Global Action

Understanding the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism – the global study

The sexual exploitation of children is a crime that prospers in the shadows. For all forms of this crime, empirical evidence is often hard to come by. The more we learn however, the greater our chances of success in tackling the problem.

The 2016 Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism was the first ever consolidated effort to understand its global nature and scope. This series of studies is the most comprehensive picture to date of this crime and includes input from 67 organizations around the world, as well as contributions from experts and children themselves. It has subsequently led to detailed studies of the situation in every region and an ever expanding list of countries.

The study sets out recommendations that require concerted action from the UN, governments, NGOs, tourism marketing boards, police, hotels, bars, restaurants, tour operators, travel agents, online booking companies, airlines and many other travel and tourism businesses.

A high-level task force, comprised of experts from different sectors, has been established to ensure that the recommendations are carried forward.

Travel and tourism businesses and the Code of Conduct

Businesses in the travel and tourism sector, especially those that deal directly with travellers, such as restaurants, bars, massage parlours, hotels, bus services, taxis and airlines, are in a unique position to help combat the sexual exploitation of children.

The Code of Conduct to Prevent the Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism,” helps those working in the travel and tourism sector to ensure their services and activities do not exacerbate the problem. Businesses or organizations can sign up to become a member of “The Code,” which entails signing a pledge to prioritize child protection measures and gives them access to training and resources to help recognise of child sex trafficking and exploitation; understand the extent of the phenomenon; how to report incidents; and how to better protect children.

Code members must not only train their staff, but also engage with local organizations such as child rights NGOs and the police. So far, members of “The Code” include large multinational hotel brands, airlines and travel agencies, small hotels, guesthouses, local tour operators and companies in the shared economy.

See here for a full list of members


In 2017, to mark the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the UN World Tourism Organization transformed the Code of Ethics for Tourism into an international convention, known as the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, it includes multiple measures to protect children exposed to risks from the travel and tourism industry.

2017 also marked legislative progress in both Australia and the United States, where laws were passed in relation to the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. The U.S State Department began a policy of revoking passports of convicted child sex offenders, and Australia now restricts some convicted child sex offenders from traveling overseas. Ireland looks set to be the first European country to follow these examples with similar measures

The Australian government also included orphanage tourism, or “voluntourism” in its definition of modern slavery

Multiple countries now have extraterritorial laws to prosecute traveling child sex offenders on their return home

Uber recently announced a partnership with ECPAT USA. Subsequent training and awareness raising has already been cited in several incidents where drivers were able to spot children in danger and report them to the police

In several high-profile recent incidents, training has also helped flight attendants spot children being trafficked for sexual purposes and report them to the police

Other organizations have begun to engage with tourist related businesses to protect children. The Polaris Project is a US-based initiative to combat human trafficking, with programmes that focus on hotels, massage parlours and child sex trafficking. Nix Conference & Meeting Management, a private company, developed the mobile application TraffickCam. This allows hotel guests anywhere in the US to upload pictures of their hotel rooms, which police can then use to match with child sexual abuse material found online; and

TUI Care Foundation have partnered with ECPAT International on a project to assess the scope and scale of child sexual exploitation in the travel industry in Phuket and Cancún. TUI has also partnered with Plan International in the Dominican Republic to launch the TUI Academy, an initiative which will provide training and employment opportunities in the tourism industry to disadvantaged youth.