With the ease of international air travel, arranging sex tourismincluding sex with under-age girlsis almost as simple as clicking on a website. By taking trips to areas tolerant of prostitution, American tourists or business travelers can easily take advantage of the estimated 2 million prostituted children in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Economically depressed or politically unstable regions are especially vulnerable to commercialized sex.
According to World Vision, some predators travel specifically for "sex tours," expecting anonymity, low-cost prostitution, ready access to children, and immunity from prosecution. Americans account for 25 percent of child sex tourists, according to reliable global estimates. The average victim is 14 years old, although some prostituted children are pre-adolescent. Besides the emotional and physical wounds of sexual abuse, the children are also at great risk of HIV infection.
To combat child sex tourism, World Vision has teamed up with national governments and U.S. immigration and law enforcement agencies. U.S. citizens and residents can face up to 30 years imprisonment for engaging in sexual activity with children under 18, even if they do so outside the U.S.
Internationally, prosecutions are rare. In a recent case, Australian police arrested a pilot, charging him under an anti-sex tourism law. He is accused of abducting a Papua New Guinea girl and forcing her to have sex with him.
Sadly, corrupt law enforcement feeds the problem in countries such as Thailand, says Graham Tardif, who until recently oversaw World Vision's anti-trafficking program in Thailand. Since trafficking profits are huge and local wages are low, accepting bribes to look the other way is a huge temptation for police and immigration officers, despite government attempts to end such corruption.
In addition to encouraging proper law enforcement, World Vision is sponsoring a media campaign to dissuade potential child sex tourists. It includes airport billboards and posters, ads in tourist magazines, in-flight video announcements, and brochures in taxis and hotels in the United States, Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
But the problem remains massive. In Thailand alone, the government-sponsored Baan Kredtakarn center in Bangkok has been providing shelter and assistance for women and girls for more than 40 years. World Vision's Tardif estimates that more than 90 percent of the girls treated there are victims of child sex tourism and trafficking. That is not likely an exaggeration, considering that the Thai government admits there are 20,000 to 30,000 children involved in its commercial sex industry.
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The International Christian Alliance on Prostitution can be reached at contactICAP@gmail.com.
Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project aims to engage citizens against child sex tourism and includes links to law enforcement agencies for reporting abuse of children overseas.
Break the Traffic sponsors an online petition to express solidarity with trafficking victims and to make a statement against human trafficking.
Other Christianity Today articles on prostitution include:
Sex Isn't a Spectator Sport | Germany's World Cup pimping will fuel sex trafficking. A Christianity Today editorial. (July 1, 2006)
Asia: Christian Women Combat Sex Trafficking | Christian women lead girls out of sexual bondage. (October 4, 1999)
Back From the Brothel | Thanks to brave ministries, prostitutes are still entering the kingdom. (January 2005)
Churches Rescue Thailand's Sex Tourism Workers | Protestants and Catholics work against $2.2 billion industry (November 1, 1999)
Angels of the Night | A Chicago street ministry reaches out to male prostitutes working the street. (January 11, 1999)
A Bridge Over Troubled People | Sinners of all stripes find a church home under the I-35. (April 1, 2004)
Fighting the other slave trade | Women against sexual trafficking.(Christian History & Biography, April 1, 2006)
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