18]

In cases involving children, the U.S. has relatively strict domestic laws that hold accountable any American citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. who travels abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit conduct with a minor.[19] However, child pornography, sex tourism and human trafficking remain fast-growing industries.[19] Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. recently introduced H.R. 1623, the international Megan's Law. Similar to the domestic Megan's Law (named after Megan Kanka of New Jersey), which provides for community notification when a sex offender is living in the area, H.R. 1623 would alert officials abroad when U.S. sex offenders intend to travel, and likewise encourage other countries to keep sex offender lists and to notify the U.S. when a known sex offender may be coming to the United States for sex tourism.[19] While there are serious problems with the sex offender registries in the United States, human rights organizations such as ECPAT and UNICEF believe this would be a step in the right direction.[19]

One of the factors pushing Brazil to the top of this list of destination countries is the extensive use of the Sport Fishing industry in the Brazilian Amazon as a front. The 2008 U.S. State Department Report [20] States "At midyear Federal Police in Manaus began investigating allegations that a foreign-owned travel company arranged fishing expeditions to the Amazon region that were in reality sex tours for U.S. and European pedophiles. At year's end the investigation was continuing in coordination with foreign law enforcement officials." Another US State Department report states (page 85) "In a newer trend, some arranged fishing expeditions to the Amazon were organized for the purpose of child sex tourism for European and American exploiters."[21] Recent Reports on Fox Atlanta and ABC World News Tonight have helped shine the light on this.[22][23][24][25][26] ECPAT-USA has recently posted a Brazilian National News story with English subtitles.[27]

Webcam child sex tourism

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations estimate, there are 750,000 predators online at any given time in 40,000 public chat rooms. Offers from 20,000 internet users to pay for webcam sex performances were found in a 10-week investigation conducted from a warehouse in Amsterdam, in the Terre des hommes Dutch action against WCST, using "Sweetie", a 3D computer model. Out of 21,000 perpetrators, 1,000 were identified from Australia, Canada, Germany, Ghana, India, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and United States. 110 of the alleged online abusers were based in the UK and another 254 were traced to computers in the US.[28] Together with, Terre des Hommes Netherlands has created an online petition to pressure governments to adopt proactive investigation policies in order to protect children against webcam child sex tourism.

Global response

In recent years[when?] there has been an increase in the prosecution of child sex tourism offenses. At least 38 countries have extraterritorial laws that allow their citizens to be prosecuted specifically for child sexual abuse crimes committed whilst abroad, and another 31 nations have more general extraterritorial laws that could be used to prosecute their citizens for crimes committed during child sex tourism trips.[1] In response to CST, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the tourism industry, and governments have begun to address the issue. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) established a task force to combat CST. The WTO, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) and Nordic tour operators created a global The Code of Conduct for the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism in Travel and Tourism in 1996. As of April 2013, over 1200 travel companies from 40 countries had signed the code.[29]

International law enforcement activities

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or “ICE”, participates in investigating and capturing child sex tourists. In 2003 ICE launched “Operation Predator”, leading to the arrest of over 11,000 child sexual abusers, including more than 1,100 outside the United States. While ICE agents refuse to comment on their means and methods of operation, media reports have suggested the use of undercover agents, internet sting operations, and sophisticated technologies. ICE agents in Bangkok did say however that they often receive information from local NGOs about foreigners in Thailand whom they suspect of engaging in child sexual abuse. Sometimes U.S. based law enforcement, such as local Sheriff Departments and Parole Officers, inform them of known sex offenders who are traveling to the region. In both cases, local ICE agents work with their Royal Thai Police counterparts to monitor the suspects’ movements while in Thailand.[30]

