The Facts About Child Sex Tourism

Crime Fueled By Weak Law Enforcement, the Internet, Ease of Travel, and Poverty

Male Tourist
Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images

The commercial sexual exploitation of children affects millions of children each year in countries on every continent. One form of this exploitation is the growing phenomenon of Child Sex Tourism (CST) in which persons who travel from their own country to a foreign country to engage in a commercial sex act with a child commit CST. The crime is fueled by weak law enforcement, the Internet, ease of travel, and poverty.

Tourists engaging in CST typically travel from their home countries to developing countries. Sex tourists from Japan, for example, travel to Thailand, and Americans tend to travel to Mexico or Central America. “Preferential child sex abusers” or pedophiles travel for the purpose of exploiting children.“Situational abusers” do not intentionally travel to seek sex with a child but take advantage of children sexually once they are in the country. 

Global Efforts Made to Address the CST Phenomenon

In response to the growing phenomenon of CST, intergovernmental organizations, the tourism industry, and governments have addressed the issue:

  • World Congresses Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation convened in Stockholm and Yokohama, drawing significant international attention to the issue.
  • The World Tourism Organization established a task force to combat CST and promulgated a Global Code of Conduct for Tourism.

Over the last five years there has been a worldwide increase in the prosecution of child sex tourism offenses. Today, 32 countries have extraterritorial laws that allow the prosecution of their nationals for crimes committed abroad, regardless of whether the offense is punishable in the country where it occurred.

Combating Child Sex Tourism

Several countries have taken commendable steps to combat child sex tourism:

  • France’s Ministry of Education along with travel industry representatives developed guidelines on CST for tourism school curricula, and state-owned Air France allocates a portion of in-flight toy sales to fund CST awareness programs.
  • Brazil implemented a national and international awareness campaign on sex tourism.
  • Italy requires tour operators to provide information regarding its extraterritorial law on child sex offenses.
  • Swedish tour operators have signed a code of conduct agreeing to educate its staff about CST.
  • Cambodia established police units focused on combating child sex tourism and has arrested and extradited foreign pedophiles.
  • Japan prosecutes its citizens caught having sex with children in other countries.

Operation Predator

The United States strengthened its ability to fight child sex tourism last year through passage of the "Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act" and the "PROTECT Act." Together these laws enhance awareness through the development and distribution of CST information and increase penalties to up to 30 years for engaging in child sex tourism.

In the first eight months of "Operation Predator" (a 2003 initiative to fight child exploitation, child pornography, and child sex tourism), U.S. law enforcement authorities arrested 25 Americans for child sex tourism offenses.

Overall, the global community is awakening to the horrific issue of child sex tourism and is starting to take important initial steps.