2020 Trafficking in Persons Report calls upon governments to step up action to bring an end to extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse

While 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report called upon all governments to acknowledge human trafficking not only across borders but within borders of a country[1], 2020 TIP report calls upon all governments to implement frameworks and take action to bring an end to extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse.

TIP report defines extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse as a crime that: “occurs when perpetrators engage in sex acts with children, or produce child sexual abuse material outside their country of citizenship. Extraterritorial commercial child sexual exploitation and abuse concerns child sex trafficking, specifically when a perpetrator travels to another country and engages in a commercial sex act with a child”. The definition emphasizes the significant harm inflicted on children without limiting the perpetrator’s reason for being in the foreign country, as some may be there for “tourism, others may be volunteers or expatriates who have permanently moved abroad. It reiterates that some perpetrators may access children through relationships to families overseas, and others use the appearance of being in a position of trust to gain unsupervised access to children; other perpetrators are “situational abusers” who do not travel specifically to commit child sexual exploitation and abuse, but take advantage of an opportunity if it arises”[2].

As mentioned in the TIP report, the anti-trafficking community is moving away from using the term “child sex tourism”. However, this terminology is used throughout the 2020 TIP report to refer to extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse. As advocated by ECPAT International, in line with the Luxemburg Terminology Guidelines and the terminology adopted in the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, the sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism (SECTT) is the preferred and accurate terminology instead of the broadly used term “child sex tourism”, as it emphasizes that the sexual exploitation of children is a crime, and that acts of sexual exploitation occur within a specific context both domestically and across borders.

Tier rankings and narratives in the 2020 TIP Report reflect an assessment of several elements of efforts by governments to meet minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, including efforts to reduce the demand for extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse.

ECPAT International welcomes the focus of the 2020 TIP report on ending extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse, and reiterates that the sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism does not only take place across borders. Nowadays child sex offenders are predominantly domestic and inter-regional, although this crime continues to be committed by foreign offenders. It is crucial to continue to address both foreign and domestic demand.

Freeing domestic and international tourism from sexual exploitation requires the commitment of the various actors working in the sector as well as those, who visit and enjoy tourist destinations. This is a particularly urgent matter now when as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing levels of poverty and inequality are making children particularly vulnerable.

Recurring global challenges and problems specified in the TIP Report include:

  • Continuous demand from offenders that are exploiting boys and girls.
  • Increasing vulnerability of rural, poor and indigenous children that are particularly at risk of trafficking; including children left behind by families migrating abroad for work; children living in areas with tourism and large extractive industries; and children living in remote areas far from the mainland and largely devoid of government and law enforcement presence.
  • Use of social media and online technologies by offenders to contact, groom and access children.
  • Use of the private residences and clandestine locations outside the commercial tourist areas that is making the crime harder to detect, including the use of informal settlements in which at times family members facilitate the exploitation of children.
  • Some tourism establishments facilitate the sexual exploitation of children, including hotels, resorts, guesthouses and private accommodation, also with the use of intermediaries.
  • Some orphanages, organizations and charities purchase children from economically disadvantaged families for the purpose of attracting and profiting from donations from tourists and volunteers while putting children at further risk of sexual exploitation.
  • Lack of data sharing and input from relevant agencies result in underreporting of cases.
  • Lack of accountability for peacekeepers that are complicit in the sexual exploitation of children.
  • Low levels of investigation and prosecution of offenders when governments are not imposing appropriate punishments, collecting data on investigations, prosecutions, nor convictions, or limit their efforts to prohibiting the entry of perpetrators at immigration checkpoints.
  • The insufficient ability of law enforcement to investigate cases, including language barriers in cases involving foreign offenders.
  • Reluctance to acknowledge the problem by some governments and implement large-scale awareness campaigns.

Several good practice examples have been reported in the TIP report:

