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Thomas Clarkson House
The Stable Yard
Broomgrove Road
SW9 9TL 

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Protecting children in tourism

ECPAT UK campaigns have been responsible for new legislation that can prosecute British nationals for crimes committed abroad. Sadly, with cheaper travel and new technologies British offenders continue to target the world’s most vulnerable children. Their abusive acts are often captured on digital technology and transmitted around the world. ECPAT UK works with police and the travel and tourism industry but much more work needs to be done to safeguard children no matter where they live.

What is child exploitation in tourism?

Child exploitation in tourism is part of the global phenomenon of commercial sexual exploitation of children. It includes:

- the buying and selling of children for prostitution
- paedophilia-related child sexual abuse
- the production of child abuse images and other forms of pornography involving children

How many children are affected?

It is impossible to estimate how many children have been affected by child sex tourism. The covert and criminal nature of child sex crimes and the vulnerability of children, especially children living in poverty, make data collection a difficult task.

Who are the children and why are they vulnerable?

Those children most at risk of abuse include children with low/no education, homeless children, children working on the streets, trafficked children, children from broken families, children affected by drug and alcohol abuse, and children who have already been abused within their family. Children in these circumstances often do not have the confidence, power or opportunity to speak out and they become invisible victims. Both boys and girls are abused in a range of settings. Children migrate to tourism destinations in order to find work or simply because they have nowhere else to go. Tourism destinations are traditionally not locations where children's organisations or government social welfare departments develop outreach programmes or provide services to the poor and marginalised. The protective environment found elsewhere is often missing in tourism destinations.

Who are the abusers?

The perpetrators of this abuse, often called child sex tourists, are more recently being called travelling sex offenders. Most offenders will use their relative wealth and their ability to travel to avoid detection. They will go to places where they think they will not get caught. These are often locations where there are low levels of education, poverty, ignorance, corruption, apathy, lack of law enforcement or government policy, and often where there is the existence of adult prostitution.

Destinations of child sex tourists appear to be changing. As prevention and protection efforts are stepped up in one country, child sex tourists may choose a neighbouring country as their destination.

What can the travel and tourism industry do?

Tourism is not the cause of child sexual exploitation; however, exploiters make use of the facilities offered by the tourism industry (hotels, bars, nightclubs, etc.). In turn, the tourism industry may help to create a demand by promoting a locations' exotic image.

The travel and tourism industry can play an active role in preventing child abuse by developing policies and programmes that support local and international actions. The engagement of hotels and other businesses in tourism areas is essential to provide information to authorities, support children in need, create education and employment opportunities for young people, and take the message to tourists (both local and international) that child abuse is unacceptable. There is also a role for Tourism Authorities to sit side by side with social welfare, police and other agencies in the development of national plans of action.

ECPAT groups around the world have worked in cooperation with the tourism and travel industry as well as national government bodies in an effort to stem the flow of child sex offenders. Industry responses include: setting up task forces and monitoring systems, codes of conduct, declarations, in-flight videos as part of education campaigns, training in tourism schools and training of tourism personnel.

What can the UK Government do?

In order for laws to be used effectively they have to work in practice as well as in theory. ECPAT UK is calling on the UK Government to ensure that the existing legislation (Sexual Offences Act 2003) is implemented, promoted and understood by all those who have responsibility to safeguard children.

While there has been much progress over the past ten years, including new laws and the most recent launch of the police led Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre – potentially a world leader in technical, logistical and operation support for law enforcement – it is not enough. In order to combat the sexual exploitation of children, there must be a comprehensive, co-ordinated partnership between many stakeholders: not only the police and the Home Office, but prosecutors, lawyers, embassies, NGOs, the travel industry, and the media.


Copyright © ECPAT UK 2015.

Charity number: 1104948. Company Ltd by Guarantee: 5061385.
4A Chillingworth Road, London N7 8QJ. 
Tel: 020 7607 2136. Fax: 020 7700 5435.


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ECPAT UK is the leading expert voice on child trafficking in the UK and we offer a comprehensive training programme focused on safeguarding young people from trafficking, modern slavery, and transnational abuse. To find out more visit our training page

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