Child exploitation advocacy campaign goes international

By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — Tourism in the Philippines has been used to promote economic growth, but it has also been a tool to the growing cases of child sex tourism.

However, in the workshop-seminar on anti-child pornography held here in Baguio last July 23 sponsored by the Anti-|child Pornography Alliance, delegates from different government agencies, peoples organizations, nongovernment organizations revealed they did not yet encounter cases of child pornography in the region. This boils down to the issue of awareness – that people are not aware of child pornography itself.

In 2004, a research conducted by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) Philippines in Cebu showed that all taxi drivers encountered foreign tourists accompanied by Filipino minors. It was also found out that 70% of them were aged 11 to 17 years old.

Nationals from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands and the United States have been arrested in the Philippines for sexual offences against children. According to ECPAT Philippines, most of the cases were internet facilitated.

Asia Pacific experience

The shameful incidence of child abuses related to tourism has been growing rapidly in the 80’s in the South East Asian Nations. It has stirred critics on mass tourism and inspired EQUATIONS (Equitable Tourism Options) in India to campaign on the democratization of tourism. Their efforts have been to study the growing links between tourism and the abuse of children in the forms of sexual exploitation, child pornography, trafficking and child labor.

“Strong and credible researches and strategic networking has helped us ensure that this issue is on the table with policy makers, particularly tourism and child protection, as well as the industry and local communities in tourism destinations. This programme works with clear aim – rid tourism of child abuse” S. Vidya, Coordinator, Child and Tourism Programme of EQUATIONS said in an e-mail interview.

According to S. Vidya, EQUATIONS made a research entitled Situational Analysis on Child Sex Tourism in India specifically in Goa and Kerala. They have reported the rise in prostitution and trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes. This research was commissioned by ECPAT International.

“We also worked in 2003 on a study, “Towards Strengthening Rights of Minors and Adolescents in Tourism” commissioned by United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The publication provides an overview of the interventions and guidelines that would protect minors and adolescents from exploitation in tourism”, S. Vidya added.

These researches became an eye opener for lawmakers in India and it has resulted in formulating the Goa Children’s Act of 2003 and its ammendments in 2006 recognizing tourism as a cause of child exploitation.

In 2009, EQUATIONS and ECPAT International made an investigation entitled Unholy Nexus. This was a study on the growing male child prostitution in three of India’s major pilgrimage centers namely, Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, Puri in Orissa and Guruvayoor in Kerala . They found out that sexual exploitation in these tourism/holy spots was pervasive and on the rise.

In a press release, they declared, “in these centres, tourism development without protective measures has led to sexual exploitation of children, in the form of child abuse, child trafficking, child prostitution, child pornography, child sex tourism and child labour.” S. Vidya added that there is insufficient information regarding male children prostitution because of the assumption that the exploiters are male and therefore, their victims are women or girls. However, she said, this is not true.

In Tirupati, which receives mostly domestic and non-resident Indians, a survey of male children aged between six and eighteen years revealed that the sexual abuse of boys is rampant due to demand from domestic tourists. Pressure on male children to earn a living for the family was cited as a reason why male children were forced into prostitution. Family members see less risk when male children are involved in selling sex as compared to girls, as the social stigma is less and fear of pregnancy does not exist.

In Puri, foreign tourists came in contact with the children under the guise of being an English teacher or social worker, and approached children and their families in slums, and then sexually abused the children once they gained the trust of the family and child.

Also in Puri, a number of ‘massage’ parlours and ‘health’ clubs have mushroomed primarily to cater to foreign and domestic tourists, where prostitution takes place involving both adults and children (both male and female).

EQUATIONS and ECPAT recommended that state and central tourism departments should report annually on the status of child abuse cases, set up mechanisms along with other bodies for the protection of children, and to demonstrate a clear stand against any form of child sex abuse.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) were also called on to create a comprehensive Act that imposes severe punishment of offenders. The report also calls for child sex tourism cases to be treated as non-bailable offences.

EQUATIONS is actively working with local communities, concerned groups, the tourism industry and other players to ensure that the rights of children are protected in the context of tourism by demanding greater accountability and responsibility from different stakeholders.

Tourism education programme also strives to influence the way tourism is taught. It engages with students, teachers and tourism institutions through building awareness on tourism impacts.

Ananya Dasgupta of EQUATIONS said in an interview that their advocacy campaign will not only focus in India. They are taking this advocacy in the international level because they had observed that these cases are not only happening in India alone. She said that during their sharing with other women organizations in the Asia Pacific, they realized that wherever tourism is, children exploitation exists. Thus, she added that they are striving to influence national government’s trade and economic policies related to tourism so as to prioritize community rights, benefits and local regulation of tourism.

On Child Pornography

Here in the Philippines, an Anti Child Pornography Law (RA 9775) was enacted in 2009. It took three decades to finally set penalties and create a process to prosecute the offenders of child pornography. It is reported that child pornography started in the Philippines in the 70’s when some American GIs from Vietnam were reported to have come to the country, taking pornographic pictures or images of children.

“Through still and video cameras, sexually abusive images of children are produced. These images are accessed via the internet and increasingly now over mobile phones. The internet provides anonymity to pedophiles who access the virtual spaces of newsgroups, chat rooms, e-mail and websites. The internet has enabled massive expansion in materials available and made access relatively easy and inexpensive,” S. Vidya said.

The nationwide campaign by child rights groups in India of the inclusion of penalties on child pornography in the Information Technology Act (ITA) 2000 yielded results. On November 7, 2009, a Dutch national was arrested by the cyber crime wing of the police, after being alerted by the Interpol that he was uploading pornographic material of children.

Tourism in Baguio City

Conception Navales of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) CAR said that she believes that tourism is a major factor in the occurence of child exploitation in the region especially here in Baguio City wherein tourism is one of the city’s major income earner.

In 2003, DSWD said they reported 20 cases regarding child trafficking. She said these are mostly work related.

“We cannot deny the fact that not all tourists have good intentions in entering our place,” she added.

In the workshop-conference in Effecting Solutions on Child Pornography last July, an awareness, education campaign was promoted to eliminate child pornography in the region. It was agreed that closer partnership and cooperation among network organizations and childrens rights advocates in the city should be enhanced.

There are already manifestations of the negative side of tourism on children. These should serve as eye openers to the city to uphold the rights of children over profits. # nordis.net

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