A recent United Nations report draws attention to alarming trends in sex offences against children in Southeast Asia. Contributing factors range from economic disparity, urbanisation and cheaper air travel, urbanisation and cheaper air travel to faster internet connections that have fostered a a huge child pornography industry, with many types of offenders.
A researcher from the children’s rights group Terre des Hommes starts a session in a public chat room where users solicit a fake 10 year old named “Sweetie from the Philippines”,, in a computer generated image. The group says that in recent years more child prostitutes in Southeast Asia have been leaving the streets but the abusive sex trade has simply moved online!
Sex offenders who prey on children have adjusted as technology and demographic changes in the region make it even easier to engage in illicit activities, says the 49 page report titled ” Protecting the Future: Improving the Response to Child Sex Offending in Southeast Asia” released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
Debunking the sterotype that those engaged in child sexual exploitation are westerners, the report also shows that Asian tourists and expats are increasingly involved.
“Tackling child sex exploitation is no simple task. Finding solutions to this appalling crime will require a concerted effort from a multitude of actors across the region”, said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC Regional Representative.
“The dividends from a well-coordinated response include efficiency and respect for the rule of law, but more importantly, it will create a safer environment for children and ensure offenders are stopped in their tracks”.
Action in one country is longer sufficient as offenders can easily migrate to jurisdictions with less resistance, said Mr Douglas.
For too long, a piecemeal approach has been the norm, and while national governments and the international community can count some major successes in the past few years, withouta comprehensive response to the problem, exploitation will continue to lurk just below the surface!
According to the International Labour Organisation, there are approximately 4.5 million victims of sexual exploitation around the world, around 20% of them children. These child victims exist in every country in Asia and are caught in a range of different circumstances that make them vulnerable to exploitation.
The UNODC report explained the intertwined nature of sexual exploitation of childre, which encompasses the overlapping issues of the prostitution, the depiction of children in sexual abuse material (child pornography) trafficking of children for sexual purposes, and the sexual abuse of children (including but not limited to child sex tourism)
The report said socio-economic disparities increase vulnerability to victimisation, as GDP per capita in the ranges from $944 in Cambodia with similarly low levels in Myanmar and Laos, Vietnam ($1,716), Indonesia ($3,557) to Thailand and China (around $6,000).
In Thailand, tourism constitutes 6.5% of the country’s gross domestic product!! The country is also a top destination for sex tourism for foreigners around the world. The combination of the region’s youthful population and widespread poverty also increases vulnerability to child sex exploitation.
The economic growth arising from tourism has not always translated into better opportunities for children who live in tourist areas.
Children found in these areas, such as those employed in entertainment establisments or living or working on the street, are at greater risk of being exploited. Unfortunately, historical, economic and social issues in the region have created in some cases an environment ripe for sex tourism and with this, avenues for the sexual exploitation of children in tourism and travel.
The sclae of the challenge is immense. Cheaper air travel, globalisation and new telecommunications technologies all interact to exacerbate an already complex and difficult problem
As governments in the region struggle to take control of the situation, travellers who prey on the young adapt and move to areas, with more lax regulation and enforcement. In short, a crackdown in one country can lead to an influx in another.
For example, Cambodia, Vietnam and more recently, Mongolia have suffered an influx of tourists whose main goal is to have sex with a child, possibly as a result of the Thai government’s efforts to combat child exploitation within its borders. The information was provided by Expat, a non-government organisation to END CHILD PROSTITUTION, CHILD PORNOGRAPHY AND TRAFFICKING OF CHILDREN FOR SEXUAL PURPOSES
Offenders have develped and shared a number of methods to disguise their criminal activities. For example, the use of multiple passports and absconding bail in order to travel between countries in the region, particularly to those that have a lower capacity for detcting these crimes, and concealing identities when engaged on online child sex chat forums.
Well established patterns of child sex exploitation integrated into tourism flows suggest future growth projections will threaten many more children, as the number of arrivals is expected to triple.
The process of urbanisation could also dislocate families from traditional and stable sources of income in their home countries, or regions. This economic, precariousness can push some people into the sex industry, especially young people who are also disconnected from their families and susceptible to outside influence.
Responses to this trend should not attempt to limit the flow of people into cities, but rather prepare them for the risks they may face, including internet education.
As internet usage becomes more widespread across the region, more children will become vulnerable to online “grooming” and exploitation through sexual abuse materials and the online streaming of child sexual abuse.
Protection in this area must encompass a wide range of actors beyond law enforcement, such as parents, schools and teachers the UNODC noted.
The online environment of the 21st century has transformed criminality in various ways, as an advanced vehicle for communications, it has created a transnational enviornment that provides new opportunities for organising and participating in harmful activities, and the virtual nature of the online environment means criminal activity can sometimes fall outside the jurisdiction of the criminal justice process
The report also noted that those involved in “Child sex tourism” were not only tourists but could also be business travellers, foreigners working directly iwht children and other vulnerable groups, military personnel posted abroad, diplomats and government employees, expatriates or foreign nationals on extended travel, and retired expats residing abroad.