  • In Australia, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international “sex tourism” of its citizens. It did so by continuing to publish materials for passport applicants outlining the application of Australian child sex trafficking laws to Australians overseas.
  • In Austria, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international “sex tourism” by its citizens, including by airing an awareness video in places such as airports and hotels, as well as on outbound flights, and by raising awareness within the tourism industry.
  • In Belgium, awareness-raising flyers were available in the consular sections of Belgian embassies and consulates abroad and the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by its citizens, including by prosecuting its citizens for participating in “child sex tourism”.
  • In Belize, the government made efforts to reduce the demand, including by continuing to disseminate public service announcements on the penalties for sex with minors and the links between tourism and the demand for commercial sex. The government also cooperated with the United States to deny or otherwise prevent entry to convicted sex offenders.
  • In Burma, authorities continued to partner with an NGO to raise awareness about “child sex tourism”, and conducted relevant training and awareness campaigns through the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism for new official tour guides.
  • In Cabo Verde, government ministries continued to implement the National Plan to Combat Sexual Abuse and Violence, which included “child sex tourism”.
  • In Cambodia, although these were rare cases, undercover investigative authority was granted to anti-trafficking police units when requested for “child sex tourism” raids conducted alongside foreign law enforcement agencies. The Ministry of Tourism made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts through workshops for hotel staff and government officials on preventing child sexual exploitation in the hospitality industry.
  • In Canada, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international “sex tourism” by its citizens by distributing publications warning Canadians traveling abroad about penalties under Canada’s child sex tourism law.
  • In Chile, the national tourism service continued its certification of tourism organizations and establishments that adhere to norms for the prevention of child sex trafficking; businesses must participate in anti-trafficking training during the certification process.
  • In Costa Rica, the government raised awareness, utilized a national tourism program that incorporated the international code of conduct related to sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism industry, and provided training workshops on trafficking for tourists, tourism students, and sector employees. The government denied entry to foreign-registered sex offenders.
  • In Ecuador, the Ministry of Tourism began the development of a protocol to help hotels detect cases of sexual exploitation of children, including trafficking.
  • In France, the government made efforts to reduce the demand by funding programs that raise awareness of the illegality of, and penalties associated with, “child sex tourism” in airports and with tourism operators, as well as requiring students to complete a training course prior to their departure abroad. The government maintained several liaisons and advisors located in source countries to facilitate international anti-trafficking efforts.
  • In the Gambia, the law allows for the prosecution of suspected sex tourism offenses committed abroad.
  • In Germany, the government demonstrated efforts to reduce the demand by its nationals.
  • In Guatemala, the government continued a campaign to combat sexual exploitation of children in the travel and tourism industry by placing billboards and commercials in movie theaters, radio stations, and at the main national airport; taxi drivers were trained about child sexual exploitation, including how to spot victims and report suspected crimes.
  • In Guinea-Bissau, the government continued implementing the code of conduct against sexual exploitation in the tourism sector, increasing public awareness, training various hotel owners and managers, and building the capacity of tourism inspectors.
  • In Honduras, the government provided anti-trafficking training to tourism professionals to increase its prevention efforts.
  • In Japan, the government continued to distribute posters and brochures in transportation hubs and to travelers warning that Japanese citizens could face prosecution if suspected of having engaged in “child sex tourism” overseas.
  • In Laos, the Ministry of Education and Sports incorporated a human trafficking component into the primary school curriculum.
  • In Latvia, a special police unit conducted training on trafficking-related issues and focused on preventing the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.
  • In Luxemburg, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international “sex tourism” by funding an NGO for local awareness campaigns.
  • In Madagascar, the Ministry of Tourism in partnership with international organizations, monitored the commitment of tourism operators who had previously acceded to the tourism code of conduct against child sexual exploitation; the government also maintained billboards at airports warning tourists that “child sex trafficking” is illegal.
  • In Mexico, tourism officials conducted awareness campaigns and through support from an NGO, the government provided training on its code of conduct for travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, tourist guides, training centers, and transportation providers. In collaboration with the United States, the government maintained the Angel Watch Program, which compared registered American sex offenders against travel information.
  • In the Netherlands, authorities trained immigration, hotel, aviation and labor inspection staff in methods to identify victims and “child sex tourism”. The government continued to implement a national plan against “child sex tourism”, screened for potential child sex tourists at airports in cooperation with foreign governments, and posted police liaisons to the Dutch embassies in Cambodia and Thailand. The government-funded also a victim assistance hotline.
  • In Nicaragua, the Ministry of Tourism had an agreement with businesses to monitor and report suspected cases of child sexual exploitation in the industry.
  • In Panama, the government provided training for hotel and tourism staff and shared best practices for the tourism industry, also in more remote locations.
  • In Peru, the government reported efforts to raise awareness among the tourism sector by providing technical assistance across regions on human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.
  • In the Philippines, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and “child sex tourism”, including by cooperating with an NGO to create a code of conduct for businesses in tourism to prevent sexual exploitation of children.
  • In Salvador, the government criminalized sex tourism and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment.
  • In Sri Lanka, the government continued awareness campaigns targeted to parents and children on child abuse, including “child sex tourism” in Sri Lanka’s Coastal Belt.
  • In Thailand, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by displaying a video discouraging “child sex tourism” in Thai airports and on Thai airline flights.
  • In the United States of America, the government proactively investigated allegations of child sexual exploitation offenses perpetrated overseas by U.S. citizens and partnered with foreign law enforcement counterparts to share information regarding international travel of registered child sex offenders; it launched also a new center to improve its ability to notify countries of the potential travel of registered child sex offenders.
  • In Uruguay, the government and an NGO collaborated on an awareness campaign to prevent sexual exploitation of children in tourism hotspots.

