Transnational cooperation and corporate social responsibility: enablers for protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism

Side event, 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, 6 March 2013

In the framework of the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography presented a thematic study on the protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism (A/HRC/22/54).

On 6 March the Special Rapporteur organized and moderated a side event on this issue, with a view to (i) Provide a better understanding of child sex tourism; (ii) Highlight the role of Businesses involved directly or indirectly in travel and tourism and transnational cooperation mechanisms, due to the cross border dimension of this phenomenon; (iii) Share best practices as well as recent developments related to CST and transnational cooperation in preventing and fighting this crime; and (iv) Formulate concrete proposals to strengthen effective transnational cooperation among all stakeholders and involve more businesses in protecting children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.


The event included distinguished presentations by the following panelists:


In the introduction, the Special Rapporteur recalled that despite the widespread knowledge about the risk of child sex tourism, the phenomenon appears to be on the increase.

H.E. Mr Nguyen Trung Thanh, provided some opening remarks recalling that despite the fact that Vietnam never used to experience Child Sex Tourism in the past, it is a phenomenon that has emerged and now deserves close attention, particularly in the entire South East Asian Region.

However, stigma, and lack of awareness still means that victims are often shamed into silence about their exploitation.  He observed that some of the causes of CST in the region are poverty, lack of education, urbanization and migration. Given the complexity of the issues, he noted the need for a multi-faceted understanding of the issue, particularly in the South East Asian Region. He noted that Viet Nam is highly committed to the issue, and noted the important role of the State, particularly in the development of relevant laws, commissions and government agencies.  He also insisted on the need for cooperation between states in the region and in this regard, commented on the important role of INTERPOL.  Furthermore, he noted the significant support provided through the UN system. He also observed the essential role of civil society and the media, both of which carry out an important function through not only providing services to victims, but also sensitising the media and raising public awareness through education campaigns.

Mr. Nick Purtell, noted that Australia is working to eradicate CST through a range of legislative and practical measures. He first noted that Australia has enacted wide reaching legislation that allows for extraterritorial criminal charges to be laid against Australian Citizens abroad engaged in CST abroad. Moreover, the legislative framework criminalises the collection of information and the act of preparation of travel for the purposes of CST. This legislative framework has also been accompanied by a public awareness campaign, informing people about these extraterritorial laws through advertising.  He also noted that AusAid is actively seeing to promote effective cooperation, in particular through a program partnering with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam on raising awareness.  Finally, he noted the need for a strong commitment to the Millennium Development Goals in particular related to education, as a key method to ensure that children are not exploited, and highlighted that Australia will commit 25% of its aid budget to education by 2015.

Ms. Joanne Dunn recalled the role of UNICEF as the lead agency for child protection, including the important work that UNICEF national offices are doing to combat child exploitation in the ground.  UNICEF has observed that though a strong legislative framework is important, implementation and enforcement are key in order to effectively combat CST. In this regard, she highlighted that States need to work together with civil society organisations to raise awareness about the issue of CST. She also noted the important role of private entities and the private sector in general, and the power of the travel industry to prevent many offences. Finally noted the important advances with regards to child rights over the last 15 years, including the CRC and its optional protocol. She stressed the importance of universal ratification.  However she observed the new challenges that remain, including globalisation, technology, mass tourism.  In this context, she stressed the need for evidence based strategies.

Ms. Adèle Desirs mentioned the important strides forward achieved through INTERPOL’s collaborative project with World Vision and AusAid. The initiative, ‘Project Childhood’, targets countries in South East Asia, and is a tool to enhance transnational cooperation through the identification of victims and perpetrators.  Given the relatively low numbers of prosecutions in the destination countries, INTERPOL is focusing on the prosecution perspective, and working as a project partner to assist Governments in better identifying and prosecuting perpetrators. She noted the need to increase law enforcement capacity in the region, through not only an enhanced legal framework, but also through Capacity building and training for officers, including through the creation of specialised units, developing equipment packages, and helping front line police. She also noted the importance of international and regional cooperation and operational support. A catalogue of transnational tools have been developed within the project, including international information exchange and arrest warrants, the development of a secure network, and the sharing of information through a secure database.

Mr. Theo Noten, of ECPAT Netherlands, noted the important role the tourism industry can play in helping overcome the taboo around CST in certain countries. Specifically, he recalled the important momentum the Rio Declaration and Call for Action to Prevent and Stop Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents of is gaining for the private sectors as a means to promote safe sustainable and responsible tourism. Now with over one thousand signatories in forty countries, he acknowledged however, that challenges remain, in particular in relation to being able to adequately monitory the local supply chain for offences against children.  Raising public awareness is key in this regard, and ECPAT have been involved in numerous initiatives, including large international sports events, such as World Cups and the Olympic Games, in collaboration with UNICEF, to raise awareness about CST. Although extra-territorial legislation can be an important tool, he notes the expenses and difficulties in using such laws, and notes that the priority should be to prosecute in the country where the offence took place.

Ms. Aarti Kapoor, of Worldvision, noted that the explosion of international travel and the tourism sector has led to a grown of child exploitation worldwide. In particular, she highlighted that children remain at risk of exploitation in all phases of tourism, including from exploitative working conditions in the tourism industry, to the development of exploitative orphanages.  In particular she noted that volunteer travel programs need to ensure proper vetting of volunteers who work with children in any capacity. World Vision’s research also indicates that many travellers would like more information on how to adequately report any suspected abuses of children in the tourism industry.

During the debate the participants recalled the risks faced by children due to the fast expanding tourism industry, and increasing demand for sex with children. They also recalled the remaining challenges such as the absence of a comprehensive framework for the international coordination on CST, and the differing capacities of individual jurisdictions, and the absence of information on the phenomenon, and lack of awareness about how to report suspected perpetrators.

With a view to ensure efficient child protection, and in order to adequately protect victims of CST, and to avoid the growth of the phenomenon, the participants called for the implementation of the recommendations proposed in the Special Rapporteur’s report.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted and summarized the main points raised: CST is a worldwide growing and evolving crime and while it has been recorded as a persistent problem in several locations around the world, it has also been identified as an emerging trend in numerous other destinations; Child sex offenders can be domestic travelers or they can be international tourists, taking advantage of child innocence, poverty, and relative lack of punishment in destination countries; and CST remains globally unreported and under prosecuted. To ensure effective protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, there is a need to promote and strengthen: adapted legislative responses; increased knowledge of law enforcement officials about CST; increased awareness among corporate social responsibility of tourism and travel sectors; and stronger regional and international cooperation.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the good practices regarding existing multi-stakeholders initiatives that do prevent and combat CST, and which need to be widely disseminated.