Policing of child sex tourism


  • Cambodia: The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that the sale of virgin girls continues to be a serious problem in Cambodia, and that a significant number of Asian and other foreign men travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism.[31] Cambodia’s 1996 Law on Suppression of the Kidnapping, Trafficking, and Exploitation of Human Persons contains legislation against the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and while the law focuses largely on trafficking, it also addresses prostitution.[32] The age of consent in Cambodia is 15, and the law does not specifically define or prohibit the prostitution of children.[32] It is estimated that 1/3 of prostitutes in Cambodia are children.[33]
  • China: The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that the government of China did not take sufficient measures to reduce demand for forced labor, commercial sex acts, or child sex tourism.[34]
  • Indonesia: The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that child sex tourism is prevalent in most urban areas and tourist destinations, such as Bali and Riau Island in Indonesia.[34] Recently, islands of Indonesia like Bali and Batam have become known for child sex tourism. These islands have also been destinations for sex trafficking.[32] Under a Criminal Code in Indonesia, any Indonesian citizen can be punished for violating the Child Protection Act or the Criminal Code, whether it is inside Indonesia or outside.[32] The Child Protect Act 28 is a general act to protect the rights of children.[32] A few specific sections provide laws specific to sexual mistreatment of children. One law states that it is illegal to use a child for personal or commercial monetary gain.[32] If one does not follow this law, the punishment can be up to ten years in jail and/ or a monetary fine of 200 million rupiahs which is equivalent to 22,000 US dollars.[32]
  • South Korea: South Korean men have been major drivers of child sex tourism in Asia for some time.
In 2005, The Korea Times reported that an international symposium was held to talk about strategies for curbing the high numbers of Korean child sex tourists to southeast Asia. The symposium, "Conditions and Countermeasures to Overseas Child and Youth Sex Tourism by Korean Men" discussed issues concerning Korean male soliciting of child prostitutes across Asia, but Cambodia and The Philippines were especially worrisome. "[Panelists] said male Korean tourists are believed to abuse the unfortunate situation of poor Cambodian children," who are coerced into selling sexual favors in order to help their families.[35] As for the Philippines, the report noted, "An increasing number of Koreans bought sex in the Philippines, sometimes abusing prostitutes. The Philippine government has urged the Korean government to take firm action against soliciting prostitutes, in particular buying sex from children."[35]
The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that the men of South Korea create demand for child sex tourism in their surrounding countries, including southeast Asia, the South Pacific, and Mongolia.[34] Technology such as the internet has helped increase accessibility of child sex tourism in the Republic of Korea. Some South Korean men arrange for children from the Philippines, Thailand, and China as sources of sex.[34]
A Korean Institute of Criminology study published in January 2013 shows that South Korean men are the primary market for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia. "Among foreigners visiting Southeast Asia, South Koreans are the majority group driving demand for child prostitution across the region."[36] The article goes on to say, "A 2008 report from the U.S. Department of State, 'Trafficking in Persons Report,' described South Korea as a significant source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands." Yun Hee-jun, head of a Seoul-based group campaigning against sex trafficking, claims, “If you visit any brothel in Vietnam or Cambodia, you can see fliers written in Korean.”[36]
  • Mongolia: The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that South Korean and Japanese tourists engage in child sex tourism in Mongolia.[34] The Mongolian government has implemented laws regarding child prostitution. The Criminal Code bans organized prostitution of anyone under the age of 16, the age of sexual consent in Mongolia.[32] Not only is prostitution of anyone under the age of 16 illegal, sex with a person under the age of 16 is illegal as well. Not complying with this law could lead to three years in jail or eighteen months of community service. Rape is also considered illegal in Mongolia, with the punishment of two to six years in prison. If there are repeated violations or injury to victims these punishments are intensified.[32]
  • Philippines: Child sex tourism is known as a serious problem in the Philippines. The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports of tourists coming from Northeast Asia, Australia, Europe and North America to engage in sex with children. With new technology like the internet, some children form cyber relationships with men from other countries and get money by sending pornographic images over the internet.[37]
  • Thailand: Both governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations have worked together to shut down brothels. They have also tried to increase awareness of child sex tourism and made attempts to stop it.[34] In 2008, records of 27,000 woman and children were reported as seeking medical treatment from injuries relating to sexual abuse.[37] Many children are not registered at birth in Thailand, allowing them more easily to be trafficked to other countries and forced into child labor, including sexual exploitation.[37]

North America

  • Barbados: There has been no noticeable action taken by the government of Barbados to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, though public commentary on the problem of sex tourism, including child sex tourism, has been increasing.[31]
  • Dominican Republic: Some reports say that child sex tourism is a current problem, particularly in coastal resort areas, with child sex tourist arriving year-round from various countries.[31] It is also reported that the current legislation has inconsistencies and gaps which could obstruct the interpretation and application of the legislation.[32] The Code for the Protection of the Rights of Children and Adolescents, Law 136-03 conceptualizes crime of using children and adolescents in paid sexual activity.[32] Only certain modes of production and dissemination of pornographic material are seen as criminal activities, while possession of child pornography is sanctioned.[32]
  • Cuba: The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that the government of Cuba has made no known efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex.[31] Additionally, it is reported that the government does not acknowledge any child sex tourism problem but has recently banned children under 16 from nightclubs.[31] According to Cuban government documents, training was provided to those in the tourism industry on how to identify and report potential sex tourists.[31]
  • El Salvador: One-third of the sexually exploited children between 14 and 17 years of age are boys. The median age for entering into prostitution among all children interviewed was 13 years. They worked an average of five days per week, although nearly 10% reported that they worked seven days a week. Recently, the problem has increased, especially due to migration. Many children are lied to with promises of jobs, and are abducted and sent to countries in North America by foreigners from Mexico or neighboring countries. Most victims are Salvadoran children from rural areas who are forced into commercial sexual exploitation in urban areas.
The Government of El Salvador does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government sustained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and continued to provide services to children who were trafficked for sexual exploitation. The Salvadoran government sustained anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government forged or continued partnerships with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments on anti-trafficking initiatives. In May 2009, the government collaborated with an NGO to launch a campaign aimed specifically at increasing awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, reaching approximately 4,500 children and adults. The government included anti-trafficking information in the training it gives to military forces prior to their deployment for international peacekeeping missions.[38]
  • Jamaica: The Trafficking in Persons Report of 2010 reports that NGOs (Nongovernmental Organizations) and local observers state that there is a child sex tourism problem near Jamaica’s resort areas.[31]
  • Trinidad and Tobago: According to the governments of Trinidad and Tobago, there were no reports nor prosecutions on child sex tourism.[31]

