The Global Study initiated by ECPAT International published today reveals that more children are being sexually exploited than ever before and that this is an endemic phenomenon throughout the world
At least nine Latin American countries (Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru) have criminal laws prohibiting sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.
In Costa Rica, 2013 legislation punishing the act of depicting the country as a destination for sex tourism was passed, and tour operators are prohibited from promoting or facilitating the sexual exploitation of children. Peru’s General Tourism Law of 2009 makes tourism service providers responsible for preventing child sexual exploitation by communicating, disseminating and publishing the law against sexual exploitation. Panamanian law punishes the intent to promote, direct, organise, publicise, invite, facilitate or manage child sexual exploitation in travel and tourism. Colombia’s Penal Code criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT) and various laws establish liability of the travel and tourism industry supply chain (including airlines, hotels, or other accommodation) and set out administrative punishments such as fines and suspension of national tourism licenses.. The law also makes it compulsory for companies to sign a Code of Conduct in order to receive their operating licenses.
Despite advances such as these, major challenges remain in providing children with adequate legal protection against SECTT.
In at least one-third of all countries worldwide, legal provisions for protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation are inadequate. Either they fail to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation or they do not adequately protect all children up to age 18, treat child victims as offenders or fail to provide adequate protections for boys.623 In addition, many countries do not have extraterritorial laws or face obstacles in their application. Many countries also lack laws on corporate liability.
The following is an excerpt of the report as it pertains to Latin America. Click here to download the full Global Report 2016 (large pdf file).
Latin America is a vast region reaching across two continents and 20 countries. Fourteen countries were researched for the full report, based mainly on the availability of information relevant to the Global
Study: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. The region is geographically, politically, economically, socially, racially, ethnically and culturally diverse.
One shared characteristic is the presence of large child populations (around one-third of the total population region-wide) and high levels of child poverty — reaching 70% in two of the countries reviewed and hovering between 30% and 60% in seven others. Furthermore, the region’s history of political, economic and social instability has created high levels of inequality that make disadvantaged groups in society, such as children, even more vulnerable.
Travel and tourism
Latin America has long been a tourist destination thanks to such attractions as Peru’s Machu Picchu, Rio’s beaches, historic sites showcasing ancient civilizations in Mexico and Carnival in Brazil and Trinidad. In recent years non-traditional tourism modalities have evolved, such as eco-tourism and large-scale sporting events.
Tourism generates about 9% of GDP across the region,57 creating over 16 million jobs in the formal and informal sectors combined. Tourist arrivals quadrupled since 1980, generating sharply increased revenues: from $278 million to over $1 billion in 2013. Around three- quarters of all international travellers to Latin America originate from the USA and Canada; others are mostly from Europe.58 Domestic and inter-regional travel is also significant; in four where studies were carried out the number of domestic travellers was found to be double the number of foreign tourists.
The region also experiences a large volume of business and conference related travel, as well as transient workers on construction sites, migration across borders and from rural areas to cities, and has a well-developed transportation network (including ports and bus terminals where SECTT is common). All of these factors have been associated with an increased number of offenders actively seeking, or taking advantage of, opportunities to engage in sexual activity with children.
Heavy dependence on income from tourism and travel: Several countries rely heavily on income from tourism and travel to bolster national economies; in such countries household budgets may also depend on jobs generated by the industry. These factors increase the risk of SECTT for children and serve to discourage both reporting of incidents and enforcement of relevant laws.
Travel and tourism hotspots are often developed near communities suffering from poverty and social
exclusion.59 Developers and supporters of tourism zones often argue that tourism will increase prosperity among local populations, but a study in Costa Rica found that recently developed tourist zones do not appreciably increase income for the poor.60 Instead, they often displace families living from traditional means (farming,fishing, etc.) leaving them with few alternatives other than menial work in the tourism sector.
Income inequality: Sex offenders offer cash and consumer goods to children in exchange for sex. For the most impoverished, this is a means of survival; but even those with more resources sometimes engage in commercial sex to obtain, for example, cell phones or other “luxury” items.
Crime and violence: Poverty, unemployment, internal conflict, migration and gang and drug-related violence have all weakened the family unit in Latin American countries, leading many children to run away from home. Living on the street they are more likely to become targets for offenders and SECTT intermediaries.
Social tolerance of violence in the region also helps to perpetuate sexual violence against children. The presence of armed insurgencies, violent gangs and organized trafficking networks facilitate child sexual exploitation.
Social norms, particularly around gender (and especially in relation to male superiority and virility) also contribute to tolerance for SECTT. Males are seen as biologically requiring more sex and as susceptible to ‘provocation’, while social norms identify females as passive objects of male sexual desire. In addition, adolescent victims are widely viewed as being complicit in situations of exploitation of which they are, in fact, victims. Homophobia is also very marked across the region;families often reject homosexual and transgender children, driving them to the streets and thus increasing their vulnerability to exploitation by tourists, travellers and criminal networks.
Corruption, impunity and lack of appropriate responses to cases involving child sexual exploitation were common themes in all countries researched. Latin American government officials, law enforcement personnel and workers in both the formal and informal tourism and travel sector were all mentioned as being directly or indirectly complicit in SECTT. In such a context of impunity, most people – especially children – are afraid to report cases, due to fear for their lives or because they believe that reporting will not have any impact.
