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UNWTO hosts meeting of global leaders on fighting sexual exploitation of children in tourism

The Headquarters of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Madrid has hosted a meeting of experts to discuss measures the fight against child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector. The initiative is coordinated by ECPAT International with the support of the government of The Netherlands.

Despite international efforts to stop sexual exploitation of children in tourism, abetted by technology, the sheer speed and scale of this crime has, to date, out-paced attempts to respond at the international and national level. Failure of collective action and a chronic lack of robust data constitute the main challenges to eliminate this crime according to Global Study – Offenders on the Move, which is the largest pool of information on the issue to date.

“We cannot build the responsible and sustainable tourism sector that we seek without protecting the most vulnerable in our societies. To do so we need effective tools and a global commitment” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“Article 2 of UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism underlines that the exploitation of human beings in any form, especially when applied to children, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism”, he recalled saying that UNWTO “is progressing with transforming the Code into a legally binding international treaty, the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, which we hope will be approved by our General Assembly next September”.

The fight against Child Exploitation in tourism is one of the priorities of UNWTO who has been leading since 20 years the World Tourism Network on Child Protection.

Najat Maalla M’jid is the Chair of this Taskforce, which guided the development of the Global Study, and she set the scene for the meeting by stridently declaring, “Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face. No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune. In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, let us place children’s right to protection from violence and exploitation at the heart of our actions,”

The Special Rapporteur on child trafficking and sexual exploitation, Maud de Boer Buquicchio called for “child protection to be placed at the core of tourism development strategies.” The rise of the Internet and informal operators as well as greater access to international travel have expanded ‘demand’ and heightened the dangers for children. At the same time, grinding poverty and lack of education – combined with the continued neglect of child protection systems – have fuelled the ‘supply’ of children. International experts assembled in Madrid believe they have at least some of the answers, but they need wider engagement.

Global initiatives

One of the initiatives conducted globally has been represented by the tools implemented by Interpol aimed at reducing the possibilities for known sex offenders travelling unnoticed internationally. Peter van Dalen, from Interpol’s Organized & Emerging Crime Directorate, said, “Anonymity protects traveling sex offenders, and INTERPOL is working with countries to deprive known sex offenders’ of their anonymity, through mechanisms such as an international warning system sharing information across borders about convicted sex offenders, as well as an international vetting system for job applicants applying to working with children.

A unique feature of this process has been the strong engagement with the private sector, motivated by the need to ‘get ahead’ of practices that can seriously affect their reputation and their bottom line. The recently reported examples from the US involving flight attendants intervening when they noticed unusual situations involving children travelling with adults underscore the fact that no country is immune to the issue – and furthermore, that investments by the travel and tourism industry in training staff and access to reporting systems can pay dividends.

The challenge remains to expand coordinated action to implement the recommendations of the Study. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Marta Santos Pais, encouraged strong linkages with global processes, saying that, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents a unique opportunity to reverse this pattern and make all forms of violence against children part of our distant past.”

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