Prioritized recommendations in 2020 TIP report include for governments to:

  • Further train law enforcement officials at the national and local levels to improve their ability to identify, investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and “child sex tourists”.
  • Strengthen international law enforcement cooperation to prevent and investigate cases, including: providing interpreters to assist law enforcement officials; granting adequate authority to law enforcement in order to encourage the collection and use of corroborative evidence and putt less pressure on the testimony of the victim; deploying and maintaining liaison officers and advisors; and strategically alerting foreign law enforcement of a convicted child sex offender’s intent to travel to another country.
  • Ensure effective enforcement of child protection laws and its provisions regarding child sex trafficking and “child sex tourism”, through: increasing awareness of the existing laws, ensuing penalties and adequate human, technical and financial capacity to respond to reported cases; and addressing extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse by making it a crime for nationals to travel abroad and engage in illicit sexual conduct with children.
  • Develop and maintain mechanisms for NGO workers to report incidents of corruption among anti-trafficking police, including to prevent advance warning from working-level police.
  • Increase and fund efforts to raise awareness of trafficking, including campaigns on ending the sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism; to increase the understanding of the crime among the local population, foreign tourists, and migrant workers.
  • Develop or maintain hotlines and helplines and ensure that its staff provides effective assistance and follow-up, as well as increase public awareness of the reporting mechanisms.
  • Increase efforts to identify and combat child sex trafficking in the tourism sector, including through proactive identification of victims, engagement with hotels and tourism operators, and investigation of establishments and intermediaries who facilitate the crime.
  • Target local populations that in many countries constitute the main source of demand for commercial sex with children, along with focusing on deterring foreign involvement.
  • Enforce the Ethics Code of Conduct for Tourism, which includes specific provisions countering sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism.
  • Include specifically the issue of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism in the National Action Plans to Combat Sexual Abuse and Violence.
  • Train troops participating in peacekeeping missions on human trafficking and hold those troops accountable if they engage, while on such missions, in any form of sexual exploitation or abuse of children.
  • Initiate more research on trauma bonding in human trafficking alongside the development of evidence-based and trauma-informed service delivery.

Way forward to end the sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism

Sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism (SECTT) continues to occur in every region of the world and it’s closely interlinked with trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children.

Tackling SECTT has always been at the heart of ECPAT International’s mandate. It has been thirty years since the first steps against sexual exploitation of children were taken – notably as part of the first campaign to protect Asian children from travelling child sex offenders that officially launched the work of ECPAT International. The Global Study published in 2016 galvanised concerted action against this crime and brought the issue to the attention of key decision-makers worldwide. The 2018 International Summit on Child Protection in Travel and Tourism continued to sustain momentum, with its concluding remarks set a clear agenda. Significant progress has been made towards implementing some of the Global Study’s recommendations demonstrating commitment from partners across the globe.

2020 TIP report, by focusing on extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of travel and tourism will help to maintain the momentum and scale up impact. If the ambitious objective of ending trafficking and sexual exploitation of children is to be achieved, addressing both extraterritorial and domestic dimension of SECTT is an essential context to pay attention to. Duty bearers from intergovernmental bodies, national governments, NGOs and the travel, tourism and transportation industry, ICT industry and companies whose staff members travel for business must cooperate.

Read the full 2020 TIP Report here.

See the full list of Global Study recommendations and legal checklist for the governments to improve their national legal frameworks to address SECTT along with its online elements more effectively.

If you represent travel and tourism sector, join The Code of Conduct of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism: www.thecode.org

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[1] For the summary of 2019 TIP report related to ending the sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism see here. Also in 2008 TIP Report assessed governments’ efforts to prevent the participation in extraterritorial commercial child sexual exploitation and abuse by their nationals.

[2] 2020 TIP Report, page 20.