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UNICEF/ECPAT: Code to combat child sex tourism

Publish Date: 21 Apr 2004

Source: UNICEF Press Release

Launch of "Code of Conduct" for travel industry to protect children from sex tourism

NEW YORK - Striking a blow against the sex tourism industry that entraps tens of thousands of children, UNICEF today joined the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the international advocacy group ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) in launching a "Code of Conduct" for the North American travel industry.  The code is designed to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.

According to ECPAT USA, an estimated 25 per cent of sex tourists outside the United States are American. In 1995, Business Week Magazine reported that the United States was host to at least 25 sex tour companies.   

"The travel industry is critical in the fight against commercial sexual exploitation," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.  "We can no longer look the other way while members of our own communities are abusing children in the most unthinkable ways.  These are perpetrators of the worst kind. They not only display a callous disregard for human dignity, they do so with total impunity."

Worldwide, a steadily increasing number of children have become victims of commercial sexual exploitation.  An estimated two million children - mainly girls but a significant number of boys - are believed to be part of the multi-billion dollar commercial sex trade.  As many as one third of those in prostitution in Cambodia are children. Mexico's social service agency reports that there are more than 16,000 children engaged in prostitution, with the highest number in tourist destinations.

 To combat this growing problem, laws are being passed in many countries which make it illegal to travel overseas to engage in sexual acts with a minor.  In Hawaii, the State Legislature is considering legislation criminalizing sex tourism.  Last February a New York based travel agency - Big Apple Oriental Tours - was shut on allegations it was organizing "vacations" overseas where young girls were available for sex.  The owners of the company were indicted. This is the first criminal indictment of a US-based sex tour company.  

" It is everyone's responsibility to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation," said Carol Smolenski, Director of ECPAT USA. "The code is a perfect example of how the travel industry can do its part in building a protective environment for children."

More than fifty tour operators and their associations, hotels and travel agencies are already implementing the code by reaching an estimated 30 million tourists with information on commercial sexual exploitation.  This is done through in-flight PSAs, brochures in hotels, ticket slips, websites and catalogues.
"An effective response to the sexual exploitation of children requires coordinated and consistent efforts at every level," WTO Deputy Secretary-General Dawid de Villiers stressed.

By signing the code, the hotel and travel industry commit themselves to: 

  • Establish an ethical corporate policy against commercial sexual exploitation of children
  • Train personnel in the country where children are sexually exploited 
  • Introduce clauses in contracts with suppliers, stating a common repudiation of sexual exploitation of children 
  • Provide information on the sexual exploitation of children to travellers 
  • Provide information to local "key persons" at destinations 
  • Report annually

  "It will take all of us," urged Bellamy, "travel professionals, lawmakers, educators and the international community alike, to make tourist destinations safe for all children.   It is a win-win situation. Taking a firm stand against child sex tourism will attract consumers who are looking for ethical travel operators."

Also present at the launch was Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden and John Miller, the Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State on Trafficking in Persons.

© 2004 UNICEF Media