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Fact Sheet
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Washington, DC
February 29, 2008

The Facts About Child Sex Tourism

“There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life—an underground of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others. And governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.”

—President George W. Bush before the UN General Assembly, September 2003

What Is Child Sex Tourism?
It is estimated that two million children are currently being exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Child sex tourism (CST) involves people who travel from their own countries to another and engage in commercial sex acts with children. CST is a shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of violent child abuse. The sexual exploitation of children has devastating consequences, which may include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and possibly death.

Tourists engaging in CST often travel to developing countries looking for anonymity and the availability of children in prostitution. The crime is typically fueled by weak law enforcement, corruption, the Internet, ease of travel, and poverty. Previous cases of child sex tourism involving U.S. citizens have included a former pediatrician, a retired Army sergeant, a dentist and a university professor. Child pornography is frequently involved in these cases; and drugs may also be used to solicit or control the minors.

A Global Response
At least 38 countries have extraterritorial laws that allow the prosecution of their citizens for CST crimes committed abroad. In addition, at least 31 more countries have general extraterritorial legislation which could possibly be applied against their nationals engaged in CST. In response to the phenomenon of CST, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the tourism industry, and government leaders have begun to address the issue. The World Tourism Organization, the NGO End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), and Nordic tour operators created a global Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism in 1999. Over 989 travel and tourism companies from 34 countries have signed the code (see www.thecode.org).

Many governments have taken commendable steps to combat CST. For example, France’s Ministry of Education and travel industry representatives developed guidelines on CST for tourism schools. State-owned Air France shows in-flight videos which highlight the crime and the associated penalties and it allocates a portion of in-flight toy sales to fund CST awareness programs. Brazil has a national awareness campaign on sex tourism which is broadcast in several languages. In addition, many local state governments have enacted laws requiring businesses to display public warnings of the criminal punishments for sexually exploiting children. Costa Rica also has a major public awareness campaign, and places information from the applicable law on sexual exploitation of children on its immigration and customs declarations forms. Italy requires tour operators to provide brochures in ticket jackets to travelers regarding its law on child sex offenses. Thailand is providing victims with shelter and essential services. Madagascar’s Ministry of Communication has distributed posters carrying messages against sex tourism to post offices and a film on the dangers of child commercial sexual exploitation to schools throughout the country. Sweden’s Queen Silvia has made this issue a personal priority and is an effective global advocate.

What the United States Is Doing
In 2003, the United States strengthened its ability to fight child sex tourism by passing the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. These laws increase penalties to a maxi mum of 30 years in prison for engaging in CST. Since the passage of the PROTECT Act, there have been 65 convictions of child sex tourists. The Department of Homeland Security has developed the Operation Predator initiative to combat child exploitation, child pornography, and CST. The United States has funded the NGO World Vision to con duct major public awareness campaigns overseas. To bolster interagency, NGO, and private sector cooperation, the State Department has designated a point of contact to focus specifically on fighting CST.

To report suspected incidents of child sex tourism involving American citizens, call the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tip line at: 1-866-DHS-2ICE. If overseas assistance is needed, contact the regional security officer at the local American embassy or consulate.

What Governments Can Do

Enhance Research and Coordination:

  • Research the extent and nature of the problem
  • Draft an action plan for addressing CST
  • Designate a government point of contact

Augment Prevention and Training:

  • Encourage the travel industry to sign the Code of Conduct
  • Fund and/or launch public awareness campaigns
  • Train and sensitize law enforcement on the issue
  • Ensure that border and airport officials report suspected cases

Strengthen Legal Measures and Prosecutions:

  • Draft, pass and/or enforce extraterritorial laws criminalizing CST
  • Increase punishment for offenders
  • Cooperate with foreign governments
  • Prosecute the crime to the fullest extent possible

Assist Victims:

  • Provide shelter, counseling, medical, and legal assistance to victims
  • Provide reintegration assistance
  • Support the efforts of NGOs working with child victims

What United States Citizens Can Do

  • Stay informed and support the efforts of authorities and the tourism industry
  • Report to the authorities abroad and/or to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement if you suspect children are being commercially sexually exploited in tourism destinations
  • Be aware that any U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident arrested in a foreign country for sexually abusing minors may be subject to return to the U.S., face prosecution, and if convicted, can face up to 30 years imprisonment
  • Support the efforts of NGOs working to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation

What Businesses Can Do
Travel, tourism, and hospitality companies can sign the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation
in Travel and Tourism, which requires them to implement the following measures:

  • Establish a corporate ethical policy against commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC)
  • Place clauses in contracts with suppliers stating a common repudiation of CSEC
  • Train tourism personnel
  • Provide information to travelers
  • Provide information to local “key persons” at travel destinations
  • Report annually on progress


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