Current and emerging trends Drugs and SECTT: Several Latin American countries are experiencing heightened levels of violence, increased availability of arms and drugs, a strong presence of organised crime and gangs and low levels of effectiveness of the police and justice systems.
Research indicates a close relationship between these factors and the demand for sex with young girls by, for example, drug kingpins and leaders of gangs or armed insurgencies who wield power to engage in child sexual exploitation at will. This context helps to create an environment in which foreign exploiters can also act with impunity; for example, in Medellin, Colombia, an online “auction” of girls was held by a drug lord who sold the girls to the highest bidders.
Human Trafficking and SECTT
Latin America is considered a source, transit and destination for human trafficking. In some countries, children constitute the majority of identified victims. The UNODC reported that of 1,600 cases of children trafficked in Latin America between 2007 and 2011, more than half were female children trafficked for sexual exploitation. A strong link between trafficking and sexual exploitation and SECTT, linked to booms in tourism, has been reported in the region.63 Victims often live in tourist zones or are trafficked from rural areas to satisfy demand from travellers and tourists. Several agencies have reported increased in human trafficking for sexual purposes carried out by organized criminals involved in the drug trade.
Technology and SECTT
Child sexual abuse images is being produced, disseminated and downloaded throughout the region.66 Governments have recorded a recent increase in reported cases of child abuse images being shared through peer-to-peer technology, as well as practices such as “sexting” and grooming. Several ECPAT groups report that exploiters (and facilitators) are increasingly using cell phones and the Internet to arrange contact between children and tourists and travellers, reducing the public visibility of the child sex trade. Parental guidance and oversight of their children’s use of technology is largely absent, due in part to children’s use of cyber-cafes and in part to lack of parental knowledge about the potential dangers of Internet use.
Exploiters: The age of exploiters in Latin America appears to be lower than previously assumed. In Brazil, this includes a large number of young professional travellers and tourists. Those who engage in SECTT share certain characteristics: they are “outsiders”, conferring anonymity; they maintain cultural distance from their victims, used to justify the exploitation; their transience permits them to act on impulses they might control if they were at home; their higher socio-economic status allows them to see themselves as “helping” their victims and enhances their sense of power over them.
Children’s voices: The full regional report contains a detailed case study of “Carlos”, a young Uruguayan who due to abuse and neglect at home embarked on a journey of sexual abuse and exploitation at 13 and was eventually coerced into situations involving prostitution, cross-border trafficking pornography and SECTT. Carlos’ story highlights the ties between different elements of commercial child sexual exploitation, as well as the failure of the justice system and child protection programmes
to identify and protect victims, making them less likely to seek help.
The region has addressed SECTT through different initiatives, especially for prevention; however, it has yet to be placed on the political agenda alongside other CSEC. Regional efforts have been carried out by the Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN), the UNWTO, the Regional Action Group of the Americas (GARA) and the Andean Community of Tourism Authorities. The IIN plays a key role by bringing together civil society and government stakeholders and documenting national-level activities and good practices through its ANNAObserva website. The formation of GARA in 2005, bringing together tourism ministers and other important stakeholders, had the goal of developing
a regional strategy to address SECTT, representing another important advance.
Nine of the 14 countries examined for the Global Study went beyond developing a National Plan of Action to prepare sepcific action plans for combating SECTT; however, only four of these plans are current. Moreover,deficiencies in monitoring and evaluation, lack of cooperation between authorities at the national and local level and limited human and financial resources have led to only partial implementation, often in just a few parts of a given country. Nine countries also agreed to implement the Tourism Code of Conduct, but implementation is largely voluntary. While all countries have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has been observed that implementation of its underlying principles tends to be more “formalistic” than de facto.
Country reports suggest that initiatives to address SECTT are most effective when the national tourism body makes a strong commitment and when diverse population groups are targeted simultaneously. Most countries have policies and projects to address SECTT, but more civil society and private sector involvement is required to increase their impact.
In the countries researched, protection systems for guaranteeing and restoring the rights of child survivors of sexual exploitation were not working properly or consistently. Institutions in charge of protecting children generally lack the resources required to respond to large numbers of cases, and high staff turnover means that those charged with care are often not knowledgeable about SECTT or the needs of its survivors.
Child survivors tend to be invisible in justice systems in the countries studied. Barriers preventing children from accessing the justice system include: lack of legal harmonisation, lack of legislation on SECTT, lack of mechanisms and protocols for ensuring compliance with laws, limited interest in the issue and corruption. Another obstacle is the pervasive belief that adolescent victims of SECTT are responsible for their situation. Despite high levels of SECTT in the region, only a handful of convictions of travelling child sex offenders have taken place.
Numerous campaigns have been launched in individual countries to raise awareness and warn tourists and travellers about legal consequences. A project in Colombia (‘I am the Wall’) was particularly successful in bringing informal sector actors together and mobilising them to take action against SECTT, as detailed in Chapter 5. Another innovative approach was used in a bilateral project between Costa Rica and Canada that addressed SECTT simultaneously in both source and destination countries.