South America

  • Argentina: The US Department of State reported that child sex tourism is a problem in Argentina, especially on the border and in Buenos Aires. The Argentinean penal code does not specifically prohibit child sex tourism.[32][34] and there were not any child sex related prosecutions in 2009-2010. Hoping to reduce child sex tourism, governmental authorities passed a law commanding law enforcement to seek the closure of all brothels NGOs reported. This is not effective because brothels are often tipped off by local police before the raids.[34] Possession of child pornography with intent to distribute and creation of child porn is illegal.[39]
  • Brazil: The US Department of State reported that child sex tourism remains a serious problem, particularly in tourist areas in Brazil’s northeast. Most child sex tourists come from Europe, and some come from the United States. Brazilian authorities are not directly involved with prosecuting sex tourists and instead allow NGOs to prosecute those participating in child sex tourism.[34] A Brazilian law newly introduced in 2000, states, “to submit a child or adolescent, as defined in the caput of article 2 (children: people younger than 12 years ; adolescents: people between 12 and 18), prostitution or sexual exploitation is punishable by imprisonment for four to ten years and a fine.” [32]
  • Colombia: Article 219 of the Colombian criminal code prohibits, “organizing or facilitating sexual tourism and provides penalties of 3 to 8 years’ imprisonment”, but there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists.[34] In recent years, Colombia has strengthened legislation related to control trafficking of children, particularly to follow the criminal code. However, a law is still pending approval by the Code for Children and Adolescents, which includes the rights and guarantees of children and adolescents victims of commercial sexual exploitation.[32]
  • Ecuador: Child sex tourism occurs mostly in urban areas, and in tourist destinations, such as the city of Tena and the Galapagos Islands.[34]
  • Peru: Child sex tourism is present in Iquitos, Madre de Dios, and Cuzco. Traffickers reportedly operate illegally in certain regions where governmental authority lacks.[34] Although some areas of the country are known child sex tourism destinations and Peruvian laws prohibit this practice, there were no reported convictions of child sex tourists. The government trained 710 government officials and tourism service providers about child sex tourism, conducted a public awareness campaign on the issue, and reached out to the tourism industry to raise awareness about child sex tourism; to date, 60 businesses have signed code of conduct agreements nationwide.[34]
  • Uruguay: Government officials maintained efforts to reach out to hotel workers and to others in the broader tourism sector to raise awareness about child sex tourism and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Uruguay’s educational system continues to include trafficking education to high schools.[34]

Penalties for child sex tourists

A growing number of countries have specific legislation that prosecutes their citizens in their homeland should they engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with children. (The following list is not exclusive)


Australia was one of the first countries to introduce laws that provide for jail terms for its citizens and residents who engage in sexual activity with children in foreign countries. The laws are contained in the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Act 1994 that came into force on 5 July 1994.[40] The law also makes it an offence to encourage, benefit or profit from any activity that promotes sexual activity with children.

The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment (25 years imprisonment if the child is under the age of 12 and/or mentally handicapped) and/or a fine of up to $500,000 for an individual, and a fine of up to $5 million for companies or corporations.


Canada has included in its Criminal Code provisions that allow for the arrest and prosecution of Canadians in Canada for offences committed in foreign countries related to child sex tourism, such as child prostitution, as well as for child sexual exploitation offences, such as indecent acts, child pornography and incest (Bills C-27 and C-15A that came into force on May 26, 1997, and July 23, 2002, respectively).[41] Convictions carry a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.

Hong Kong

The Prevention of Child Pornography Ordinance (Cap. 579) of December 2003 introduced offences in regard to child sex tourism, giving extraterritorial effect to 24 sexual offences listed in a new Schedule 2 to the Crime Ordinance (Cap. 200). This makes illegal an act committed against a child outside Hong Kong if the defendant or the child has connections with Hong Kong. It is also an offence to make any arrangement relating to the commission of such acts against children and to advertise any such arrangement.[42]

South Korea

The South Korean government has yet to take significant punitive actions against South Korean men who solicit child prostitutes in other countries, though the problem of South Korean male child sex tourism as a problem is widely known outside of South Korea.[36]

United Kingdom

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 enables British citizens and residents who commit sexual offences against children overseas to be prosecuted in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.[43][44] Similar provisions are in force in Scotland under the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995.[45] Some of the offences carry penalties of up to life imprisonment and anyone found guilty will be placed on the Sex Offenders Register. The UK police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and Interpol are actively involved in monitoring child sex tourists and do prosecute. There are in 2013 two British citizens in jail following trials based on this legislation, Barry McCloud and David Graham.[46]

United States

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a federal crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.[47] Before congressional passage of the Protect Act of 2003, prosecutors had to prove that sex tourists went abroad with the intent of molesting children—something almost impossible to demonstrate. The Protect Act shifted the burden, making predators liable for the act itself. Penalties were doubled from 15 years in prison to 30.[6]


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