Halting Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism, Mission Impossible

July 18, 2017

ROME, Jul 18 2017 (IPS) – While the business sector jumps for joy as the number of tourists grew in 2016 for the seventh consecutive year to reach 1.2 billion, and as the first four months of 2017 have registered 6 per cent increase, the sheer speed, abetted by technology, of an atrocious crime—the sexual exploitation of children in tourism, has, to date, out-paced all attempts to put an end to it.

In fact, failure of collective action and a chronic lack of robust data constitute the main challenges to eliminate this crime, underlines the Global Study “Offenders on the Move,” which is the largest pool of information on the issue to date.

In spite of such widely recognised failure, further attempts gave lastly been deployed to halt this crime–a group of specialised experts on July 17 gathered in Madrid at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) headquarters, to discuss measures the fight against child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector.

“We cannot build the responsible and sustainable tourism sector that we seek without protecting the most vulnerable in our societies. To do so we need effective tools and a global commitment,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“Article 2 of UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism underlines that the exploitation of human beings in any form, especially when applied to children, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism”, Taleb Rifai recalled.

The world organisation is progressing with transforming the Code into a legally binding international treaty, the UNWTO Draft Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, which we hope will be approved by our General Assembly next September, he added.

The Madrid meeting initiative has been coordinated by the Bangkok-based End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), a network of 95 civil society organisations in 86 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children, with the support of the government of The Netherlands.

‘Sexual Exploitation in Tourism Has a Child Face’
The fight against Child Exploitation in tourism is one of the priorities of UNWTO who has been leading since 20 years the World Tourism Network on Child Protection, formerly the Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism.

Najat Maalla M’jid, Chair of this Task force, which guided the development of the Global Study, set the scene for Madrid the meeting by stridently declaring, “Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face. No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune.”

In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, let us place children’s right to protection from violence and exploitation at the heart of our actions, she added.

For his part, the Special Rapporteur on child trafficking and sexual exploitation, Maud de Boer Buquicchio called for “child protection to be placed at the core of tourism development strategies.”

The rise of the Internet and informal operators as well as greater access to international travel have expanded ‘demand’ and heightened the dangers for children. At the same time, grinding poverty and lack of education – combined with the continued neglect of child protection systems – have fuelled the ‘supply’ of children.


One of the initiatives conducted globally has been represented by the tools implemented by INTERPOL aimed at reducing the possibilities for known sex offenders travelling unnoticed internationally.

Peter van Dalen, from Interpol’s Organized & Emerging Crime Directorate, said, “Anonymity protects traveling sex offenders, and INTERPOL is working with countries to deprive known sex offenders’ of their anonymity, through mechanisms such as an international warning system sharing information across borders about convicted sex offenders, as well as an international vetting system for job applicants applying to working with children.

A unique feature of this process has been the strong engagement with the private sector, motivated by the need to ‘get ahead’ of practices that can seriously affect their reputation and their bottom line, according to UNWTO.
“The recently reported examples from the US involving flight attendants intervening when they noticed unusual situations involving children travelling with adults underscore the fact that no country is immune to the issue – and furthermore, that investments by the travel and tourism industry in training staff and access to reporting systems can pay dividends.”

The challenge remains to expand coordinated action to implement the recommendations of Global Study.

Poor Countries Encouraged to Promote Tourism

Meanwhile, world bodies have been lastly encouraging developing countries, in particular in Africa and the poorest nations worldwide, to promote tourism as a powerful economic engine.

Just four days ahead of the Madrid expert meeting on sexual exploitation of children in tourism, the UNWTO reported that tourism “can make a strong contribution to the economies of Least Developed Countries where the sector is a major exporter concludes the report Tourism for Sustainable Development in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).’

Launched on 13 July on the occasion of the Aid for Trade Review held in Geneva, the report has been produced by UNWTO, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF).

Tourism represents 7 per cent of all international trade and is of increasing relevance to the trade community, according to the report. It is part of services trade, accounting for 30 per cent of the world’s trade in services. This is particularly true for the LDCs, where it represents 7 per cent of total exports of goods and services, a figure that stands at 10 per cent for non-oil LDC exporters.

In view of the above, and as shown in the report, tourism has been recognised as a key sector for trade-related technical assistance in LDCs. Forty-five out of 48 Diagnostic Trade Integration Studies analysed for the report feature tourism as a key sector for development, according to the study.

“Yet, despite tourism’s value in the trade agenda, it is often difficult to direct trade-related technical assistance towards the sector because tourism and trade tend to fall under different line ministries. Successful interventions in tourism require strong collaboration across government agencies as well as across different actors at the regional or local level.”

The report aims to increase the commitment and investment in coordination and raise tourism’s prominence in trade-related technical assistance as to ensure the sector delivers on its powerful capacity to create jobs and incomes where they are most needed and for those who are most vulnerable – including youth and women.

The report has been launched to coincide with the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector that can contribute to all the 17 SDGs.

Goal 17 sets as one of the targets a “significant increase of exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the least developed countries’ share of global exports by 2020”, to which tourism as service export can contribute.